Destination Guide

Sri Lanka

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Roughly the size of Ireland, Sri Lanka hangs like a beautiful pendant on a necklace draped around India, and to explore its many different parts—from beaches to rock temples—requires time and savvy itinerary planning.


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Pool and Relax Area at Amangalla, Sri Lanka


Amangalla’s 28 rooms, including seven suites, are spread across two interconnected buildings that give this property a real sense of spaciousness. Interiors feature a heavy dose of colonial-era elegance, with polished teak and jack-wood floors, four-poster beds, planters chairs and an exquisitely tiled floor on the verandah out front. Doors of the so-called Great Hall are flung wide open, so the hotel feels like it is part of the Galle Fort scene.

And indeed, the two buildings that make up today’s hotel have a long history here. Part of the structures was built in 1684 by the Dutch (which explain the high-ceiling Great Hall, or Zaal, as it would have been called during those days) and turned into a hotel by the British in 1863. Aman took over in 2004, opening just before the tsunami hit Sri Lanka, devastating the surrounding coastline and a country already burdened by a lengthy civil war. Amazingly, Galle Fort was completely protected from the waves, and the wood floors of the Amangalla didn’t see a drop of water.

Today, the hotel reigns supreme in the luxury market with its spacious accommodations and such amenities as a sizeable pool (welcome in the soaring heat that this part of Sri Lanka can experience), a lovely tranquil spa, complete with a roster of Auyrvedic treatments, beautiful gardens and a buzzing bar famous for its locally inspired cocktails (try the arrack sour).

Rooms are spread across three floors, and all are very comfortably outfitted with large bathrooms. (Indagare Tip: If you don’t want to walk up and down stairs, ask for one on the ground floor, as there is no elevator here.) Some come with private patios or balconies, while others open directly into lovely gardens. Due to the layout of the historic buildings, none of the floor plans are the same and views vary (a glimpse of the sea can be spotted from some of the top-floor rooms).

Don’t miss morning yoga at the tranquil platform tucked into the gardens. Guests interested in Ayurvedic medicine should book a consultation with the on-site specialist.

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Tea Trails Bungalows

Arriving at one of the incredible Tea Trail bungalows is part of the adventure: your driver takes you through impossibly narrow roads, winding higher and higher through greener and greener tea crops, passing local pickers dressed in colorful saris. The entire time you are bouncing around on the back seat, you can’t help but wonder at the British, on horseback and in carriages, who pegged this wild tropical jungle, with its steep, unforgiving terrain, as the place for starting a tea planation.

But select it they did, in the 1840s, starting what remains as one of Sri Lanka’s biggest industries. And with the plantations came estate managers (and their wives and entourage), so planters’ bungalows sprung up around Hill Country. The five restored ones that belong to Tea Trails hail from this colonial era, having been meticulously restored and updated by the owners, the Fernando family of the Sri Lankan Dilmah tea empire (Cape Weligama is the sister property).

Each of the stylish boutique villas (“bungalow” is an understatement) has between four and six bedrooms, as well as sumptuous sitting and dining rooms, a games room (billiards, of course) and beautifully planted gardens. The vibe is that of a home stay and keys to rooms are only procured upon request. Though belonging to the same hotel group, the bungalows are located sizeable distances apart (30-45 minutes by car), so guests will stay put at one of them for the entirety of their stay. Choosing which one is not easy, as all have unique characteristics and will appeal to different types of travelers (contact Indagare’s Bookings Team for help selecting the one that’s right for you).

Norwood is exquisite from the moment guests drive past two enormous stands of bamboo that shelter the elegant driveway. High on top of a hillside, this bungalow has extraordinary 360-degree views of the eastern end of the Bogawantalawa Valley and feels the most open. A large swimming pool and sun deck makes a stay here particularly relaxing, and the larger grounds make it the best fit for families traveling with younger children. Over in another valley, Tientsin is located at an elevation of 4,600 feet and is a garden lover’s dream, with expansive green lawns and colorful flower beds. Lunch and tea here are served on a covered porch with a view towards the mountains.

Castlereagh, the original Tea Trails bungalow that opened in 2005, has the most colonial vibe, with pretty gardens and a slightly smaller sitting and dining room. At a lower altitude, it overlooks Castleragh Reservoir, which is also where seaplanes land for visitors not wishing to make the adventurous drive here. Just up the road from Castleragh lies Dunkled, the newest Tea Trails addition that opened in early 2016. The outside terrace and patio here has incredible views, and a single cottage is a fabulous choice for travelers requiring more space. Interiors are stylish and brand-new, with beautiful printed fabrics and polished floors, the large infinity pool and Jacuzzi have sweeping reservoir views. (With four rooms, the smallest of the villas, Somerville, is currently closed for renovations.)

Much like at a safari or wilderness lodge, days at Tea Trails are arranged around meals. After breakfast, the chef will run lunch and dinner plans by you, and there are juices and snacks available throughout the day. Morning “bed tea” kicks off your day (very Downton Abbey) and High Tea, complete with clotted cream and scones highlights the afternoon. To offset all the eating (which is excellent and can be fully customized to preference), many guests choose to hike or bike in the area, though bikers need to be hearty: the terrain here is steep. Each bungalow has a couple of well-marked shorter hikes in its vicinity and those wishing for a more challenging trek can hike from one bungalow to another for lunch. Another must is the Tea Experience, where guests learn about the local tea production from the master blenders and makers working here.

It’s good to know ahead of time that are some downsides to staying at such an intimate and historic property. Doors and walls are not as sound-proof as one would like, which is not ideal when you have a mix of guests with varying degrees of jetlag from around the world (though in most cases, this villa hotel draws a rather subdued, older clientele). Even though each bungalow is generously sized, when it rains, guests retreat to the same three or four common areas, so if someone wants to watch a soccer game on TV, it’s difficult to escape. And just like at any other lodge in the world, pre-dinner cocktails entail some mingling.

That said, for most travelers, Tea Trails will be a must-do on their itinerary—it’s simply one of the most authentic and memorable hotel stays the country. Much like at Cape Weligama, what elevates it is the incredible team of butlers who not only speak excellent English but who look after their guests with a lot of care, humor and thought. Many have been with Tea Trails for years (always a good sign) and are eager to have guests appreciate the special beauty of this region.

Pool at Ulagalla Resort, Sri Lanka

Ulagalla Resort

No matter how exciting the monuments in the area, Ulagalla is the type of property you can’t wait to return to after some sight-seeing. Centered around a historic mansion dating from 1916 that faces a beautiful large pool area, the property spans some 58 acres of gorgeous scenery, including rice paddies, small ponds and romantic, overgrown jungle paths. Strolling or biking around, guests can see incredible bird life, including many resident peacocks, as well as iguana, monkeys and water buffalo in the distance (the property is surrounded by local farms and massive man-made lakes).

The twenty so-called guest chalets are folded into this verdant scenery on stilts for optimal views. They are grouped in pairs, so you don’t feel completely deserted in the middle of the jungle, but some clusters are far from the main hub, so each comes with a set of bicycles for guests to get around (the lovely staff is also happy to arrange golf cart pick-ups). All chalets have the same generous layout with a large sitting room with an L-shaped couch, dining table, flat-screen television and a counter with a tea and coffee maker. Bedrooms are equally spacious, with a king-size, four-post bed, and bathrooms boast double vanities and rain showers (but no bathtubs).

All chalets, except for the two closest to the pool area, also have sizeable plunge pools and al fresco decks with loungers. Thanks to the fact that the chalets are on stilts, they almost have the sense of a tree house—the floor-to-ceiling windows look out into lush green foliage teeming with birdlife. Two of the most desirable houses also have more sweeping views of the rice paddies (contact Indagare’s Bookings Team to learn which number to book).

It says a lot about the main hub, with its large pool, bar/lounge and restaurant, that guests can tear themselves away from their private jungle extravaganzas. But especially in the early evening, you can watch most everyone arrive on their bikes and settle into the comfortable wicker chairs on the terrace. The mansion, which was built in 1916, has an open floor plan (you won’t find a single window), beautiful old wood beams and cool tile floors. The first-story restaurant, overlooking the pool, serves a good mix of local Sri Lankan food, as well as international choices, featuring produce from the Ulagalla’s own organic vegetable garden (cooking classes are also available here).

The witching hours at this special property, however, just after sunrise and right before sunset, are when the incredible panoramas here are at their very best. Biking around, with an eye peeled for peacocks and monkeys, the light changing by the minute, you feel the tug of something ancient in these landscapes. Though Ulagalla is very luxurious, it’s the simple pleasures in these moments that elevate it: the warm breeze, the soothing jungle colors, the sense of excitement that a new discovery may just be right around the next corner.

Ready to go and in need of expert trip planning? Contact us today.

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