The gleaming white Victorian mansion stands on the hillside above the sea. It has stood there for over 200 years.
Sir Thomas Maitland, the British Colonial Governor of Ceylon, as the island was called then, built the mansion in 1806 as his personal residence just outside Colombo. He fell in love with a local beauty called Lovina and had her smuggled in to the mansion through a secret tunnel he built from the beach to his wine cellar. He never married Lovina and later, was posted to Malta where he died, still a bachelor. Lovina’s fate is unknown. The village and the hill came to be known as Mount Lovina which later became Mount Lavinia.
Three later British Governors of Ceylon – Sir Robert Brownrigg, Sir Edward Paget and Sir Edward Barnes used the mansion as Governors Residence. A blue plaque at the entrance commemorates this. The tunnel from the wine cellar was sealed off in 1927 and the mansion became Mount Lavinia Hotel in 1947. It was used as a military hospital during World War II and some scenes in the film Bridge On The River Kwai were shot there. Today it is a grand luxury hotel.
Mount Lavinia Hotel has always been a favourite of mine. The location is stunning and the place still oozes colonial grandeur. Even the concierge wears a ridiculous colonial uniform. There used to be a small beachside cafe and a nightclub called The Little Hut which I used to frequent. I have fond memories of swimming in the secluded cove, watching green turtles in the moon lit sea below the cafe and sipping Tio Pepe on the terrace above which then had mango trees offering blissful shade and cool during the midday heat. Now, the trees are gone and there is a swimming pool with noisy kids. Still, it is a lovely place for sipping a cool beer in the evening, watching the world go by.