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Travel
March 16, 2012

Serendipity

Text by Devanshi Mody.

Sri Lanka’s spas beckon with their delightful settings, signature treatments and mounth-watering local fare. Join Devanshi Mody as she discovers the best ways to unravel frayed nerves, in the Emerald isles

Serendib they call Sri Lanka. And serendipitously we’ve stumbled upon spa-rtan splendour….

Jetwing Vil Uyana
A most bewitching hotel. If it’s a hotel. It is more. An abandoned paddy field transformed into a wetland wonderland, a self-contained ecological universe is ‘Sri Lanka’s Leading Boutique Hotel’ (World Travel Awards 2011). An archway opens onto lotus ponds pulsating with pink, purple and white flowers. Stone slabs flung across convey onto a breezy pavilion called Sulang upheld by budding red lotus pillars. An infinity pool flows into lakes laced in wilderness. Above Sulang blossoms the restaurant Apsara with magnificent floor-to-ceiling murals and views of vistas of water, flora and fauna. Expect 110 species of birds. As you breakfast on traditional mats in the pool-side courtyard a peacock dances for you, a kite stills in air and a burst of blue upon your line of vision is a kingfisher. And when you see 15 peacocks together, that’s a party! An iguana tans by the pool (but the crocodile doesn’t like chlorine, sadly) whilst a family of otters hangs around your ‘dwellings’ (marsh, paddy, water and forest) as nature blooms in unmitigated glory.

Pick the duplex Forest Dwelling, especially sought by honeymooners. Deceptively village hut-like. Then you spot your private plunge pool and verandas. Sprawled over the first floor are bathrooms with a stone bath sitting in a private courtyard with its own placid water body. Comely coir baskets and palm trays bear utilities. Even a dental kit is brought in a prettily woven eco-friendly palm box. Rooms upstairs are under thatch and bamboo standing on tree trunks and palm-walled. Balconies open onto a live wildlife programme….

The spa luxuriates on its own island. Wooden bridges lit at night look like streams of gold rushing down to this idyll. Therapy suites have Jacuzzis sunken in the lake and shielded from obtrusive eyes by a curtain of bushes. Get those naughty knots straightened out with an Elemis deep tissue massage. Try chakra balancing oil. Emerge frangipani fragranced. Honeymooners splurge on couples packages. The Vil Uyana signature treatment Kashyapa & Uppula, which takes its name from the royals who once reigned over this ancient kingdom, is a lathering of aromatic relaxing oils. Regal experiences prevail with the three-day Cleopatra ritual comprising milk baths, sandalwood and turmeric wraps (not-so-Cleopatra), massages et al.

Revel in rusticity and reeds over a paddy-field picnic. You are expected to proceed with splayed feet on rods of mud, but nobody forewarns. Having been taught to walk the demure straight line, I stumble into the bog…. Better than a chute during the farmerly tree-hut dinner, except the farmer’s feeble fare turns into a feast of 30 indigenous dishes served on a customised clay dinner set. Romantic. However, when love doesn’t last a weekend you wonder why supper must last eternities. Organisation could improve. Prices are precipitous for basic local cuisine. But chill over 18 homemade ice creams best had on a languid noon in the library overlooking stretches of water and wildlife.

Were service on fast-forward mode, one would keep rewinding the experience. Especially as staff kept calling me “Mr,” and I always appreciate complimentary gender upgrades.

Jetwing Beach
This spa is no exotic extravagance. But, if quality of treatment preponderates over fantastic locations/décor then this is arguably the island’s best spa. The spa is minimalist but elegant and fragrantly swaddled. Spa manager Udeni who trained at Six Senses (Maldives) has groomed her staff impeccably. Ask for Himesha who did me a wonderful Elemis Fruit Active Glow facial including stimulating specialist Eastern massage techniques. But it’s the massages that get guests effusive, impelled to immediately book another massage – not always easy for the spa seems always sold out! But interconnected sister hotel Jetwing Blue, newly launched and newly declared WTA ‘Sri Lanka’s Leading Resort’, has a blooming good spa stocking delicious local spa products. And then, suites have Jacuzzi-studded terraces and funky modern tableaux whilst construction junk works its way imaginatively onto panels striping walls outside suites. The sort of art that would fetch a fortune at London’s Satchi Gallery….

Jetwing Lighthouse
Multi award-winning. Whilst most Sri Lankan hotels spurn Indians (considered ‘low-budget’ travellers, and to the Lankan, tourists must perforce be white, although Indians comprise Sri Lanka’s largest tourist market…) Jetwing Lighthouse swarms with Indians. Besides signature Jetwing spa treatments, this hotel has the country’s best gourmet restaurant, the only one of Michelin-starred calibre. Dine al fresco on romantic terraces flirting with willing seas. Lankan buffets impress too. Expect glam interiors and art. A stunner of a spiral stairway contused with scenes from a historic royal battle anticipate warring over always-sold-out rooms.

Amangalla
Wrapped in the famed Galle Fort, situated in a UNESCO heritage site, this 400-year-old Dutch period mansion is an oasis of tranquillity. Process through its white façade faceted with an arched veranda into an elegance of antiques, antiquarian prints, gleaming vintage floors, pert white linen and rich mahogany and rattan planters. Suites with their antique and replica beds, divans and almirahs and their open-plan bathrooms with stand-alone baths exude romance.  If the loved one is cold shouldering you then warm yourself with spectacular sunrises ushered in through enormous windows. Cool by the pool over complimentary homemade ice cream and fresh fruit in canopied poolside seating areas. The pool studded in emerald, is a little beauty. Wind your way up the garden path past the yoga pavilion to the ethnic spa where the Balinese therapist Susi does wonderful facials with products from Aman’s signature range. She is the only female therapist so should a male masseur horrify, ensure you book in advance.

The Fortress
Declared ‘The World’s Best Luxury Coastal Hotel’ by World Luxury Travel Awards 2011. Modelled on the Galle Fort, this spectacular sea-front property intersperses historic Dutch and Portuguese elements with Lankan motives, adventurous architecture and design. The free-flowing pool staggers. Rooms and residences walled in gardens have courtyards and terraces overlooking sapphire seas or emerald lawns. After the spa’s treatments including intensive Ayurveda (Abhyanga, Samvahan, Navarakiz) or extensive water therapies, Zen over Lankan teas at T or get into high spirits at the classy, glassy cave Wine 3, whilst Pepper’s Lankan curries leave you feeling hot, hot, hot.

Kahanda Kanda
Heartbreakingly exquisite. But attitude can be equally heartbreaking. There seems a preference at this British-owned establishment for guests of the imported variety. Local staff strut imported accents, although the fragile importation perhaps fractured during conveyance. Almost a mirthful revival of the Raj when local lackeys of white sahibs pranced about….

Notwithstanding, KK is a triumph of style with its water bodies spouting sinuous statues, fine verdant weave and individually decorated eight suites, an array of Notting-Hill-home quirks, Balinese exotica and Lankan oddments. Expect ebony four-poster beds, antiques, artwork, libraries…. Book Dubu Suite, an imported Balinese house (including sculpted ceilings) set beside a private plunge pool and flanked by lavish outdoor bathrooms.

The Peacock Suite has gardened outdoor showers and a courtyard overlooking tea estates fervid with fauna. Curiously, for $510/suite you haven’t the expected complimentary bottled water, tea/coffee, bathrobes, toilet amenities. Never mind. Soon my private terrace transports. Pre-occupied with homemade muesli ablaze with apricots like slivers of sun and golden roasted cadjus and almonds, I hardly notice a peacock flurrying across.

The spa is minimal but oh the setting: open air massage pavilions. Glimpse a meander of Koggala Lake interlaced in cascading trees. Dining terraces teether cliff-edge. Suppers enchant. The food has French tourists detonate rapturously (and the French are so fastidious). Imported ingredients KK discourages. Nationalists might find this profoundly patriotic, tourists might see charm, and the cynic cost-cutting.

I was reading Sea of Poppies during my stay and perhaps unwittingly read into KK’s workings a re-enactment of the astronomic profits that sustained the Empire. Never mind. KK is bewilderingly beautiful. One of Sri Lanka’s two most beautiful hotels, if not the loveliest.

Heritance Ahungalla
Where MS Dhoni honeymooned. Get Sachin’s favourite, the Tendulkar Suite sporting Tendulkar mementos. Sup on terraces expansive over seas, unless bathroom Jacuzzi dining appeals. Enjoy Geoffrey Bawa architecture and award-winning nouvelle cuisine beach dinners. Some like to feed the body while others prefer to knead the body.

The hotel’s spa excels. Try Sri Lanka’s only four-hand massage performed by super-skilled Balinese masseuses. Rather than oiling your curries, oil your bodies for a spa-rtan figure!

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