A peaceful spa-like resort in the island’s capital, Colombo, this boutique hotel (once a private house modeled on a Victorian townhouse) is perfect for sightseekers and spice-trippers alike. Most airlines fly into the city so it’s worth booking a night here and looking around the capital before you head on to your next destination. Take in culture by day (the hotel is within walking distance of Columbo’s museums, galleries and Gangaramaya Buddhist temple) and gastronomic delights by night.
Start with a cocktail or two in the hotel’s bar; there’s no menu as each drink is created daily with fresh local fruits including mangoes from an adjacent courtyard, and an ‘olive’ martini made with local veralu fruit.
The restaurant celebrates local and traditional ingredients but gives them a modern twist. Look out for jack fruit, the flesh of which was traditionally pureed into curries but is now used to make a rich, fragrant soup, while its seeds are ground to make the base of a cheesecake. Ice creams are another highlight, with flavours including saltfish and green olive.
In the Batticaloa district, on the east coast of Sri Lanka, this contemporary beach hotel is set on a private bay, Passekudah, among a small string of luxury hotels. Its impressive entrance presents you with views of turquoise waters and white sand beaches – a romantic’s dream, in other words (for ultimate indulgence, guests can arrange to have dinner on the beach). Dishes such as prawn stew and grilled tiger prawns with a citrus dressing are, unsurprisingly, focused on seafood; take a short walk up the bay and you can see local fishing boats lined up, ready to haul in the next day’s catch.
All rooms here have direct views of the Indian ocean but it’s worth dragging yourself away from the beach for a few hours for a tour of the local coconut grove. After learning how the trees are cultivated, finish up with a coconut milk ice cream, fresh from the latest local crop.
Uga Jungle Beach
A cluster of private cabins close to the village Kuchchaveli, on the island’s east coast, this resort looks out over the surrounding jungle and lagoon. One for anyone in search of a luxury Robinson Crusoe experience each cabin comes with its own secluded outdoor shower and is surrounded by lush greenery and the gentle hum of wildlife, as well as easy access to a private beach. Part of a 10-acre reserve, the focus is on nature but culture vultures are catered for too. Visit the historical harbour at Koneswaram for a taste of local life or take a boat out to Pigeon Island National Park for snorkeling among spectacular corals.
Like all the Uga properties, food is a highlight. Being on the coast the hotel’s restaurant makes the most of the sea with fresh seafood barbecues on the beach and classic fish curries. Don’t miss the slow cooked beef though, served in an rich, spiced gravy with okra, coconut milk and mustard seeds.
And make sure you try the egg hoppas at breakfast. These bowl-shaped thin pancakes, with an egg cooked in the centre, are served with a pungent hot chilli paste, and give a delicious kick-start to the day.
The latest Uga property, this is scheduled to open in December 2015 in the south of the island. Surrounded by farmland and jungle, it will encompass a collection of wooden cabins plus a beachside restaurant serving traditional Sri Lankan dishes. Attractions include walks to a nearby lake where elephants are often to be spotted bathing, and safaris in one of the surrounding national parks.
By Anna Glover
First published August 2015