Times aren’t entirely placid on this island nation off India’s Tamil Nadu coast. Peacekeeping bodies threaten war crimes tribunals, strife still sometimes prevails between Sinhalese and Tamil neighbours, and there are the scars of 2004’s tsunami still visible – behind the far more raw ones of the civil war which ended only in 2009. But Sri Lanka’s ineffable beauty, centuries of Buddhist culture, and gorgeously warm welcome are what prevail in the minds of many travellers.
All these manifest in a new villa hotel which opened quietly in the late spring, just outside the sleepy southern village of Tangalle. Maya (www.mayatangallesrilanka.com, from $255) has just five suites spread across a late 19th-century walauwa, the residences of the Ceylon elite, which architect Pradeep Kodikara – enlisted by Maya’s owner, the Bangkok-based interior designer Niki Fairchild – has restored to top standard while preserving all its lovely Anglo-Dutch vernacular (open air loggia-style verandas, tropical wood rendered in classical proportions).
It holds the common areas and two of the suites; a new-build wing holds three others. Hammocks and lounges dot the generous lawns, while a stunning L-shaped pool traverses the central courtyard, lit gorgeously of an evening with votives and lanterns. The ornate latticing and thatch in the alfresco living and dining rooms are complemented by the minimalism of the suites, where polished concrete floors and contemporary four-poster beds are kept from feeling too austere by gorgeous steeply-pitched ceilings and wide French doors to private terraces. The staff is by all accounts a pitch-perfect blend of warmth and competence, so it’s worth considering taking the entire villa over, so as to enjoy their undivided attentions.