Sri Lanka makes such a beautiful escape, combining beaches, rainforest, and wildlife with the clash of its ancient and colonial past. The luxury experience of the island centres around nature, tranquility and design inspired by the legacy of the Dutch, British and Portuguese.
The biggest learning from our glorious trip to Sri Lanka is that seven days is not nearly long enough. To make the most of this enchanting island, we’d recommend spending at least two weeks, if not longer.
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Sri Lankan Region 🌴
Luxury hotels 🏡
Day 1: Colombo
The following three hotels are all located in or close to Colombo and can serve as the perfect start or end to any trip to Sri Lanka.
Opened in 2008 and part of the Teardrop Hotel collection, The Wallawwa is perfectly located for travellers going to or from Sri Lanka’s international airport. A vision by owner Mike Davis, the hotel revolves around a lovingly restored old house or ‘Wallawwa’ and the Sinhalese for the letter ‘w’ forms their logo and features elegantly throughout.
A library stocked with many books (some from the original Wallawwa) and an iMac for guest-use caters to the working traveller and offers welcomed modern comforts. Alongside the new, the old fits effortlessly, with antique furniture, original photos and interior detailing maintaining the building’s heritage.
There is a Colonial feel to the wide seating area verandah adorned with wicker chairs, wooden pillars within and white stone pillars framing its exterior. High tea is served here to all guests everyday at 3:30pm as a complimentary ticket to colonial days gone by.
The restaurant makes elegant use of wood and concrete within a grey palate and adds splashes of red for soft furnishings. This theme continues through the hotel’s interior decoration. Silver spray-painted coconuts in large metal grate bowls and huge concrete balls are features that appear throughout. It also serves the best passion fruit crème brûlée we’ve sampled in our travels.
Stylish wicker sofas shaded with large red parasols dot around a well-maintained lawn and a beautiful wooden croquet set is displayed tantalizingly upon it. Beyond this, a shady pool offers secluded refreshment and a plentiful vegetable garden offers a convenient source of ingredients for all meals.
Highlights are the Z Spa which offers an extensive menu of relaxation and the Mount Baton Suite – the epitome of luxury, that boasts a second bedroom and its own pool. The hotel also has a wonderful boutique, ideal for purchasing last minute gifts to take back with you if you’re ending your trip; and all proceeds go to a local charity. Do good and feel good.
If The Wallawwa was a famous person it would be… Angelina Jolie; effortlessly stylish and charitable.
Luxury rating 8.5/10
Check it out at thewallawwa.com
Mount Lavinia Hotel
The word magnificent was invented for a place like Mount Lavinia. As one of the oldest hotels in Sri Lanka it is the embodiment of old world charm. With over 200 years of heritage this fine establishment harks back to the grandeur of old Ceylon. And still to this day, the grand fountain and reception staff in old colonial uniform greet you with an air of importance. Built as a grand country mansion by the second British Governor of Ceylon, Sir Thomas Maitland, this splendid hotel is a unique experience in every shape and form. Some scenes from the famous wartime movie The Bridge Over The River Kwai were filmed here, so history is everywhere you look.
We arrived to the warm breeze of the Indian Ocean on our faces. However, nothing prepared us for the sheer scale of Mount Lavinia. It is grand in both size and status. A uniformed doorman, like a character out of an Agatha Christy novel, opened our car door on arrival. It feels as if the red carpet has been rolled out for you, but it is in fact the standard service that this hotel is renowned for. We proceed to the lobby manager who confirms our dinner booking at the hotel’s signature restaurant, the Seafood Cove. But first we were to get the grand tour. As a pianist played Chris De Burgh’s Lady in Red in the background a romantic mood started to set in.
There’s the shopping arcade complete with Lavinia Kiosk (souvenirs) and Khiard Jewellers (locally crafted diamonds and coloured stones), a modern gym so you can relax as hard as you like, an on-site salon so you can look your best in the Governor’s restaurant, a business centre to sort out any lingering work issues, or the spa which is located on the beach and set against the backdrop of the Indian Ocean. You can enjoy a couple’s treatment together and indulge in the hotel’s own line of blended pure massage oils and genuine herbal cosmetics. A complete range of spa services are available and Balinese therapists are on hand to make sure you’re pampered to the point of unconsciousness. The 210 rooms have everything you could need and ocean view rooms give a feeling of almost staying on the water itself.
When it comes to dining, you are spoilt for choice with options. We were recommended the Seafood Cove with its Catch of the Day concept menu. Soon, we were kicking back on the most famous beach in Colombo, sand between our toes and sipping refreshing minty Mojitos. Approaching the restaurant’s Marketplace to order our food, we were excited to choose from lobster, prawns, tuna, and pretty much whatever the Indian Ocean had to provide. Gastronomical genius. We then proceeded to select how we wanted our “catch” cooked. With our bellies bigger than our eyes, we decided on starters. Lightly deep-fried prawns were mouth-watering and the fish cakes were a thing of cuisine beauty. But the star of the show was the tuna. Grilled to perfection, it was as fine and meaty as juicy rib-eye steak. We were in seafood heaven.
Mount Lavinia blocks out the tooting noise of Colombo and is within two miles of the National Zoological gardens of Sri Lanka. It has everything on site to make your stay both relaxing and memorable. It is quite conceivable that guests could stay here for two weeks without ever leaving the grounds. That is testament to the top service, many facilities and the alluring sands of the Indian Ocean.
If The Mount Lavinia Hotel was a famous person it would be a suave gentleman such as Sean Connery or Michael Caine; well mannered, well manicured and distinguished.
Luxury rating 8/10
Check it out at mountlaviniahotel.com
Conveniently located just a 15 minute ride away from Colombo Fort train station, is Ellen’s Place; a small hotel named after Ellen Senanayake, who, together with her husband, helped to power Sri Lanka’s independence. The hotel indeed used to be Ellen’s home and was inherited by her great grandson Hon. Vasantha Senanayake, who converted the house into a modern boutique hotel, whilst retaining some of its original decor. All the hanging artwork is by his mother Sunitha and gives the place a unique gallery feel.
The hotel is a popular destination for both traveller and businessman on their way in or out of the country’s capital. Its seven rooms ensure that all guests are assisted 24/7 by the hotel’s 11 friendly male staff. The Manager Gamina is very welcoming, his thirty years in the industry worldwide, evident by his manner.
Rooms come with the relief of AC and although modestly furnished, antique features such as chandeliers and beautiful brass fans hark back to the days of old. Modern elements such as touch display light switches, generous rain showers and everything you need from toothbrushes to a fruit basket, give comfort to the weary traveller. The place is spotless and a welcome retreat from the hot dusty streets of the capital city. The modern outdoor plunge pool/jacuzzi is also available to those with time to relax.
The charm of Ellen’s Place really is the hospitality that is received here. No request is too much for staff who, when asked, gladly served our breakfast on the sunny upstairs terrace instead of the dining room. They even waited at the end of the road to guide our taxi home after we’d been out for the evening.
If Ellen’s Place was a famous person it would be… Joely Richardson; always there, and supported in the industry by her mother Vanessa Redgrave.
Luxury rating 6.5/10
Check it out at ellensplace.lk
Day 2: Kandy
Only 45 minutes from the beeping horns of Kandy, is the closest thing we’ve ever got to living life like film stars. This Tuscan-styled boutique hotel was originally built in 2002 as a dream home for entertaining by Ea Lind and Erik Logstrup, a Danish couple with an impeccable taste for design. You’d be forgiven for thinking you saw this place stylishly perched on the Beverley Hills in a Hollywood movie. It has an old school air of glamour that makes the place timelessly cool and chic.
From the moment we arrive, the film star service commences with our bags being picked up and immediately brought to our room. Pi, the property manager extends the warmest of welcomes in what is now 34 degrees Celsius and the resident German Shepherd Juno also looks pleased to see us. Before long, we are sipping ice-cold cocktails in what is known as ‘the great room’ and listening to Pi narrate the story of the house and all the on-site facilities and activities we can avail of. We are informed all dietary requirements are easily accommodated and meal times are as flexible as the guest likes. We can’t help but cast our eyes on the soft sunset shimmering in the infinity pool to the spectacular backdrop of the Knuckles mountain range and Victoria Lake. It is a definite jaw on floor moment. As Pi tells us about the jacuzzi, steam bath, yoga Shala and massage facilities located in the stone garden, things just seem to get better and better.
With cocktails glasses empty, we get the tour. There are art deco features throughout, and a circle pattern theme crops up like well considered design from the foot of the sun lounger brolly stand to the iron balustrades that spiral from the cinema room in the basement up to your room. Incidentally there are over 1,000 DVDs in this mini cinema. Beautiful artwork dons the walls and provides an almost private intimate gallery feel. There’s a pool table and a swimming pool, both perfect for relaxing. And there’s an ‘honesty bar’, which makes you feel even more at home. The Great Room is all open plan and you can see Pedro, the Portuguese head chef work his magic only a few feet away. Upstairs, you’ll find the three rooms and master suite. Each are beautifully considered with a four poster bed, desk, long arm chair and balcony to soak in that beautiful view. A Kemara spa set complete with cooling aloe gel, organic chamomile skin moisturizer and argan oil conditioner can be found in your spacious wash area and are a luxurious treat after a relaxing day basking in the sun.
The Western Asian fusion cuisine is nothing short of mouth-watering. Ingredients are sourced on the grounds or from nearby markets. So it’s as fresh as it is refreshing. That evening we were introduced to Jaggery by Anu, the Head of Friendly Staff. It’s essentially a sweet product of the palm tree and once mixed expertly into chocolate it becomes the perfect dessert, as we were to learn a few hours later.
The list of available activities is endless; canoeing, guided bike tours, bird watching, trips to neighbouring Kandy, and much more. But there is one excursion that blows them all out of the Victoria reservoir water. On the doorstep of Bougainvillea is The Victoria Golf and Country Resort which is ranked among the 100 most beautiful golf courses in the world.
Bougainvillea Retreat is the perfect place to enjoy a couple of days before hitting the waves at Arugam Bay or on your way back from exploring other parts of the island and is only 3-4 hours from Colombo international airport. Or, you could easily stay here for the duration of your stay in Sri Lanka.
If Bougainvillea Retreat was a famous person it would be… Baroness Karen Blixen (author of Out of Africa which was later turned into the Hollywood film starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford).
Luxury rating 8.5/10
Check it out at bv-retreat.com
Day 3: Koslanda
Picture a room that comes with its own unspoilt mountain, breath-taking waterfall, and infinity pool that overlooks the beautiful local village of Koslanda. Now imagine what it’s like to be a foreign dignitary visiting a distant country’s palace and being waited on hand and foot. Welcome to Living Heritage.
When you arrive at the towering elephant gates of Living Heritage you have indeed arrived at the peak of Sri Lankan luxury. Tucked away in the south Hill Country on its own private ex-plantation 80 acre site is something very special. It is in fact a love affair of British born Lucy Adams and her late husband Manik Sandrasagra. Their vision was to create the spectacular, but do so sustainably with the best interests of the local community at heart. It took 12 long obsessive years to get everything just right. And get it just right they did.
We arrive to the warmest smiles, a cool face towel, a juice drink and a freshly picked jasmine garland. We are then shown into the Ambalama . It is an ancient Sri Lankan tradition that travellers stay in this chill-out pavilion to re-energise after a long trip. Still pleasantly surprised by the scale of the retreat we are keen for Carrim, the General Manager to show us around. Just as we take off, he hands us the ‘hotline’, a pre-programmed mobile phone for guests to request anything at all 24/7. Great call.
Carrim is the epitome of Sri Lankan hospitality. Having worked in Dubai and the Seychelles, he understands and upholds the highest of standards. With a constant smile he shows us to our guest-room. As everything around us reveals more splendor, so too does our en-suite room. The first room is a sanctuary for the senses, with colonial antiques peppered throughout and an eye-catching chaise-lounge. Our bedroom continues the sanctuary feel. There’s even a pair of floral arranged love birds on the end of our sprawling bed. The bathroom is equally impressive. The modern shower is designed to soothe and relax; it even contains a polished concrete seat. A beautiful mosaic jacuzzi in our private outdoor courtyard is the cherry on top.
Lucy tells us about Living Heritage’s awe-inspiring history and the story behind this wonderful place. It’s all rooted in sustainability. She tells us they not only wanted to be part of the community, but also wanted to keep giving back to it. With a captive audience, she goes on to inform us all about the village architecture, her policy for hiring only local staff, her use of local craftsmen and her unwavering willingness to provide opportunities for women, which is very rare in these parts. The story goes as far as organically growing their own produce.
Next we stroll up the hallowed steps to the infinity pool. Just before we reach the top, a temple-like pavilion comes into view. If this somehow failed to take our breath away, the pool did not. With panoramic views of the jaw-dropping mountain range, you really do feel on top of the world. The spell-binding pool appears as if you can swim into the hills. And to complete our unique hillside tour, our chicken wrap lunch appears with a smile.
The attention to guests is always to the fore. On many sunbathing occasions, when we were starting to feel a little parched, a member of staff would appear with iced water, almost by way of some form of telepathy.
Living Heritage is about getting away from it all, but also a place to get inspired.
It is well-hidden, no signs and no visibility of the buildings from the road. It’s great for all seasons as it gets the best weather fronts from the East and West. The ambient Ambalama means guests can socialise in the evenings if they wish to do so. We had the pleasure of sharing dinner, an evening bonfire and many tales with a lovely couple of honeymooners from London. We even shared a cooking curry masterclass with them which was thoroughly enjoyable, as we got to sample everything we saw prepared before our very eyes.
It’s truly amazing to think money can buy an experience such as Living Heritage. And with a bunch of flowers upon departure, something tells us we’ll definitely be back.
Favourite activities: jungle walk through what the locals call ‘God’s Forest’ & waterfall swim; cooking masterclass.
If Living Heritage was a famous person it would be… someone not famous at all; hidden from the world but giving back to the community.
Luxury rating 10/10
Check it out at koslanda.com
Day 4: Udawalawe
Elephant Safari Hotel
There’s a sense of Jurassic Park upon arrival at Udawalawe, and our first elephant is spotted taking oranges from locals over the electric wire fence that separates man from the beasts. The vast expanse of water that we passed on our left is in fact a reservoir that feeds the local power station. Deep in the foliage that falls below the reservoir is Elephant Safari Hotel, its high walls and large gates containing a reception office, seven chalets, a pool and a cafe. Susanthi, one of the partners of this family run business tells us their plans to expand with another 28 chalets on site and an additional two hotels in the area. The 12 hectares are currently cultivated with stony paths, plants and trees about which imported Bantham chickens, ducks and geese roam at will.
We stayed in one of the four chalets that offer a double bed (made up of two single beds put together), a lower ground bathroom and an outdoor balcony with an aesthetic spiral stair case up to the roof above. These dynamic chalets appear more like African mud huts than your typical alpine ski chalets, with thatched roofs and coloured clay walls. The air conditioning was a welcome feature, although it meant that no mosquito nets were provided. We fashioned one using the net we brought and am glad we did. You’re truly one with nature here. Wifi connection is out of the question.
The food was nowhere near the quality we had experienced at other hotels and lots of the menu was either unavailable or required three hours advance notice for cooking. We had dinner at The Grand Hotel, which was about a 15 min tuk-tuk ride away and nice if you dine on the bar’s outdoor balcony.
We awoke the next morning to meet Krishanda, our guide for the safari at 5:30am. Still dark, we found ourselves the only couple aboard a luxurious jeep, with leather armed seats and a privileged view of the road ahead. Our three-hour Safari was definitely the highlight of our stay and Krishanda was fantastic. He showed us crocodiles, turtles, mongoose, foxes, buffalo, lots of exotic birds and of course elephants, teaching us about them along the way.
We left shortly after breakfast was served upon our return from safari. There isn’t much else to do in Udawalawe so a single night’s stay is all you need. If you’re looking for a unique, small place to stay, close to the park, Elephant Safari Hotel fits the bill. And good if you’re after somewhere more family friendly.
If Elephant Safari was a famous person it would be… Bear Grylls; someone willing to get their hands dirty, get close to nature and away from modern technology.
Luxury rating 5/10
Check it out at elephantsafarihotel.lk/web
Day 5: Tangalle
An acute feeling of belonging washes over you as soon as you arrive into the walled retreat of Maya. This is in wonderful contrast to the uncertainty we felt trundling further north of Tangalle beforehand. A smiling Dinesh (the General Manager) and foot-licking dog Patch greet you at the gates and proceed to show you your newest home. Two Maya sour cocktails and cool towels are then placed into your hands. Heaven.
The creation of interior designer Niki Fairchild, Maya’s perfect presentation and carefully considered interiors are a sight to behold.
The restored ancient Walauwa contains two suites, either side of a beautifully decorated atrium. Through this, a dark blue 20 metre outdoor pool seamlessly joins the old building with the new.
The new building follows form and contains three more suites, the kitchen, dining area, office and a small, light-filled and expertly curated boutique.
All suites are individually named and ours boasts high ceilings, a king size bed, his and hers wardrobes, a modern wetroom and a private courtyard. The use of polished concrete adds warmth to whitewashed walls and the attention to detail is astonishing. Information is provided within a beautiful die cut leather bound book and is printed on organic paper. Tips to ensure you make the most of your stay at Maya are presented as if poetry, flowing through each letter of the alphabet to form the start of each tip. In the wetroom, Maya branded lotions and potions are displayed backlit within the wall and wardrobes provide everything you could need; a hairdryer, flip flops, dressing gown, umbrella and even a safari hat.
Never has relaxing felt such a respected and catered for activity than at Maya. Sunbathe upon one of the beautifully towelled loungers that line the pool or baptise yourself in its cool, calm waters. A shallow depth and slippery tiles cannot deter you from the refreshment it provides from the Sri Lankan heat. Read a book in one of the wide hammocks that swing enticingly between the immaculate garden’s trees. Or practice yoga in the further afield Shala. This idyllic spot in which to restore your balance, also doubles as the location for one of the many massages on offer at Maya. We opt for the Maya Herbal full body massage. After donning the beautiful Sri Lankan dressing gowns provided, we head to the yoga Shala which is transformed with the use of cane blinds on three sides for privacy, leaving one side open for a cinematic view of the paddy fields and wildlife beyond. The soundtrack of exotic birds that is so often recorded for spas at home occurs naturally here and completes the feeling of total bliss.
There’s something for everyone at Maya. If relaxing is not your thing, there’s plenty of activities available; biking, fishing, cooking, surfing, Safari and even fitness classes are all on offer at Maya. The Walauwa also contains an antique wardrobe full of board games, books & DVDs to suit the family. Head of Assistance Silva grants any wish you many have.
At night, the place transforms into a haven of candlelight and soothing songs. Light reflected in still water of the pool is joined by the dancing light of fireflies in the garden and burning cinnamon oil adds to the delicious smells that surround you and soothe your senses.
Intimate dinners are served to guests in this romantic setting and we challenge anyone to finish the nine Michelin star worthy dishes of curry served to us and still have space for the passion fruit creme brûlée.
Improving our stay would only have been possible by extending its duration. And perhaps ‘Zen’ would be another word we’d add to sit beside ‘Zero stress’ in the tips poem too. Go in peace.
If Maya was a famous person it would be… Audrey Hepburn; an inspiration to many, charitable, stylish, elegant and always perfectly dressed for all occasions.
Luxury rating 9/10
Check it out at mayatangallesrilanka.com
Day 6: South Coast (Weligama / Midigama / Koggala)
W15, Weligama (1871)
So what is the significance of the W in W15?
On the most perfect of Sri Lankan South Province days, we sat down for a BBQ lunch with Sri Lankan born, English university educated Guest Relations Manager, Amelia. With sand gently massaging our feet, surfers riding the horizon and the chargrilled burger smoke teasing our nostrils, we asked our new western friend the same question.
“Well, lots of English actually think the W stands for West London as they think it’s very Chelsea-eque”, she tells us. But this theory is quickly shot down. We throw our ideas nonchalantly into the mix. “Waves? surely”. Perched on the famous Weligama beach, it’s a surfer’s haven. It’s also the only place around the island that you can surf all year round. And motors are not allowed anywhere near the sacred waters. We think we’ve nailed it. She smiles like the warm friendly Sri Lankans do, but shakes her head.
Not defeated, we quickly pitch in again with “Wow?”. A little brown-nosing never hurt anyone. And with its uber stylish art deco architecture and Beverley Hills vibe it’s certainly pleasing on the eye. Ocean’s Eleven chilled type music plays in the background too. And a DJ in California selects their playlists. Each room even comes with a Geneva Bluetooth smart sound system. “Wow”, I say again, just to make sure she remembers my solution to the riddle. She laughs this time, as our burgers that were cooked only a few feet away, are hand delivered to our table. We want to press pause on the conversation and tuck in. But in such tasteful settings as this, it would be bad etiquette. I take a glimpse at the homemade coleslaw, fries and medium rare burger with oozing cheese on top. I’ve lost all interest in our ice-breaking game. Our attention is on the plate. The lunch is most definitely wow, but unfortunately that’s not what the W stands for. This place is too classy for that. Cheese remains firmly for the menu only. That said, our attempt to sweeten our interviewee went down a treat. “You must try the passion fruit crème brûlée and chocolate mocha tart”. It would be rude not to.
As we savour our desserts we let Amelia divulge more secrets to the hotel’s charm, hoping she would drop some W clues here and there. It turns out they are the only establishment on the bay with a liquor license. There are 10 rooms; all en-suite and all individually designed. And the Sri Lankan philosophy of ‘Anything’s impossible’ is a staff mantra upheld for all the guests. In fact, the there is always more staff than staying guests. Nice to see a modern chic hotel that has its priorities straight.
With our bellies happily full and life stories exchanged, we still had one last thing to clear up. The W. She smiles wide as she announces, “Weligama”. And as it was launched in 2015, three guesses where the 15 came from. Of course. We were just playing along.
We joke and say ‘Wow’ wasn’t a bad guess. To which she replies, you should have one before you go.
And just like that, our experience of W15 ended with a Wow.
*W15’s very own gin and lime based cocktail.
If W15 was a famous person it would be…George Clooney (you guessed it, in Oceans Eleven).
Luxury rating 8/10
Check it out at w15.lk
If you’re after a slightly more private affair, here are a couple of villas that we stayed in prior to the seven-day tour that we highly recommend…
Samadara Estate, Midigama
Luxury rating 9/10
Check it out at srilankainstyle.com/villas/samadara
The Lake House, Koggala
Luxury rating 8.5/10
Check it out at thelakehousekoggala.com
Day 7: Galle
This is the latest addition to the Teardrop Hotel collection and officially opened in January this New Year. We were lucky enough to get a sneak peek at the interior just days before it opened its doors to the public. Similar to The Wallawwa, its colour palate is soft and sophisticated, its feel is more contemporary and less colonial.
The promise of Church Street Social (the name for the new scene that will form as a result of the hotel’s street facing restaurant and bar) is an exciting new addition to Galle´s already buzzing atmosphere and its annual Literary Festival. Fort Bazaar’s 18 rooms include three suites and a secluded surrounded by vegetation serves as the perfect retreat after a day’s shopping in the old town. It’s vintage with a contemporary twist and all commissioned artwork is by Anna Simmons, a cartographic artist.
The Australian executive chef has worked all over Asia and offers a tapas-style menu, so guests can share food as well as stories.
It’s bound to become a hit with locals and tourists alike. Watch this space.
Luxury rating 8.5/10
Check it out at srilankacollection.com/our-collection/fort-bazaar
Have a look at the selection of free Sri Lankan Travel Guides available at Willgoto, World travel directory and travel guide