Tuesday, 25  March 2003  
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Mount Lavinia Hotel preserves colonial ambience

by Shirajiv Sirimane

One of the oldest hotels in Sri Lanka, the Mount Lavinia Hotel will celebrate their bicentenary in 2006 and the colonial ambience which had been a trade mark of the hotel is still preserved.

The present hotel

The Governorís residence in 1811

This may be the reason that the Newsweek Magazine featured the hotel in their November 2000 issue categorising it as one of the World's Best Gathering Places. "This is a first for a Sri Lankan star class hotel," an official of the hotel said.

The hotel spread on a 7-acre land with 275 rooms was also the pioneer to introduce the Night Club concept to Sri Lanka. This concept dates back to July 20, 1957 when the famous 'Little Hut' was introduced. The concept caught on and it was a major attraction to Sri Lanka and was very popular among the locals and foreigners. Today 'Damage' performs live on Fridays and Saturdays and plays the hits of the 70's, 80's and the 90's and has a steady clientele.

The history of the hotel dates back to 1805 when 46-year-old Sir Thomas Maitland who was the Governor of the then Ceylon built his residence at the present venue. Sir Maitland, a bachelor hailing from a noble Scottish family was a Lieutenant General, Member of Parliament, Privy Councillor and also member of the Board of Control of the East India Company. Soon the Governor fell in love with a Mestizo dancer called Lovina Aponsuwa who was a girl of Portuguese and Sinhala descent.

At a time when forbidden love was hardly a subject on the agenda the Lovina and Sir Thomas secret affair flourished. The residence of the Governor was their common meeting place.

Described as being "handsomely built, laid out in mahogany and calamander wood", the mansion with its white columns, polished wooden floors, intricately- carved wood ceilings and wide windows open to the ocean breeze, became the trysting-place for the lovers. Most of the architecture is preserved even today giving the hotel the touch of its rich colonial heritage.

According to the history of the hotel for seven years Lovina flitted through a tunnel which had its beginning in a well-opening in her garden and ended in the wine cellar of the Governor's house!

In 1811 Sir Thomas left Ceylon, but he presented Lovina a large extent of land and over the years the name Lovina metamorphosed into Lavinia and people referred to the Governor's Mansion as "Lavinia House". By the end of the century the story had become legendary.

Over the years, the Governor's mansion became a holiday home for foreign visitors, and later a wartime hospital and eventually one of the island's first and finest hotels.

The romantic history may be one reason for the hotel to be selected as a popular venue to host weddings and there was not a single planter, banker or a high society family who overlooked the hotel to host their wedding.

Even today the hotel is much sought after to host weddings and honeymooners. Romance and history has also made the hotel a natural choice for a long line in history making visitors such as Vivian Leigh, Kirk Douglas, Gregory Peck, Yuri Gagarin, King Leopold of Belgium and Somerset Maugham.

An official of the hotel said they have a mixed clientele at their restaurant and the 100% Sri Lanka dishes made by their Chef Pubilis who is frequently featured in the media is in great demand specially among locals.

She said that due to its delicate location near the beach and the fact that the property is well over 200 years there is refurbishment all the time. "Now we are in the process of renovating the Old Wing which was built in 1811".

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