an architectural feat on the island of sri Lanka brings together the best of sea and safari
hand-selected destinations, inspiring cuisine
a t the south-eastern corner of sri Lanka, spreading inland from the coastline, green hills rise from jungled interiors at such regular intervals that the horizon resembles a cardiograph. each hillock is stacked with smooth lozenges of rock, upon which ancient stupas decay and leopards climb to survey the panorama. Much of this land is dedicated to Yala national Park and it is within the park’s adjacent buffer zone that sri Lankan hotelier Malik Fernando has sited his latest opening, Wild coast Tented Lodge, under his resplendent ceylon label.
The property, five-and-a-half hours’ drive or a 30-minute seaplane flight from colombo, occupies an acreage of jungle, fronted by dunes and wave-bashed inlets. It is the beach, a rarely encountered facet of safari, that lends this spot its unique aspect: guests can voyage by boat to where blue whales can be seen.
If this is safari with a twist, then the largest surprise comes by way of the lodge’s rooms. Working with netherlands-based architects nomadic resorts, Malik conceived the idea of 28 tented ‘cocoons’ positioned around water holes or facing the beach. each cocoon comprises a pale PVC skin stretched over steel exoskeletons with angled glass walls at each end, which give the structures a uniquely futuristic appearance.
The interiors continue the organic-industrial-colonial explorer theme, with copper piping washstands and bathtubs from Jaipur contrasting with teak floorboards, Turkish rugs and leather campaign chairs. Particularly beautiful is the effect of the internal canvas shell, which is laced together over the structure’s steel braces, creating elegant lines. The official aesthetic, as described by Malik and dutch interior designers Bo reudler studio is ‘Jules Verne meets steampunk’. and there are eight ‘urchin’ tents, too, designed with families in mind.
For all the fun of the design, there is sophistication at work here, too, and an abiding attempt to merge with and respond to the lodge’s setting. This idea is articulated not only in the reliance
if this is safari with a twist, then the largest surprise comes by way of the lodge’s rooms
on solar power and locally sourced food, but also in the bones of the architecture itself. The dining room is like a vaulted cathedral created from a web of bamboo and steel and topped by teak shingles, the silhouette evoking the area’s rock formations. It is a feat of construction and engineering performed by local fishermen, retrained in carpentry after an overseas contractor dropped out.
a clay nook houses the library, and the same clay has been used to carve dining booths, seating areas and a bridge that connects the bar and the restaurant over the pool. copper lights, ochre cushions and wine-coloured chairs echo the palette of the surrounding terrain.
safari here is accessed by liveried vehicle in a matter of minutes. afternoons are spent cruising the park in the company of expert guides, spotting crocodiles, elephants and leopards. It is important to note, however, that this is not safari as practised in africa. Yala is a bustling, busy park. There are multiple vehicles per sighting, but the guides are experts in avoiding the crowds and offering unique privileges such as afternoon tea on a bend in the river.
Then there are the lodge’s further enticements: the blue whales, the temple of Kataragama, not to mention an afternoon spent by the pool. Malik recently secured permission to create a conservancy in the buffer zone, to allow for private wildlife encounters. not that the animals are aware of any limits to their movement. elephants regularly enter the camp to seek out the lodge’s watering holes. and leopard pawprints are often found in the sand – proof not only of these predators’ presence but also, perhaps, of their approval of this new arrival on their patch.
the dining room at wild coast tented lodge in sri lanka was built by a team of retrained local fishermen
from top the roof of the dining room was constructed from a web of bamboo and steel. the chandelier repurposes bamboo offcuts; the beach aspect of the resort gives guests a unique safari experience, enabling boat voyages out to sea to watch blue whales
clockwise, from top left the teakshingled dining room and bar area are seen in the distance; the dining room interior; afternoon tea in the park