November, 12, 2016
Shangri-La’s Hambantota Resort & Spa, Hambantota
Between the oncoming trucks and the hairpin bends, it’s a nerve-jangling three-hour drive from Colombo to the new Shangri-La’s Hambantota Resort & Spa, on Sri Lanka’s unspoilt south coast. But it’s also a beautiful journey through lush forests and well worth it.
Built on the site of a former 145-acre coconut plantation, the resort sits on a hillside that sweeps down to the Indian Ocean and a coastline that once formed part of the ancient Spice Route. It’s also less than an hour’s drive to two wildlife-filled nature reserves, Yala – famous for its leopard population – and Bundala.
On arrival, we were welcomed into a vast open-air lobby where the only noise was the sound of the waves crashing on the palm-fringed beach beyond. Contemporary Sri Lankan in feel, the resort has been cleverly designed to bring the outside in at every opportunity and champions local craftsmen with its intricately carved teak pillars, rugs, pottery and handwoven blankets.
Everything is linked by shaded walkways – essential during the summer months, when the average temperature is 31C – and all bedrooms have balconies or terraces and lovely views across the garden, golf lawns or ocean.
There are three restaurants. We loved Sera, which serves comfort food inspired by the famous street hawkers of south-east Asia. We also enjoyed the beach grill, forged from old fishing boats, serving food straight from the firepit.
Shangri-La’s brilliant signature Chi spa dispenses Chinese and Ayurvedic facials, massages and body treatments, and offers free yoga classes every morning. There’s an 18-hole golf course by Rodney Wright built on the site of an old sapphire mine. There are also numerous outdoor pools. The beach is beautiful but the currents are too strong for swimming. It’s a good spot for watching the sun set, though.
Up for a bit of an adventure, I borrowed one of the resort’s mountain bikes and cycled up to the nearby Godawaya Buddhist Temple on the coast, where the Walawe – Sri Lanka’s largest river – joins the Indian Ocean. A refreshingly different experience from cycling at home, as I had to dodge a 4ft monitor lizard, and was pursued on my way by a temple monkey.
Deluxe garden rooms from £140 per night, including all taxes and fees (read a full review and check availability).
By Gary Cochran
The Frangipani Tree, Near Galle
This minimalist beachside hotel not far from Galle, inspired by legendary Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa, has nine light, airy suites shared between three villas. With Wi-Fi and iPod docks but no TVs, DVD players or phones in-room, a stay here is about embracing simple pleasures like dozing by the pool, playing tennis and strolling down the long secluded beach to see the stilt fishermen and spot sea turtles. It’s also the place for deliciously fresh seafood and Sri Lankan curries.
Cape Weligama, Weligama
On its own headland, a half hour drive south of Galle, this boutique hotel has 39 spacious rooms laid out village-style in terracotta-roofed villas sharing multiple pools. There are four restaurants, most notably the Ocean Terrace for market-fresh seafood, and the cliff-edge Rouge Steakhouse and Grill, for teppanyaki-style dining. There’s also a crescent-shaped clifftop pool, tea-based spa treatments by Parisian Themae, a dive centre and a catamaran for whale-watching.
By Francesca Syz