CONNECT AND TURN OFF
A short visit to Anantara Kalutara on Sri Lanka’s west coast – and idyllic Lunuganga Estate – ticks all the bleisure boxes
Anantara Kalutara resort is perfect for combining business and leisure
Even by Sri Lankan standards, the remote greenery of the Lunuganga Country Estate is something to behold. The access road, barely the width of a car, turns into a track before you arrive at the imposing gates. The estate is the country home of architect Geoffrey Bawa, the ‘father’ of modern Asian architecture and visionary behind the Anantara Kalutara close by, where I’ve spent the last two nights.
Bawa, the son of a wealthy Muslim lawyer who returned to Ceylon after the second world war, poured 40 years of his life into creating this garden paradise which is inspired by the Italian Renaissance and English landscaped gardens.
The gates are unlocked at 9.30am. I walk past a soaring, ancient mahogany tree and through the lush grounds, where you can gaze far down below at the butterfly-shaped, lily-covered pond; it’s nature stacked upon nature. It turns into an all-round sensory experience, as I bite on a cinnamon stalk straight from the tree. The panoramic view of the Dedduwa Lake, flanked by a pair of classical sculptures, is so vast it could pass for an ocean, although a glance at Google Maps shows only the narrow Athuruwella Stream provides access to the open sea.
As we meander back to the house, past Sri Lanka’s national tree – whose flowers resemble fried eggs – an Asian Water Monitor strolls past (a good size, but smaller than the one that
crept out of the resort’s bushes) and pair of brown cows graze by the house, breaking up the ubiquitous green.
Left to the Lunuganga Trust on Bawa’s death in 2003, the gardens are now open to the public and buildings on the estate are run as a country house hotel. The five suites are preserved as much as possible to look how they would during Bawa’s lifetime.
The laptop is open and to all intents and purposes, I could be in the Dubai office. But I’m sat on a table in the corner of an idyllic terrace in one of Anantara Kalutara’s seven pool villas, as water gently flows from three features and palm trees sway behind, amid fresh but unstable weather.
Many of the design touches within this secluded 141-room resort, which recently chalked up its second anniversary, is the result of Bawa’s work – the library contains drawings and is dedicated to him.
The intriguing ‘tropical modernism’ design of my 235sqm one-bedroom Garden Pool Villa sees the path from the outside door lead to the pool, while the bedroom and lounge are self-contained behind sliding doors on either side. There are nine villas on this stretch (seven one-bedrooms and two two-bedrooms).
I woke from natural light which seeped through the back of the bedroom – and in between there is a desk, with USB connections; I’ve been constantly connected from the moment I stepped foot into the chauffeur car at Colombo Airport, and the entire 90-minute journey to the resort. Those who want to keep in touch with the outside world will appreciate free access to the Pressreader app.
There aren’t many places suitable for corporate, leisure and bleisure travellers but this must rank as one.
The MICE highlight is a beautiful stand-alone ballroom, a short walk away, offering elevated lagoon and seaviews. Today, event preparations are underway for a healthcare company. A kitchen is on site and the space can hold up to 350 for banquets/theatre style. As with any high-end resort, there is no hard or fast rule with group bookings; Indian weddings have been big business, but the hotel is hopeful of attracting more Middle Eastern guests.
“Due to the close proximity to the Gulf, and ease of arranging visas, you can be door to door in six hours,” said Norman Zweyer, Cluster Director of PR, Sri Lanka, for Anantara Hotels & Resorts. “The beauty here is we have many different event locations, be it the halls or lawns, or marquees by the adult pool, and we have breakout rooms by the library.”
For the last word in exclusivity, MICE groups can own the resort for the day with prices starting from
I woke from natural light that seeped through the back of the bedroom
$60,000, which includes dining, beverages and spa treatments.
Olu breakfast serves local and international flavours and lunch options include burgers, sandwiches, ‘personalised’ pasta and signature grills (sea bass, tiger prawns, chicken breast). Spice Traders has a good menu, the stand out was the ultra-tender chicken Murgh Tikkas in Kashmiri chilli yoghurt appetiser. Acquolina showcases Italian flavours and I enjoyed the Tagliatelle con Marinara (Rs2,400). Executive Sous Chef Priyantha Vithanage has had spells at leading five-star Gulf hotels.
The resort is actually a two-in-one with the Avani at the top, near the ballroom, which provides additional MICE capacity if needed.
When it comes to turning off from work, choices are broad. Retreating from a downpour, I had the gym to myself, and outdoor pursuits include kayaking and sailing.
The spacious spa contains five single treatment suites and four doubles, and I took the 90-minute signature treatment which was thorough front and back, and seemed reasonable for Rs21,000 – certainly compared with Gulf spas.
I managed a few lengths of the extraordinarily long adult pool as large bats swooped overhead, and wandered through vegetation to the beach, where crabs scurried amid wave-pounded rocks, and a family played football, with sticks for goals. The broad mix of clouds and colours at sunset were similar to our October cover.
A public road, cutting through the complex’s heart, adds character, and staffed by security guards should you slip into ‘resort coma’ and step out absent mindedly.
Excursion options are plentiful – e.g Handunugoda tea plantation, Mrissa Bay whale and dolphin watching – and historic Galle is only an hour further along the smooth dual carriageways.
LEFT: One-bedroom Garden Pool Villa, Anantara KalutaraBELOW: Lunuganga Country Estate; resort ballroom.
TOP TO BOTTOM: Lunuganga Country Estate blends beauty and history in western Sri Lanka