The Best of Sri Lanka - July 2017
Cherrypick heads to Sri Lanka to bring you a curated list of the island's leading hotels and top picks...
By Aysha Majid
Steeped in history this neocolonial hotel emanates elegance. Thoughtful keepsakes placed on your pillow, careful restoration and antique interiors, all add to the romanticism of Amangalla. Spacious apartments with English porcelain faucets and freestanding baths, animal horn utensils, to craft a G&T from your drinks cabinet, peppermint shutters and polished wood floors, evoke a bygone era frozen in time.
Built in 1684, under the name of the New Oriental Hotel, whose history still plays a huge part to this day. The property then became a Dutch Military Officers Headquarters and in 2003 renovation started in preparation for the 2004 opening of Amangalla. Brimming with period allure, each perfectly restored piece of the hotel guards secrets from the past. The 28 rooms and suites are joined together by a two-story house; by day, light seeps through breezy spaces reflecting off pristine floors and creating natural paintings that leave lasting memories. By night the jazz musicians play to guests in the main restaurant and the property exudes an understated energy, where a Panama hat, walking cane, manicured mustache and cream slacks, would not feel out of place.
With understated Hemmingway charm, this beautiful hotel boasts two old private ‘bath houses’, a large pool with shaded cabanas and a spa with an in-house Ayurvedic doctor, epoch barber and a number of artfully restored therapy rooms incorporating exquisite period interiors. Preserving the spirit of the hotel while contributing to the enchanting environment, there is also a yoga pavilion and library, a well-stocked bar complimented by a cigar menu and a large restaurant and terrace serving excellent European and Sri Lankan dishes.
A once ancestral estate of Anuradhapura nobility, this charming, ecologically sustainable hotel features a 150-year-old mansion at its centre, reminiscent of a 19th Century plantation. Ulagalla incorporates age-old tradition and innovation in a peaceful and family-friendly environment, with its own solar farm generating half of the property’s energy requirements. Spacious villas with floor-to-ceiling glass windows juxtapose contemporary bathrooms and fixtures alongside classic, colonial interiors and each of the 20, 850 square foot properties boast four-poster beds and large sitting rooms with ‘Garden’ or ‘Paddy’ views. Bicycles flank each villa and 24-hour room service along with movies on demand from the villa’s 42-inch LED TV, mean that even on moody days there is something to keep guests busy.
Exploring the nearby paddy fields on horseback at sunrise and sunset is an idyllic way to experience the surrounding wildlife and potentially spot an elephant or roaming croc. The main property’s pool is also a perfect location to absorb the natural landscape in a relaxed environment, along with the hotel’s shaded verandas, characterful bar area and of course the main restaurant where you may likely be joined by an Toque Macaque monkey or two, much to the teams’ failed attempts to deter the inquisitive apes.
Gal Oya, Sevanagala
This unique eco-resort is submerged in the foothills of Uva Province, one of the least densely populated areas in Sri Lanka. Spread across 20-acres of private forest are 10 private bungalows (each around 800 square feet), with high ceilings, king-sized beds, open bathrooms, lounge area and garden verandas. The interior and exterior’s natural design, utilising sustainable and local materials, allows you to feel truly immersed in the wilderness environment.
Although close-up sightings are not common due to the untouched landmass, the Gal Oya National Park carries an unexplored mysticism and is abundant with wildlife; encompassing over 25,000 hectares of lush green forest, open savannahs and the country’s largest inland body of water, the Senanayake Samudraya Lake. Here you will spot many exotic birds and if you are lucky, herds of elephants, wild buffalo and freshwater crocodiles. The Gal Oya Lodge guides take a careful approach to viewing so don't expect to get up close and personal (binoculars and a long lens are advised), however the ‘cherry on the top’ excursion package is a picnic coupled with jeep safari. The team will prepare a delicious breakfast next to a river and small waterfall where you can enjoy an afternoon dip and a walk through the bush, followed by a jeep safari ride back through the park. There are also morning treks up Monkey Mountain, for the intrepid traveller and true to the ethos of the lodge, a rare and informative walk of discovery, discussing medicinal plants and ancient hunting grounds with the Chief Veddh (one of the last remaining communities of the forest-dwelling, indigenous people of Sri Lanka).
Menu options are seasonal, utilising produce from the resort’s organic garden and meal times offer some of the most pleasurable moments here, while enjoying the morning sunrise surrounded by virescent mountains from the open and airy restaurant.
CP Tip: The resort does not support Wi-Fi, however the guides are happy to stop on-route to excursions and pinpoint signal areas for you to hookup to the web (if needs must)...
Chena Huts, Palatupana
Surrounded by the farming villages of Tissamaharama, hidden in the South, Chena Huts is on the doorstep of Yala National Park, Sri Lanka’s second largest and oldest natural reserve; brimming with endemic flora, reptiles, mammals and bird life. For centuries, locals have farmed small clearings in the jungle, called chena, sleeping beside their precious crops in order to protect them from elephants…and so the name Chena Huts was born.
This unique resort is nestled amongst trees and dunes that lead to the ocean and each property is a far cry from the modest huts that granted respite for the farmers of the past. The luxurious, detached safari bungalows are open-plan and stylishly designed with grand, super king-sized beds, freestanding bathtubs and a decked terrace with sun loungers and private plunge pool. Each property is assigned with a butler and a range of five-star services facilitated by the warm and professional team.
The resort’s main swimming pool is adorned in emerald green tiles, camouflaged by a tumbling mass of trees, while the spa and an indulgent menu of treatments, is a stone’s throw away. Raised pathways lead to the lounge and restaurant pavilion, with a sunken bar area and platform where guests can enjoy a traditional bush barbeque and candlelit dinners while submerged in the unspoiled surrounds.
At night, after the bird song fades a new tune is played, accompanied by crashing waves from the nearby beach where sea-turtles come to lay eggs and stubborn elephants, having made their way through the rough landscape for centuries, continue to proudly make appearances in and around the property, under the watchful eye of the hotel rangers.
Cape Weligama, Weligama
This sizeable resort perched on a cliff top looking out onto the Indian Ocean seems to have everything covered. Guests are greeted by private buggy, with refreshments on arrival including homemade iced pops wrapped in banana leaf and a sumptuous environment is perpetuated from start to finish. The secluded, pristine beach, jaw-dropping infinity pool sweeping the skyline with its coastal views, endless activities and accommodating property styles are just some attributes, including (our favourites) the Ocean View Villa and Pool Villa; with large bathroom, steam-shower, separate dressing room, bedroom with writing desk and open-plan living area leading onto an outdoor, ocean view lounge, with a shared or private pool.
Cape Weligama goes that extra mile by paying attention to discreet fittings that facilitate a pleasantly convenient experience, to grand and impressive structures, and care has been taken to ensure that whatever a guest's needs, they are granted to the best of the team's ability.
The main restaurant is the core of the resort with its striking views and design, providing a well-curated menu in the opulence of an open dining setting. The Executive Chef spends time with his customers and if you have a request, you may find something specially sourced the following evening. The Cape Weligama diving centre can be found near a small public beach, just outside the property, fully equiped with a practise pool and range of surf and body boards. Excursions vary from wellness camps incorporating the property's spa menu, gym, yoga and basic activities like bike riding, to private whale spotting excursions and Big Game fishing.
CP Tip: Don't miss the chance to enjoy Cream Tea at the Cape Colony Club and finish with a spot of croquet on the lawn.
Surrounded by lush landscape abundant with cinnamon trees, Tri sits peering over Koggala Lake; a modern, eco-retreat with 360 degree views, it is Sri Lanka’s first contemporary, sustainable design hotel (launched in 2015). The site was first purchased by British owner, Robert Drummond, who enlisted award-winning eco-architect, Raefer Wallis to create a boutique hotel guided by its surroundings, along with wife Lara Baumann Drummond, founder of the Quantum Yoga Method. The location provides a secluded haven perfect for those wishing to escape city life and immerse in tranquility with the added comfort of luxury mod cons.
Each suite and villa offers an opportunity to enjoy varied and unique positions on the land. Some villas boast private plunge pools, while others allow you to enjoy the comfortable amenities at a cheaper rate in one of the more compact Water Tower rooms, exhibiting dreamy sunset and sunrise views. There is an in-house library, yoga studio and spa with visiting practitioners selected by co-creator Lara and delightful manager Oli. An attractive infinity pool is the perfect intro to the property, bordered by sun loungers and a casual restaurant/terrace filled with cosy seating areas.
Food consists of alternating options; sometimes a six course gourmet menu, but if you’re lucky you will get a chance to experience their local selection of Sri Lankan vegetarian and meat dishes— which is what we recommend. If restless, guests can head out on a 16 km bike ride looping the lake, take a yoga class or hop on the hotel’s boat for a quick trip to Cinnamon Island, where you can find out about the plant's properties and purchase some local goods. This fluid site has an ethereal atmosphere and the hotel's owners bike ride to and from the property each day, contributing to the ethos of a relaxed environment that you may not want to leave.
Visit Along the Way…
Ministry of Crab, Colombo
A MUST for seafood lovers…this renowned restaurant set in the courtyard of a 400-year-old Dutch hospital, serves some of the best fresh seafood on the island. Executive Chef and co-owner, Dharsham Munidasa, together with legendary cricketers Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, have come together to create a winning combination. Munidasa’s sauces (of which, to our delight we managed to sniff out a secret ingredient), long-established fishing contacts and Japanese-influenced culinary techniques, culminate in the production of particularly succulent and sweet crab, with their signature options; Pepper, Chilli and Baked Crab, on the hotlist. Not to be forgotten are their giant prawns bathing in moreish sauce that must be complimented by the freshly grated coconut sambal and mopped with a famous white bread wedge.
Brief Garden, Bentota
Created by late artist and landscape architect, Bevis Bawa (brother of Geoffrey Bawa), this whimsical garden is tucked away down a dirt track in the town of Bentota. Overgrown and wild, the magical location tells a story of its hedonist owner, Bawa, and his fascinating past. Garden Nyphs, fictitious statues and Roman influences paying homage to Bacchus (the God of wine, fertility and revelry) are hidden throughout the maze of overgrown greenery. Bawa’s humble home is available to visit; here you’ll find interesting collections of art and sculptures accumulated from the artist’s travels and doting admirers. Family photographs, poems and paintings decorate the walls, some featuring famed visitors, such as Vivien Leigh and other Hollywood and Monarchical royalty.
There are many ancient temples in Sri Lanka but these seven statues masterfully carved into rocks are a sight you won't want to miss. Dating back to the 10th century, Buduruwagala’s literal meaning is, “the rock with the statue of Buddha” and these giant carvings of Mahayana Buddhist style belong to the Pallawa Sri Lankan art tradition. The largest stands around 15 metres tall and is the tallest Buddha carving on the island. The sight itself is 9km south of Wellawaya and easily accessed, just a short walk from the drop-off point.