Five great places to stay in Sri Lanka

Travel editor Maria Shollenbarger shares her island insights

The Santani wellness retreat outside Narampanawa
The Santani wellness retreat outside Narampanawa

The design hotel The 10 richly original suites at Tintagel (www.paradiseroadhotels.com), once a home of the Bandaranaike political dynasty, harness heritage, refined design sensibility and comfort in in a balance I’d call perfect. Resolutely modern touches – profusions of white and black porcelain, architectural flowers, canvases by the Sri Lankan artist Jagath Ravindra – anchor the Dutch-colonial splendour of the building firmly in this century, without diluting a bit of its magic. My suite’s walls, painted in wide strips of russet and deep blue, made me smile every time I looked at them; my antique four-poster, and the smooth gleaming teak planks beneath my feet, similarly delighted.

A reception room at Tintagel
A reception room at Tintagel

The safari camp Down south in Yala, family-owned Uga Escapes (www.ugaescapes.com) runs Chena Huts, a groovy safari camp with domed, thatched pavilions set in semi-protected wetlands between the famous Yala nature reserve and the Indian Ocean. Besides elephants, the land teems with indigenous and migratory bird species – and the beaches with turtles, which come ashore to nest. 

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The lakeside hotel Eleven-suite hotel Tri (www.trilanka.com) is set on the shore of Koggala Lake in the heart of Sri Lanka’s cinnamon-country interior. British owners Rob Drummond and Lara Baumann spent a decade shaping the site, suites and concept, all of which hew proudly to a 100 per cent sustainable remit. Cinnamon sticks clad outer walls, while the interior wainscoting is of recycled local jak wood and “living” roofs are planted with water grasses and dwarf bamboo. All this, along with sigh-inducing vistas and – fittingly, here on Ceylon – tea ceremonies featuring the finest silver tips and smoked pekoe.

The Tri hotel on the shore of Koggala Lake
The Tri hotel on the shore of Koggala Lake

The wellness retreat Santani (www.santani.lk), a dedicated contemporary wellness retreat, is the brainchild of a group of recently repatriated young Sri Lankans with degrees from the likes of Harvard and MIT and a collective passion for the preservation of local culture and ecology. Spread across 40 acres outside Narampanawa, in the hills northeast of Kandy, Santani’s ultra-slick villas enlist reclaimed timber (an entire plantation floor’s planks were deployed in their building) to create open-air pavilions for sleeping, meditation and treatments, administered by a team hailing mostly from the US and the UK.

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The beach resort George Cooper, the hotelier-retailer behind the much-loved Kahanda Kanda (www.kahandakanda.com) opened the six-suite KK Beach (www.kkbeach.com) in December 2016. Set on the sands of Habaraduwa, midway between Galle and Weligama, it manifests all the quirky style for which he is known; its beach will be open to Kahanda Kanda guests as well. Cooper has also expanded his retail footprint in Galle’s historic fort with KK by George (53 Leyn Baan Street), a sister boutique to his KK The Collection, stocking airy cotton beachwear and locally produced jewellery.

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