16 minute read

WanderSleeps: Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka Dream Stays

From hill-country escapes and colonial mansions to sustainable eco-stays nestled within their own reserve – find your perfect Sri Lankan hideaway…

The Zaal (Great Hall)

Amangalla’s imposing entrance hall, with its high ceilings, overhead fans and chandeliers, is known for its silver-stand afternoon tea

Aman Resorts; Karpaha Sands

AMANGALLA

One of Sri Lanka’s oldest surviving hotels occupies an imposing 17th-century Dutch colonial building in storied Galle. For centuries, before Aman Resorts reimagined the site, it was known as the New Oriental Hotel, an institution woven into the rich tapestry of Asia’s best-preserved fortified city. With its double-height ceilings, original polished-teak floors, period furniture and 19th- and early-20th-century memorabilia dating from the building’s former lives, stays invite guests to experience a bygone era. It’s an atmospheric insight into the many chapters of UNESCO-listed Galle, and it’s not short of perks. All the rooms here enjoy king-size four-poster antique beds, freestanding baths and come with the exceptional, highly-personalised service Aman is known for. There’s no better place to experience Galle’s many layers of history than at Amangalla.

Rooms from £340 per night (room only); amangalla.com

KARPAHA SANDS

The 15km-long Kalkudah Beach, on Sri Lanka’s east coast, is blissfully raw and undeveloped. Swathes of coconut palms sway gently overhead and dominate the white-sand coastline as far as the eye can see. Aside from net-wielding fisher families and fellow hotel guests, there’s barely another soul to be seen at this high-end glamping resort, which has been designed to be as low-impact as possible and blend discreetly into the serene setting. The 17 pared-back canvas suites have grand four-poster beds and outdoor showers, while vivid wall-art captures colourful scenes from Sri Lanka. The resort’s enduring appeal is its privacy and seclusion, not to mention the beachfront setting, 30-metre infinity pool and indulgent Ayurveda spa. When night falls, opt for a private beach BBQ followed by stargazing under a pitch-black sky. The perfect finale. Doubles from £155 per night, including breakfast; karpahasands.com ⊲

JETWING KANDY GALLERY

This ingenious boutique property was opened in Januar y 2020 by sustainability-first Sri Lankan hoteliers Jetwing. The result is an eco-focused luxury escape that puts hill-country capital Kandy on your doorstep. It has 26 modern rooms yet is spread across a lush expanse of almost four acres, all overlooking the tranquil river Mahaweli. Just as exciting is what they do with this land. A roof-mounted solar photovoltaic system provides more than half of the hotel’s daily electricity, while an on-site effluent treatment plant recycles 100% of wastewater generated by the hotel to irrigate the gardens. Food waste is turned into bio-gas for cooking and plant clippings are processed into a nutrient-rich soil enhancer for use on the organic garden. Weaving together Kandyan hospitality with modern sustainability and community involvement, this is a beautiful and unique stay just a few minutes from historic Kandy.

Rooms from £220 per night, including breakfast; jetwinghotels.com/jetwingkandygallery

JETWING LIGHTHOUSE

Sri Lanka’s most innovative architect, Geoffrey Bawa, was the driving force behind Tropical Modernism, described by him as “an architectural style of wide open spaces connected to sprawling outdoors”. Galle’s Jetwing Lighthouse is a fine example of this. Observe the rich timber design of the hotel’s Cinnamon Room restaurant, where you’ll also find Sri Lankan fine dining with a focus on sustainable seafood. Don’t leave before paying a visit to the Cetacean Information Center, dedicated to raising awareness about whales and dolphins off Sri Lanka’s southern coast. And while the opalescent waters offshore are too rough for most swimmers, a walk on the beach is the best way to end your day – especially if you time it right for a magical sunset. Rooms from £150 per night, including breakfast; jetwinghotels.com/jetwinglighthouse

NINE SKIES

This refurbished plantation-era bungalow hotel, near Ella, surveys wooded hills, distant stupas and the Demodara Estate’s manicured tea gardens. There’s just five rooms, and its contemporary makeover feels delightfully indulgent. It is also enhanced by spoiling butlers, superb food (included in the rate) and cosy rooms. Spend your days beside the pool or picnicking at secret viewpoints, with long evenings beside a crackling log fire (nights can get chilly in the hills). Ella is an adventurer’s playground – we love its 500m zipline and variety of walks along self-guided sections of the new 300km Tea Country Trail, which aims to preserve the tea heritage of Sri Lanka. Guests can even arrive into nearby Demodara Station (known for its 360-degree sub-station loop) after journeying through the terrace-lined hills by train. Rooms from £486 per night on an all-inclusive basis; teardrop-hotels.com

LIVING HERITAGE KOSLANDA

Tucked into the foothills of the southern hill country, the intricate architecture, artisan craftsmanship, nourishing food and genuine hospitality of this forest retreat never ceases to amaze. The hotel sits in 80 acres of woodland, lawns, kitchen gardens and pepper plantations. There are just nine guest rooms, flicking between courtyard-endowed villa suites (with emperor-sized beds) and open-sided forest pavilions cantilevered over the verdant canopy. Hike up to the serene hilltop swimming pool where views reveal paddy fields and rubber plantations, or wander down through ancient woodland to the hotel’s private waterfall for wild swims and Champagne picnics. Nearby, the 10km descent from Pilkington Point’s lofty viewpoint ends with a swim in the upper pools of 220m-high Diyaluma Falls, one of Sri Lanka’s highest cascades. Rooms from £157 per night, including breakfast; koslanda.com

LAST HOUSE

Sri Lanka’s foremost architect, Geoffrey Bawa, was involved in the design of this five-bedroom beach sanctuary near Tangalle. It was his last private commission and bears many hallmarks of his iconic Tropical Modernism style, including wide colonnaded verandas, natural ventilation and open-air “rooms”. At its heart is a courtyard swimming pool flecked with the fragrant blossoms of frangipani trees. A double-storey building houses the upper floor suite Cinnamon Hill Room and the ground floor living and dining areas, while more rooms lead off from a long saffron-hued passageway. Food is a mix of western and Sri Lankan flavours, and hours-fresh seafood is often delivered to the villa by village fishermen. Beyond the villa’s turquoise gate lies Mawella’s 2km-long beach, an idyllic coastal stretch that feels largely (and joyfully) undiscovered.

Rooms from £205 per night, including breakfast; manorhouseconcepts.com

JETWING COLOMBO SEVEN

Towering over Colombo’s lively cityscape is the Jetwing Colombo Seven, a stately address in the city’s namesake district. Surrounded by some of the best shopping and dining in town, it is an excellent base from which to explore the often-bypassed Sri Lankan capital. The National Museum, one of Asia’s finest institutions, is a short drive away, as is Colombo Fort where grandiose colonial mansions meet trendy bars and restaurants. The minimal yet spacious rooms feature subtle touches of Sri Lankan art, while those staying in can soak up views over the city when visiting the rooftop bar/restaurant. Indeed, the hotel’s star attraction is its roof where a photogenic infinity pool with a bird’s eye view of the city takes centre stage. Rooms from £68 per

night; jetwinghotels.com/jetwingcolomboseven

GAL OYA LODGE

This blissfully isolated boutique lodge is buried deep within the jungle of easterly Gal Oya National Park. The lodge’s nine timber-framed bungalows (plus one two-bedroom villa) are well-spaced amid the 20 acres of wooded grounds. Guests are assigned a naturalist on arrival and spend their days cycling and hiking (the sunrise walk up Monkey Mountain rewards with 360-degree views), or exploring Gal Oya National Park by jeep and navigating Sri Lanka’s largest freshwater lake by boat in the hope of spying elephants swimming between rocky islands. Many of the experiences include picnics or afternoon tea set up in scenic locations. The lodge is also currently rewilding local farmland in an effort to protect threatened wildlife, including endangered fishing cats. Rooms from £191 per night, including breakfast; galoyalodge.com

JETWING VIL UYANA

This outstanding eco-lodge was the first to construct its own wetland system with lakes and reedbeds, forming a private nature reserve within its grounds. This allowed the architects to integrate guest accommodation seamlessly into the paddy fields, forests, marshlands and surrounding gardens. Their design has been inspired by local rural traditions, lending stays here a strong “back to nature” theme. The hotel is located within minutes of iconic Sigiriya Rock and within easy driving distance of the ruins at Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa; it’s an ideal base from which to experience Sri Lanka’s “Cultural Triangle”. When you return, the stunning Kandyan Kingdom-inspired fresco wall at Apsara Restaurant gives an atmospheric backdrop to chef Gunasiri’s legendary culinary creations. This is a truly memorable escape that embodies the ultimate in Sri Lankan eco-friendly luxury.

Rooms from £350 per night, including breakfast; jetwinghotels.com/jetwingviluyana

The coast with the most

(clockwise from this) The island of Korčula is known as “Little Dubrovnik” due to its medieval squares, churches and palaces; a bike ride up to Trsat Castle in Rijeka offers views over the town and bay; the ancient wine-producing region of Istria is best explored by bike on its Wine Trail

Korcula (Zoran Jelaca); Rijeka (Ivan Sardi); Gastronomy (Ivo Biocina)

CROATIA’S

CAPTIVATING COAST

With diverse culture, creative cuisine and untouched nature, it’s no wonder Croatia is on our must-visit list for 2022. Here are five places to explore along the Croatian coast…

1. ISTRIA: Best for a true taste of local life

Think Roman and Venetian history; think pristine sands; think of the best bits of all three swirled together on one bijou peninsula in Croatia. In short: think of Istria, a land where you can become one with the slow pace of local life. It’s a dramatically scenic region where foodies, history lovers and adventurers alike swoon. This is a coastline alive with history, from Pula’s arrow-straight Roman roads to the city’s amphitheatre, which is so fine that the Venetians considered shipping it brick by brick to Italy.

Istria also boasts one of the most charming fishing ports anywhere in the Adriatic – Rovinj. This city is bursting with historical intrigue (don’t miss the St Euphemia Cathedral with its 61m-high church tower) and cobbled streets where you’ll savour superb seafood. That great gastronomy continues in the hinterlands where terracottaroofed hilltop towns are awash not only with heritage but also great local dishes, such as seafood enlivened with truffles.

It’s easy to get around, too. Cycle the Aphrodisiac Trail around Livade (home of the world’s largest ever truffle), stopping en route at local restaurants to fill up on truffle pasta. Or follow the Olives Trail to explore the olive groves of Vabriga and Laterna. If it’s wine you’re after, then the 54km Istrian Wine Trail awaits in Poreč, passing some of the region’s largest vineyards.

2. KVARNER: For the best of all worlds

Eclectic Kvarner is one of the most dramatic destinations in Europe in terms of its setting. This oasis of big sky, tall mountains and shimmering islands entices along with the Austro-Hungarian opulence of the Opatija Riviera, where grand mansions, cafés and waterfront boulevards transport you back to the golden age of 19th century spa tourism. Less than a half-hour’s drive east along the coast also brings you to the port city of Rijeka, the European Capital of Culture in 2020. Further along the coast, the charming town of Crikvenica is also worth exploring, as is nearby Novi Vinodolski, before setting sail to discover the islands of Kvarner Bay, scattered amid twinkling cobalt waters.

Wildlife lovers should head inland to mountainous Gorski Kotar to walk forest trails in search of birds such as woodpeckers, owls and bullfinches. You may even be lucky enough to spot a rare wolf, or even a brown bear. After, head back to the coast to Lošinj for a boat trip to see wild bottlenose dolphins splashing in the water.

Wherever you are in Kvarner, you certainly won’t go hungry. Local dishes are fresh and delicious, and include suckling pig roasted in front of you, dry-cured pršut ham and Adriatic seafood cooked in local olive oil, best paired with a glass of local wine.

Cultural coast

(clockwise from this) At almost 100 square kilometres, Paklenica National Park offers space for adventure in the Velebit mountains; the Mljet National Park is the oldest marine protected area in the Mediterranean; the Church of St Donata, in Zadar, is located on the ruins of an ancient forum; learn about and admire the Roman statues at the Narona Archaeological Museum in Vid; Šibenik’s UNESCO-listed St James Cathedral

3. ZADAR: Best for an adventure

With its art-stuffed streets, pine forest-fringed islands, rugged mountains and numerous natural parks, Zadar makes a perfect destination for the adventurous. The largely pedestrianised old core spreads across a peninsula filled with Roman heritage as well as the rich legacies of medieval Croatia, such as the vaulting Church of St Donatus, which sits by the Roman Forum. Stroll grand streets and admire sunsets that the film director Alfred Hitchcock thought were the finest he’d ever seen.

The public art here is both exceptional and interactive. Hear the Adriatic sing at the Sea Organ, marvel at the Greeting to the Sun solar light show, then enjoy a the flavours of land and sea in its abundant restaurants and revel in seemingly endless unspoilt nature.

shot of local Maraschino cherry liquor at an al fresco seafood feast in one of the Old Town’s welcoming konobas (inns).

Beyond the city, the striking peaks of the Velebit Mountains soar more than a kilometre high and beckon adventurous souls. Hike to the mountain huts of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Paklenica National Park to soar with golden eagles. Alternatively, try the world-class climbing in the park, or cycle along its quiet trails. For the ultimate thrill, throw yourself off Maslenica Bridge on Croatia’s highest bungee jump.

A trio of nature parks – Telašćica, Vrana Lake and Velebit – also await in a region filled with opportunities for adventure. You’ll explore local culture, taste

4. ŠIBENIK: Best for getting well off-thebeaten-track

The UNESCO World Heritagelisted delights of Split’s Diocletian’s Palace can be hard to leave behind, as are the myriad charms of this sultry Adriatic port city and its offshore islands. But the effort is worth it to venture north-west in search of lesser-known Šibenik. This laidback waterfront city boasts an impressive history, while the Cathedral of St James is one of Europe’s more awe-inspiring religious sights, with a level of intricacy and detail you can lose yourself in. Explore the rest of the city sights using the Šibenik Card to appreciate the sheer drama that made it a frequent filming location for the TV series Game of Thrones.

The gastronomy of the city and its surrounds has been influenced by the Venetians, Ottomans and French over the years, and one restaurant, Pelegrini, has rightfully earned its Michelin star. From food stalls to fine dining, you’ll eat well.

Outside of the city, you can hear nature calling. Splash around in the Skradinski Buk waterfall, take a boat to the Visovac Island Monastery and hike around the watery oasis of the Krka National Park, or head offshore into the Kornati National Park. Kornati’s string of sparkling islands offers a real Robinson Crusoe experience, and easing out on

a boat trip into this archipelago is a life-affirming journey.

5. BEYOND DUBROVNIK: Best for culture

You could spend a lifetime exploring within Dubrovnik’s UNESCO World Heritage-listed Old Town walls, but beyond the “city of Game of Thrones” lies a wealth of cultural and natural delights in the surrounding region. To the north, Vid’s Narona Archaeological Museum is the star. It’s a modern architectural marvel built around a Roman Augusteum, a temple dedicated to the cult of the Roman Emperors, with 17 statues depicting them. It’s a literal window into the Roman world. Delving again back in time takes you to the mysterious Stećci stones, medieval tombstones that were listed by UNESCO in 2016. Some of the most impressive lie in the Konavje region, south of Dubrovnik, in the Church of St Barbara in Dubravka.

North of Dubravka, Korčula is, in many ways, a miniature Dubrovnik. It’s easy to see why its most famous citizen, Marco Polo, chose to return after his travels. Relaxing within its ancient walls, between the mountains and the sea, is a delight.

Offshore, the green Mljet National Park, set on its eponymous island, is a natural paradise. The world of Ancient myth comes alive here at the Odysseus Cave, where our epic hero was said to be seduced by the nymph Calypso and waylaid for seven years. Visit and you’ll see exactly why he stayed.

CAN YOU KEEP A SECRET?

5 hidden islands worth exploring in Croatia

1ŽUT

George Bernard Shaw reckoned God created the Kornati archipelago out of “tears, stars and breath”, and Žut is certainly heavenly. Those who visit while exploring this string of islands seldom want to leave – not with the seafood being so good. Dine on fresh fish while gazing out at the waters it came from.

2KRAPANJ

This remarkable little isle – the smallest inhabited island in the Adriatic – hides just a short sail away from the city of Sibenik. It’s an oasis best enjoyed from the water, whether you fancy wild swimming or diving. You’ll certainly eat well here – try fish and octopus grilled over dried vine leaves and delicious squid-ink risotto, all washed down with a glass of the dry local white wine.

3PALAGRUŽA

This far-flung archipelago hides Croatia’s most remote islands, and there is something of the Holy Grail about it for locals. Its most distinctive feature is the Palagruža Lighthouse, but there are plenty of beaches to enjoy as well as archaeological sites. Its walking trails and tall tales beguile, too. ‘Pope’s Field’ is named after Pope Alexander III, who was so entranced by Palagruža that he diverted course to venture out here.

4LASTOVO

Having been shut off as a military base during the Yugoslav era, today you can delve beyond the curtain and enjoy a unique, remote island, whether hiking or cycling. Alternatively, just take it easy by relaxing on the pebbles at Skrivena Luka. The locals will tell you that Lastovo boasts the best lobster pasta in the Adriatic. You’ll enjoy finding out.

5CRES

If you love your islands wild, remote and pristine, then this is the Kvarner Bay escape for you. Hide away in an off-the-beaten-track campsite, recline on a secret beach and seek out villages where time has stood still. There are also griffon vultures, whose breeding grounds have been protected here since 1986. A local guide can escort you into this natural paradise as you leave the modern world and all its cares behind.