Sri Lanka keeps on impressing us with her boutique hotel openings…
Fresh off the back of our Sri Lanka research recces (collectively, the Ampersand Team spent a total of 30 days there during September visiting over 60 hotels), here are our thoughts on the island’s most exciting new properties. Please get in touch for more information if any of them appeal to you.
Bar Reef, Kalpitya
We liked this resort a great deal and we’d love to go back. There is a great U-shaped lounging and eating area which feels very Roman – the only thing missing is someone to feed you grapes! The accommodation looks like mud huts but they’re not – they are made of cement but they’re very, very open. The resort is on a really fun beach with a lagoon on one side and great sea on the other side, and it’s just really sweet and chilled out – it feels like a cross between a commune and a mud village. If you brought your kids here they would think you were really cool! There are some other resorts further along the beach and everyone’s very pally with each other so you can swim in each other’s pools and eat in each other’s restaurants. Kalpitya is an undiscovered area in the northern west of the island locals have always considered it to be unremarkable, but it has got its own beauty. It is very different to the rest of the island because it is so flat and sun-baked and bleached… more of a desolate beauty, which is interesting, particularly when you’ve seen everything else which is so different.
> The local villages are pretty messy.
> Beyond the properties own immediate area, the beach has a lot of debris on it (from since time began!), but bizarrely there is still something quite wonderful about it.
Chaaya Blu, Trincomalee
I loved it here! It was originally built in the 70s and it has still got that vibe, but they have refurbished it so that it feels really upbeat, fun and bright; the service and food is good – there’s a great crab restaurant – and the beach is great with nice clear water. I loved the mood of it – it was definitely 4-star not 5-star, but I felt really happy there. Nice pool, nice beach and nice spot!
> The main dining rooms are quite large and can get crowded but there is the wonderful crab restaurant to retreat to.
Malu Malu, Passekudah
Malu Malu means fish fish. It’s an interesting hotel, based around the concept of a fishing village. The rooms are in 2-story chalet-style villas with one room upstairs, one room downstairs and a little area to sit out in the front. The resort is laid out in a ‘U’ shape with the swimming pool in the middle and at the end of the pool are two fishing boats that have been converted into bars. It has a nightclub and quite a groovy bar. This place is best suited to people in their 20s and early 30s. If you want to go to Passekudah then for the time being it’s the only place to stay. While we admire the spirit in which it was built and (and we love the amazing beach), the look and feel of the resort is not suitable for our clients. It’s a step in the right direction though!
> It was built to appeal to a young, fun crowd, but the reality of the matter is that this hotel was a rushed job and the design is appalling.
> At the moment they are charging $350 a night.
> It’s a novelty hotel and the first so-called upmarket hotel in the area but new hotels are being built in and around it so it’s going to be relegated to history before long.
Maya Villa, Tangalle
This stylish and soothing property charmed the socks off us! Instantly captivating from the moment you enter the driveway past ancient trees and a small Buddhist shrine, Maya is a 110-year old manor house half an hour from Tangalle. It has been recently renovated with homage to its Dutch and British roots – the historic building exterior and intricately carved windows have been maintained – and the interior has been given a dreamy facelift by Niki Fairchild, an interior designer with an impeccable eye for style, detailing and subtle colouring. The house cradles an L-shaped pool and faces out onto a savannah-like landscape bordering lush jungle; there is a cool outdoor dining/ bar area and a secluded hammock in the garden to admire the views. The perfect balance of colonial and modern, Maya will impress the most style conscious and well-heeled clients – great for families with toddlers or ideal for honeymooners.
> The villa has 5 suites and it is quite small and intimate, so you would no doubt interact with other guests because of this.
Ulagalla Resort, Thirappane
WOW, this place is quite something – Ulagalla is very high-end and conceptualised resort combining ultra luxury with ultra eco initiatives. Laid out over a truly enormous area surrounded by buffalo fields, the villas are extremely luxurious – akin to an Aman villa but with more flair and colour – and all come with separate living rooms, private pools and amazing bathrooms. The quality of the fittings, fixtures, linens and mod cons are the best of the best. You could happily snuggle here for days with your partner and watch DVDs, swim, sunbathe and feel totally pampered and cocooned. Each villa comes with 2 bicycles and there are electric buggies to take you to the main pool and the handsome lobby/restaurant building. They have lots of eco-powered activities: cycling, kayaking, archery, horse riding (with very impressive stables & horses) and Sri Lanka’s largest solar panel to power the resort. The lounge bar is drop dead stunning with a glass-floored wine cellar, a fish pond, pool table and library. There is also a poolside air-conditioned gym, a helipad, a small spa and an “island” in the middle of a huge paddy field where they put on private candle-lit dinners.
> The eco theme could be deemed a little contrived with everything labeled on carved wooden signs (“Organic vegetable farm” etc) but no more so than, say, a Six Senses resort.
The Mudhouse, Anamaduwa
For adventure seekers looking for something truly special, The Mudhouse is our secret weapon – we think it is the new frontier in Sri Lanka. The team are unbelievably sweet and welcoming (with Kumar and his great giggle at its helm), which immediately allays any anxieties you might have about being in a remote forest sleeping in a mud hut with no walls! The adventure of this experience is the whole point and it feels like a real honor to live this traditional, age-old lifestyle for a few days. The three thatched-roofed mud huts are simple but pretty, made of wattle and daub and decorated with bowls of purple water lilies, hanging kerosene lamps, hammocks and scatter cushions. The “minibar” is an eskie with soft drinks and complimentary beer, and there are two bicycles parked outside. Next to the organic farm is a wonderfully atmospheric kitchen with traditional earthenware crockery where you can have cooking classes; other activities include early morning bird-watching excursions, cycling, fishing, and market and rock temple visits – guided or alone. The Mudhouse is great for adventurous families – teenagers would no doubt find it very cool! – or a honeymoon with a twist.
Here’s us as we first clamp eyes on our lovely little hut!
> It can get hot at night under the mosquito net – no electricity means no fans.
> There are several kerosene lamps hanging throughout the room that are lit for you at dusk, but overall there is very little light – no bedtime reading.
> The toilet and shower are in a separate hut down a 5m stone pathway so you need a torch at night (one is provided in the room).
> They have built a huge lake with tiny islands, one with a circular yoga pavilion hut, but there is no water in it yet – they expect it to fill up in the coming monsoon. It is going to be stunning once full and will attract even more water loving birds like storks and herons.
> The restaurant area is really rustic (10 min walk from room) with no decoration; just a roof with 4 tables looking out over the paddy field and lake. Personally, we loved eating buffalo curd with sweet kitul whilst looking out at the herd of roaming buffalo!
Mirissa Hills, Henwalle
Set in a breathtaking and remote location high up in the hills a half hour drive from Galle, this is a striking new property on the scene. It is extremely polished and contemporary, designed with artistic flair by one of Sri Lanka’s leading living architects, C. Anjalendran. An incredible centerpiece sculpture separates the dining and lounge area and there is a small in-house art gallery. A huge lawn juts out to the most incredible view of Weligama Bay and there are stunning views across virgin jungle and cinnamon trees from the four bedrooms. The bedrooms are very chic and understated but jazzed up with statues, artwork and splashes of colour.
> The villa is accessed via a very bad bumpy road (even by Sri Lankan standards!) up a steep hill.
> We think they missed a trick cocooning the swimming pool in the middle of the living areas – why oh why did they not put it on the enormous lawn with the enormous views?!
> We feel this one will improve with time – once a few more guests have partied and relaxed here it will feel more lived in.
Reef Villa, Wadduwa
Filling a luxury hotel gap on this stretch of the west coast, just an hour an a half south of Colombo, this immaculate new-build property is set amongst 3 acres of the most amazing tropical garden – thick foliage, colourful plants, ponds and fish – a magical sight lit up at night. All seven rooms are PALATIAL, as are the bathrooms and private terraces, and they are dreamily decorated with exotic art pieces, huge carved mirrors and ceiling fans – a great space for couples to feel pampered and romantic or for families to stretch out. Lovely resident Alsatians, too!
> Convenient location 1.5 hrs from Colombo and 45 minutes from Bentota but not a lot to do in the immediate area.
> The beach is very long and rustic – good for long walks but if you want to sunbathe on it go during the right season. As with many beach locations in Sri Lanka, at certain times of year there isn’t an awful lot of beach to speak of.
Buckingham Place, Rekawa
A large and contemporary luxury hotel with a warm and laid-back feeling – a great addition to this secluded farming area, 30 mins from Tangalle and a short walk downhill to Rekawa beach, a mecca for sea turtles to nest their eggs. The bar and restaurant is nice and atmospheric with chic decor, set amidst landscaped gardens which are lit beautifully at night. Each of the 11 villas comes with a canoe, which you can take town to Rekawa lagoon, and you can hear the sound of the waves crashing even from your room. The hospitality is warm and the food is a mix of Sri Lankan fair as well as a few Western crowd-pleasers like Fish & Chips with vinegar.
> The pool is tiny but they are building another block, which will be ready in 2 years with a bigger pool, bar, pool table and art gallery.
> Bedrooms are so large they verge on being hanger-like and the second bedrooms that come with some suites are small and airless.
> It could feel a little surreal if you were staying there at a time when there are no other guests as it is a big hotel, but again, you might just want to absorb the nature and be romantic!
> Avoid looking out over the boxy exterior of other villas by booking into the lower tier villas – they have the most amazing uninterrupted views of the coast.
AND ON THE HORIZON…
There is a new Uga Resorts (the group behind Ulagalla) planned for right next door to the new Malu Malu resort in Passekudah – and it’s going to blow it out of the water. We have to say though, the area still feels a bit war torn and shell shocked and you don’t get those usual big smiles and the welcoming feeling you get in the rest of the island for the time being. But there is great snorkeling and diving – the sea is awesome because it stays shallow for about 300m into the sea and it is body temperature warm and safe to swim in. The Shangri-La will be opening two new properties – one in Colombo and one in Hambantota, which is in the south-east of the island where the new port and international airport will be opening in 2012. Also, Six Senses will be opening a resort in Ahungalla about 30 mins north of Galle, which we are very excited about.