Even before Colombo became caught up in Sri Lanka’s ongoing civil war, the languid seaside capital was never a big draw card for tourists, with most preferring the misty central highlands or hills or rambling old towns of Galle and Kandy instead. But a new wave of stately colonial-era homes transformed into boutique hotels are now hoping to change that.

The trend started with the minimalist Park Street Hotel (20 Park Street; Tel: +94 115769500; www.taruvillas.com; Double rooms from $230). The quaint 250 year old house huddled around a swimming pool has ten sleek rooms, all with polished concrete and Sri Lankan antiques. Close on it heals was the renovation of a two storey Moorish house into the eccentrically fun CASA Colombo (231 Galle Road; Tel: +94 14520130; www.casacolombo.com; Double rooms from $160). Keeping the original lattice and stained glass façade, the 12-roomed property has been jazzed up with quirky features: hot lip telephones; a herd of silver elephants marching towards the door. Situated in the upmarket neighbourhood of Cinnamon Gardens, the latest of Colombo’s boutique hotels to open is the Tintagel (65 Rosmead Place; Tel: +94 114602122; www.tintagelcolombo.com; Double rooms from $200). The house, named after a Cornish castle, was the home of Sri Lankan most illustrious politician, Prime Minister Solomon Bandaranaike, who was executed on the veranda in 1959. His wife, Sirimavo, later became the world’s first woman Prime Minister and their daughter, Chandrika, the President of Sri Lanka. Recently renovated by Shanth Fernando, the extravagant designer of Paradise Road’s modish restaurant Galleria, the ten-roomed Tintagel is now a sophisticated hotel. Dim lighting offsets the grand 1930s architecture swathed in a hodgepodge of accessories; Chinese cabinets, Flemish chandeliers, a small pool lined with naked Romanesque statues and meters of subduedly toned silk.

This article appeared in the Reports department of Travel + Leisure Australia September 2008.