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5 luxurious Sri Lankan hotels

Sri Lanka is an island to be toured. Hire a driver and car for a week or two to savour the charms of the Teardrop Island that falls from India’s south-east coast. Though travel on Sri Lanka’s pock-marked roads – where overflowing buses, bikes, cows, goats, trucks, tuk-tuks and even elephants compete with cars – can be wearing. You will need some sanctuaries.

Here, from sub-drenched coast through to Sri Lanka’s mile high-tea country, is a selection of blissful places to rest and recharge as you discover Sri Lanka at your own pace.

Rosyth Estate House, Kegalle

Merely two hours from Colombo’s frenetic airport, Rosyth Estate House is a blissful landing pad for those flying into Sri Lanka. Owners Neil and Farzana Dobbs will arrange for a car to drive you two hours north to this tastefully extended 1926 tea-planter’s bungalow. On arrival, you will be welcomed with a cooling cocktail, a chilled flannel and a restorative foot massage.

Opt for a room in the original bungalow, close to the glass pavilion restaurant and swimming pool. Or for one of the recently built suites with views across a valley cloaked in tea bushes.

Stay for a couple of days to bath and feed the elephants at Pinnawala before visiting Kandy’s Temple of the Sacred Tooth.

Back at the Rosyth kitchen, on the cookery course, learn how to use herbs, spices and vegetables grown on the estate, to create classic Sri Lankan recipes.

Gal Oya Lodge

Way out east from both Colombo and Galle, Gal Oya is Sri Lanka’s least visited National Park. Beyond wi-fi and mobile reception, the park is home to Sri Lanka’s largest lake where elephants swim between some of the lake’s 47 islands.

Gal Oya Lodge is the gateway to tracking down the park’s Big Three of crocodile, elephant and leopard. Also, with the adjacent Jim Edwards Wildlife Research Centre, guests learn how to identify local wildlife: from the plentiful grey herons colonising an island as a maternity hospital through to a rarely spotted pangolin.

Guests stay in the thatched and detached suites, based on traditional rice stores. Each suite is within walking distance of the bar, restaurant, library, reception and swimming pool.

Neither a boat safari, with breakfast or lunch picnic, on the lake nor an enlightening walk with chief of the Veddha tribe are to be missed.

The Stafford Bungalow, Ragala

Strictly speaking the Stafford Bungalow is a full-service villa, with a butler who will welcome you with hot chocolate and marshmallows if there is a chill in the air. Close to the hill station of Nuwara Eliya, the Stafford Bungalow with its white picket fences and immaculate green lawns, pays homage to Sri Lanka’s golden age of tea plantation.

It was not just cool temperatures and abundant rain that gave the region the nickname of Little England. The planters imported afternoon tea, G & Ts and marmite to overcome home sickness. With Sri Lanka’s President as a previous guest, there is a restful elegance to the décor.

A walk through the tea plantation is not just an education in how to pick two leaves and a bud as well as how to prune a tea bush every four years, with binoculars supplied it is a bird spotting extravaganza.

As well as taking local walks, guests can walk sections of the recently opened Pekoe Trail or use Stafford Bungalow as a stop-over on the full 300 kilometres of the walk.

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Malabar Hill, Weligama

Set between surf and forest, Malabar Hill and its 10 secluded villas sit on a high ridge. Just three miles from sandy beaches, this luxury hotel at Weligama is another must-stop destination on a Sri Lankan itinerary.

Malabar is designed to be off-grid with no television nor mobile phone reception. Yoga mats in the suites and yoga lawns represent the serene ambience. Throughout the 33 acres site there are scenic cycling and walking trails.

More contemporary and cosmopolitan in decor and design than many of Sri Lanka’s historic properties, Malabar pulls together elements of both Indian and Middle Eastern styling.

Well placed for a trip to Galle, merely a 40 minutes drive away, this boutique hotel is also close to the quaint fishing village of Welligama.

Jetwing Lagoon, Negombo

At the end of a Sri Lankan tour it is time for some coastal relaxation. Past the fishing port of Negombo and through the narrowing peninsula, Jetwing Lagoon idyllically sits between the lagoon and the Indian Ocean. Then when the time to depart sadly arrives, it is a 30 minutes drive to Colombo airport.

A restaurant that specialises in local food – think curries, sambals and string hoppers – has tranquil views of the lagoon. Less tranquil when jet-skiers and water skiers are in action.

With cabanas and sun-loungers lining a 100 metres pool there is never any shortage of sun bathing space.

Back in the 1960s, the hotel was one of Sir Geoffrey Bawa’s early architectural projects. The use of airy space and economical local materials became trademarks of his pioneering Tropical Modernism.

Michael Edwards

Michael Edwards is a travel writer from Oxfordshire, UK. Although Michael had his first travel pieces published nearly four decades ago, he is still finding new luxury destinations to visit and write on.

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  1. Sri Lanka is utterly idyllic but I’d have to agree that travel can be very tiring. It always takes you longer to get somewhere than you’d anticipated.

    I also agree that having a car and driver is the way to do Sri Lanka. Our driver was very chatty and full of stories that brought the country to life for us.

  2. From the holiday chat I’ve heard in the office, it seems to me that Sri Lanka may be on the way back. It really has suffered a lot over the last half century. It deserves some good luck, the people are so warm and welcoming.

  3. There’s no shortage of luxury accommodation in Sri Lanka.

    We visited Sri Lanka back in 2018 and didn’t stay in any of these and were very impressed with the places that hosted us.

    Though having a butler at Stafford Bungalow is way beyond the luxury that we had.

  4. Gal Oya looks more like Africa than Sri Lanka. I didn’t know that you got Zambezi like scenes on the island.

    I’d never heard of Gal Oya before, obviously it is far from the usual tourist trails and well worth the travel.

    1. It took 3 or 4 hours to get from Kandy to Gal Oya and it was worth the journey.

      On our first full day there, we left Gal Oya Lodge at sunrise and took to the huge lake early in the morning. As only 4 boats are licensed for safaris you feel as if you have the whole lake to yourself. Stopping for a picnic breakfast is a magical experience.

  5. This really couldn’t be better timed. Yesterday, we had a big discussion on where our big 2024 holiday would be and Sri Lanka was one of the places mentioned.

    1. You need to keep on doing that research on Sri Lanka!

      For an island that is only a quarter of the size of the UK it has amazing diversity.

      My top tips are to start slow, finish slow and have a break in the middle. If you’re flying from the UK it’s a long flight and your body clock probably needs a day or two to adapt.

      At Rosyth, Neil & Farzana are brilliant at introducing you to Sri Lanka with estate walks, tea-tasting and the cookery course. By the time you’re ready to travel again, you will feel that you’ve been introduced to Sri Lanka.

  6. Some people, not mentioning the names of any of my work colleagues, spend 2 weeks on a beach in Sri Lanka and then think that they’ve done Sri Lanka.

    This post is a nice reminder of how much the island has to offer. There’s far more to this lovely country than beautiful beaches.

  7. A friend described Sri Lanka as “India Lite” when I told her that I’d never been to either India or Sri Lanka.

    Reading this I can see what she means. I could put together a very civilised tour of Sri Lanka without having to travel huge distances and battle with India’s huge cities.

  8. It could be the books I’ve read or the films I’ve watched that have made a stay at a hill station one of my travel ambitions. I’d always thought that I’d have to travel to the north of India for that one. I’d never thought of Sri Lanka as offering the planter’s lifestyle like the Stafford Bungalow does. And it looks as if Stafford foes it with exquisite style.

  9. Three times I’ve been to India including a month on my gap year. Every visit has been fantastic. Definitely time that I moved onto Sri Lanka and there are some good tips here.

  10. Last time I visited Sri Lanka I stayed in a Sir Geoffrey Bawa hotel – but not Jetwing Lagoon – and could see why he was knighted. He achieved a lot without using huge amounts of expensive materials.

  11. Wow, I can’t believe the luxury and opulence of these Sri Lankan hotels! The attention to detail and the stunning architecture are truly impressive. I’m definitely adding Sri Lanka to my travel bucket list after reading this post. Thanks for sharing!

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