The Wallawwa is one of the nicest hotels near the airport. It's an elegant family house converted into an excellent boutique hotel. What sets it apart is the proactive staff and the fact that it's a boutique hotel with fun stuff to do inside (croquet, RISK, Jenga, etc).
We had a long-standing invitation to check out The Wallawwa which we took up as the highway was opening. The hotel is about 15 minutes from the airport, where the Expressway ends. It was once an isolated family home but urbanity is getting closer and closer.
The former colonial home (where Shru had coincidentally been before) was essentially just a house and verandah. For the hotel they've expanded it to 17 rooms, a spa, restaurant, pool, etc.
The Garden Suite
We stayed in the Garden Suite ($195 to $250 per night, depending on season). That's not cheap, but this is increasingly becoming the average for decent Sri Lankan hotels. What you get for the monies is a nice, spacious room with an excellent bathroom, safe, four-post bed, etc.
The spacious bathroom
We'll cover the bathroom first because, honestly, that's the most important thing about a hotel room. This one is excellent, huge, big mirrors, good shower, etc. It avoids that awful open-concept bathroom trend (no matter how much you love someone, you still want bathroom privacy). There's a door, but no lock, which is workable.
The toilet itself is nicely hidden away so you can't even see it entering the room. The full length mirrors are nice, however, you also get a sometimes horrifying view of yourself in the shower, depending on what shape you're in I guess.
Our only complaints would be no hand-bidet, but this place - as you'll begin to see - seems to be built for tourists. Oh and the liquid soap simply doesn't lather up much, we wouldn't mind a bar, or at least a loofah to get some soapy action going.
The main highlight of the room, for us, was that there were room games - Jenga, Uno, and a Rubiks Cube. Very cool. Hotels too often overestimate how amusing a nice room is. It's nice, but then what to do?
Lunch curry spread
As soon as we got in we ordered some food. Getting food off-menu is a bit expensive here - Rs. 1,500+ for a rice and curry. The other stuff is regular prices, Around Rs. 1,000 for wraps and all. We tried various rice and curries for lunch, along with a coronation curry wrap.
The curries are very good, though made for a western palate. That is, no chili. What they do have is very fresh ingredients and subtle flavors. The black pork curry was good and the brinjal was truly excellent.
Pancakes with bacon
Breakfast is where the place really shines, and that's included in the room rate. We had the pancakes with blueberry compote, adding some extra bacon. Excellent pancakes, fluffy, delicious, with maple syrup. The eggs benedict were also bomb. The breakfast comes with fruit, home-baked bread, jams, and quality tea or coffee. Great hangover cure.
Sorbet by the pool
The service was so good I don't even have pictures of them. They were invisible except when they were needed. What really stood out was that they went beyond taking requests well to anticipating them. For example, we were sitting by the pool and they spontaneously brought out sorbet. A little touch, but it's nice to be surprised now and then.
When it came to regular stuff - taking orders, changing orders, asking questions - the staff was well-informed, helpful and plain nice. The service really stands out here and makes you wonder why more Colombo places can't be the same.
The Wallawwa is a beautiful house on a nice piece of land. The renovations make it somewhat disorienting inside but there are nice little courtyards and everything is reasonably centered around the verandah. The only thing is that the city has encroached and now, from certain parts of the hotel, you can hear buses, street noises, etc. From the back of the Garden Suites you can also see electricity pylons. There's nothing much they can do about it and most parts of the hotel are quiet. This is not, however, an isolated hotel anymore.
The place is actually in Kotugoda but it's close enough to an airport that I think it's the best choice for well-heeled travelers not going to Colombo (on their way to Kandy, Kalpitiya, etc) or those on their way out. It's basically the best airport transit hotel.
What makes it cool, for us at least, were that they have a wonderful games room and library. Not huge, but they have RISK, Scrabble, Carrom, some form of checkers and a lot of good books. Very few hotels actually have interesting amusements and this one does. They also have a nice gift shop and what seems like a nice spa, so you can have a nice contained decompress here.
In terms of stuff nearby, there's now the Katunayake Expressway. We thought it was closer to Negombo than it is. You can pop out for dinner, but it's actually not that close. This hotel is one you don't actually mind staying in, cause it's amusing enough.
The spa courtyard
The Wallawwa is a lovely boutique hotel near the airport and the new airport road. It's not cheap, but you get good value for money in terms of service, location and an entertaining place to stay. The Wallawwa goes beyond being a nice boutique hotel to being one that's fun to hang out in (croquet anyone?).
They make good gin and tonics. Try the excellent breakfast pancakes.