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

Business Traveller (Middle East) - - Contents - WORDS DO­MINIC EL­LIS

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.

BLEISURE SPOT

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.

F&B HIGH­LIGHTS

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.

TWO-IN-ONE RE­SORT

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

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