Villas in Sri Lanka

There are few islands in the world where the scenery is so diverse, and so quickly varied. Visitors who come to Sri Lanka cannot fail to be moved by this irresistible chameleon-like charm, her warm-hearted people and her rich multi-cultural vibe. And, despite the island’s popularity with visitors, it still feels like an untouched paradise.

Sri Lanka offers something for everyone. There’s the ancient Sinhalese ruins of the Cultural Triangle; the Hill Country’s colonial plantation bungalows, misty peaks and endless tea; Kandy’s revered Temple of the Tooth; national parks where leopards, elephants and bears roam free; and the warm turquoise seas where you can see whales and dolphins, and scuba to coral reefs.

This island’s endless swathes of unspoilt palm-speckled beaches are its biggest draw. The sultry south-west stretch linking the water sports capital of Bentota, the historic 17th century fortified city of Galle and the rustic shoreline of Tangalle is the most developed, accessible and popular, and also where most of the island’s villas – many atmospheric heritage homes - can be found.

Both the island’s geography and its multi-ethnic community are reflected in the national cuisine. Spices, particularly cinnamon, attracted overseas traders many years ago, and they feature strongly in the island’s wonderful curries, which tend to be much hotter (and better!) than their Indian equivalents.

Sri Lanka’s relatively small size means that you can take in the best of the island’s attractions within a few weeks. The south-west coast and hill country are at their climatic best between December and April, which is when the majority of visitors come. The inter-monsoonal northern summer months are not to be avoided either as quick downpours intersperse long sunny days.

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Villas in Sri Lanka by region

Hill Country, North West Coast, South Coast, West Coast
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Blue Heights

Blue Heights

Sri Lanka » South Coast » Dickwella

For a lazy, languid holiday where you come armed with a stack of books and great company, Blue Heights is the business.  The simple design and minimal interiors are unfussy and free of distractions so that you focus on the job at hand – relaxing, catching up with friends and family and absorbing the restful environment.  The ocean views and hilltop locale create a feeling of space and the convivial pool area, with sunset-worthy jacuzzi, soon became one of our favourite spots.  The open-sided dining area made the most of the views and even from the glass-walled lounge you can spy the sea whilst watching TV.  Those staying in the master bedroom do get a lot more value as the room is huge and is attached to a little private lounge with pergola roof, although the bathroom is rather narrow.  The bedroom in the main house works well for elderly relations or independent couples.

The staff, a husband and wife team, plus houseboy, were very welcoming – as was Timmy, the house’s loveable dog!  Service is casual and their English was limited so communicating was a bit of a struggle at times.  However, the villa is looked after by a management team whose area manager is always at the end of the phone.  The kitchen is basic and uninspiring, however there is a little pantry with sink and fridge for making drinks.  In any case, a cook prepares all of your meals (Sri Lankan cuisine mainly, plus a few fried rice and noodle dishes).

Note that the beach is not at the end of the garden – you need to go through the gate, turn right along the road and then wander for five minutes to the beach.  Swimming is best in the middle of the bay.
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Brockenhurst

Brockenhurst

Sri Lanka » Hill Country » Nuwara Eliya

Brockenhurst is a good private base for visiting Nuwara Eliya town and nearby attractions. Although there are few facilities – the kitchen is basic and there is no swimming pool – Brockenhurst does represent very good value.

The house can accommodate up to twelve guests; since the master bedroom has space for five (rather like a dorm room we thought) and the second bedroom can sleep three, it’s a great house for a couple of families. We felt that the ground floor bedroom would be suitable for elderly relatives who weren’t keen on stairs, making the house a good choice for extended family holidays too. Whilst the number of bathrooms equals the number of bedrooms, only two are ensuite, but this doesn’t really pose a problem. We felt that the house reflected bygone days when entertainment was made, not provided, which is certainly part of its charm.

Whilst Brockenhurst has probably changed little aesthetically since its colonial days, it has been updated; bathrooms are modern and have scorching hot showers (although the bathtubs could do with a few touch-ups here and there), and whilst the bedrooms are comfortable, they are sparsely furnished. The Sri Lankan-style kitchen is practical for staff use only. There are no menus, you can discuss meal requirements daily with Godwin, the chef, and buy your own groceries or give money to Karu, the multi-tasking caretaker of Brockenhurst, to buy them on your behalf. The chef lives in and his English is good so we didn’t have any difficulties.

Brockenhurst has been refurbished since our first visit. The hallway and living room floors have been laid with timber, which feels much warmer underfoot and more homely than the previous cement flooring. The sofas in the living room have been replaced, and the fireplace here has also been remodelled. These upgrades all make the room feel more sophisticated than it did before.

There’s a new flat-screen TV, a DVD player (although no DVDs) and WiFi internet (works best downstairs). Karu and Godwin are both still there, and were as warm and friendly as ever. They have a third team member helping them out now too. The kitchen remains fairly basic (although with Godwin cooking there’s really no reason to use this room at all) and we noticed that two of the bathrooms have been slightly upgraded.

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Claughton House

Claughton House

Sri Lanka » South Coast » Dickwella

Without doubt, this is one of Sri Lanka’s most engaging villas and in one of the most breathtaking locations on the island – the views are nothing short of spectacular. Its links to Geoffrey Bawa and its interesting, yet short, history makes a stay here all the more engaging. The house itself is fairly modest – there are no fancy mod cons and the simple yet imaginative design evokes the past as much as the present – however the new owners are currently upgrading the house. The interiors have already been given a sensitive facelift, and look lovely, whilst two more bedrooms and a TV lounge are due to be completed by the end of 2014; they were renovating existing buildings for these behind the main house at the time of our visit (March 2014) but we were not disturbed by the work at all.

Our favourite place to pass the time was around the main swimming pool (there is a second pool to the side of the property, close to the driveway). This cliff-top pool complements the house – it’s been here for a few decades and we liked its old-school geometric design. The different shades of blue reflected the sea beyond and the terrace surrounding it was scattered with sun loungers and beanbags, one of which was placed on a protruding corner from where we could sit and watch surfers in the bay below. A little staircase leads down the hillside to the beach, and it’s a lovely spot for long strolls, swimming or body boarding (there’s a big collection of boards in the house) with care for much of the year – the sea is fairly shallow.

The staff really went out of their way to ensure that we had everything we needed, in particular the lovely chef who produced some heart-warming food. We recommend his rice and curry, which we enjoyed by candlelight down by the pool. Make sure you have a chat to the maintenance manager who’s worked at the house from the very beginning. He showed us some 25-year-old photos of the house.
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Coconut Grove

Coconut Grove

Sri Lanka » South Coast » Ahangama

Coconut Grove is a wonderful retreat which, despite its privacy and modern additions, including a swimming pool, offers a chance to experience life in an authentic Sri Lankan village. That said, we noticed on our recent visit that the area is seeing quite a lot of development in terms of small hotels and villas; the plus side of which being that the number of tourist-friendly restaurants is likely to increase.

The cottage is perfectly set up for families, especially as the two rooms to the front of the house have smaller double beds (or large singles), which would be perfect for children. However, it would be an equally good choice for a group of friends wishing to stay a little off the beaten track. The living areas – both inside the house and outside in the garden – offer plenty of cosy places to relax and private pockets for escape.

The wildlife is magical here, and right on your doorstep. Whilst sipping afternoon tea in the poolside pavilion we watched monkeys playing in the trees as birds twittered melodiously overhead. The large lawned garden is a fansasyland for roaming kids but supervision is necessary around the pool as it quickly gains depth.

The staff kept the house clean and tidy during our stay, and were on hand to assist us with anything we needed. The staff do not stay in the house at night although the gardener/watchman lives in a small building tucked independently to one side of the property. If the housekeeper is not needed to assist with making afternoon tea or dinner, you can dismiss her early and enjoy the run of the house all to yourselves.
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Craig Appin Bungalow

Craig Appin Bungalow

Sri Lanka » Hill Country » Hatton

We really liked Craig Appin. The rooms are all very comfortable and the four-poster beds in the two front rooms certainly look very grand. Although most of the furnishings are new, their style is redolent of the past. Bedrooms 4 and 5 are situated closest to the kitchen so in the morning, the noise of the staff preparing breakfast can sometimes be heard. Bedrooms 2 and 3 share a bathroom (you need to walk through bedroom 2 to reach it) although there is a guest WC along the corridor that occupants of bedroom 3 can use during the night. Having two living rooms was handy, so everyone can find their own space. We found the staff to be efficient, and meals were always served promptly, however only the chef spoke an acceptable level of English. Siri, the bungalow manager, drops by daily and is available at all times by phone, so it’s better to communicate any complicated requests to him, and he’ll relay the information to the staff. Lunches and dinners tend to be quite formal three-course affairs (pick from a limited set menu or let Siri know if there’s anything you would particularly like), featuring British style dishes and Sri Lankan cuisine. We preferred the local dishes, and particularly enjoyed the Sri Lankan breakfast curry spread.
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Anilana Craigbank Nuwara Eliya

Anilana Craigbank Nuwara Eliya

Sri Lanka » Hill Country » Nuwara Eliya

Anilana Craigbank is wonderfully warm and welcoming. Décor is contemporary colonial as befits this 160-year-old house which was expertly renovated and modernised by a previous French owner who lived here for many years. Despite the grand feel of the house and the enjoyable formalities of a good staff team, the atmosphere is relaxed. Each of the bedrooms is very comfortable with wonderful garden views. A selection of magazines, books, board games, DVDs and satellite TV kept us well occupied in the evenings. The Drawing Room is a cosy place to curl up with a book, and the DVD library in the TV room will keep the kids amused. It can get quite cold at night, so rooms are heated by working fireplaces whilst heavy curtains, knitted bedspreads and draught excluders all help to keep you toasty and warm.

The staff are friendly, warm and eager to make your stay as comfortable as possible; their natural hospitality also adds to the charm of staying at Anilana Craigbank. On our most recent visit, the house had come under new management. They have refurbished the house, replacing soft furnishings – the dusky walls of the bedrooms are brightened up by a contrasting collection of vibrant Sri Lankan artwork, colonial prints and Ceylonese maps; installed WiFi and brought in a few new staff. There are now a selection of priced menus for all meals, including breakfast. Two to three-course set menus for lunch and dinner always list a local and a western option, and tend to change daily. There is also a snack menu available. No alcohol is served at the house, however guests can bring their own tipples and no corkage will be charged. The house’s two tubby yet adorable labradors – Gin and Tonic – are still popular characters on the property, but can be shut away if guests would prefer. Hot water still takes a little time to work its way through the pipes!

During Sri Lankan New Year in April (typically the 13th and 14th) many Colombo residents flock here for family holidays. During this time the town is in full bloom and has a carnival atmosphere with many events – horse racing, car rallies, motor cross, golf tournaments, garden competitions and discos – being held. Prices often triple during this period and the town can get very noisy and busy. Unless you would particularly like to be here for this occasion, it is probably better avoided.

 
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Dick Oya Bungalow

Dick Oya Bungalow

Sri Lanka » Hill Country » Hatton

The winding road leading up to Dick Oya Bungalow promises something special at the top, and it doesn’t disappoint. From its glorious hilltop location you can eye 360-degree views and revel in four acres of private gardens. As soon as you arrive at the bungalow, you’re transported back in time. Although the bathrooms are quite basic, the rest of the house lives up to its promise of twenty-first century comforts and is wonderfully cosy. There are two generously sized living rooms, and each of the bedrooms come with sitting areas too meaning that there’s plenty of private space to hide away. The staff at the bungalow carry out their roles efficiently, if a little seriously, but this formality provides yet more character to a stay here. The dining room is elegant and meals are a formal affair – multiple courses for lunch and dinner are priced per person, and although they list a small selection of western and Sri Lankan options, efforts are made, where possible, to accommodate any request. The Sri Lankan dishes were our favourite, and were perhaps more in keeping with the chef’s abilities than the western dishes. Siri, the friendly off-site manager drops by daily to visit guests and assist with anything they need.
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The Dutch House

The Dutch House

Sri Lanka » South Coast » Galle

A favourite with visiting celebs – Sting once stayed here – the Dutch House manages to be both majestic and homely at the same time. It’s a true refuge, not only because of its large garden and hilltop location, but also because of the discreet, warm nature of the staff who keep the house so perfectly in order. Attention to detail – from the banana leaf-wrapped soaps in the bathrooms to sun hats and wicker bags in the suites – is an obvious source of pride. The house’s serene location made it hard to believe that we were staying in Galle. Everything is within walking distance, though three-wheelers are recommended to transport you up the steep hill back to the house! The large garden has plenty of outside seating (we loved the double lounger on the veranda) and was looking particularly lush on our recent return visit. The management told us that more and more weddings are being hosted at the house (for up to 200 people). Although the staff are very capable, the management team work with an experienced local events company for larger affairs. The wonderful vintage Rover parked outside the front door is an atmospheric companion to the house, and although this particular model is not roadworthy, vintage car hire can be organised for a colonial-style tour of town. Note that there are no TVs or DVDs (instead, hundred of books) but there are CD players – one in each suite. Whilst breakfast, lunch and snacks are served at The Dutch House, dinner is at sister property the Sun House (boutique seven-room hotel) just across the road. Here, three-course set dinners are served, with menus changing nightly. Guests can request to dine privately at ‘home’ on occasion, but we felt that although the food is unquestionably good at the Sun House, the Dutch House is a slightly let down by the fact that it doesn’t have its own private full-time chef.
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Footprints Villa

Footprints Villa

Sri Lanka » South Coast » Talpe

Since it didn’t look huge from the outside, we were delighted by how spacious Footprints actually was. With living areas spread over two floors, it’s big enough for large groups to scatter themselves about, and the overall feel of the place is very personable and homely. To one end of the pool is a shaded dining area that’s a breezy (if slightly gloomy) all-day sea view spot to sit, and there’s bench seating so you can squeeze quite a few people around the table. The swimming pool area currently (March 2012) looks a little bare, but the management told us that they are soon to spruce it up with lush greenery.

There’s a small staff team of a cook/maid and a security/maintenance man who also doubles up as a waiter and gardener. The cook is shy to speak English and service is fairly laid back, yet both are friendly and when large groups stay at the villa another staff member is drafted in to help. There’s a small menu, which continues to grow as the cook learns more dishes; our evening meal of chicken korma was delicious. Two managers (a couple) drop by every now and then to ensure the smooth running of the villa and assist with any enquiries, which really helps; WiFi wasn’t working when we arrived, however they quickly arranged for the appropriate people to come and fix the problem.

We felt that Footprints would particularly suit groups of friends looking to chill out and spend time together within treading distance of restaurants and bars (there’s a very popular one just 100m down the beach). Anyone who lusts after air conditioning would also be happy here – there are few fully air-conditioned villas along this stretch of coastline. It’s a good family house too (although some may grow tired of wandering up and down stairs to reach the bedrooms). Note that one of the bedrooms is fitted with waterbed. Although it looked (and felt) comfortable, we opted for a more traditional mattress!

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Galle Henna Estate

Galle Henna Estate

Sri Lanka » South Coast » Inland Galle

This house scores points for its location, which is tranquil and rural but also not far away from restaurants, beaches and shops. It has a wonderful garden full of fruit trees such as mango, banana and avocado that you can enjoy for breakfast and its large size offers plenty of scope for children to run around and play. Loads of birds visit the garden along with the occasional monkey so it is also a haven for nature lovers. The sunken swimming pool has a generous sun deck and is walled so that you can swim and tan in privacy, however windows in the wall allow you to look through into the paddy fields beyond which makes it feel a little less enclosed. There are three members of staff, but you hardly see them as they let you enjoy the house and make yourselves at home. The house itself is beautiful and has been very sensitively restored. It has also been decorated in such a way to make it feel very much like home. There’s lots of spots to relax both inside and outside of the house, as well as in the privacy of individual bedrooms which is a highlight for groups. The fifth, single, bedroom is very useful for a nanny or a child and has a lovely balcony overlooking the paddy fields and garden. Parents should keep an eye on children using the stairs as the steps are made from unforgiving polished cement. There’s an equipped kitchen to the rear which is ideal for self-catering, however the very friendly and helpful manager (who lives in the house next door) can also prepare lunches and dinners for you with advance notice. He will shop on your account so it’s best to give a wad of cash at the start of your stay and top it up when necessary. Unawatuna Beach and lots of restaurants are a short drive away, and the staff can arrange transport for you on request.
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