If you’re looking for a stylish holiday without maxing the plastic, Sri Lanka has a burgeoning number of chic, affordable hotels and B&Bs. Here are some our favourite boutique hotels in Sri Lanka.
The new highway from the airport to Colombo makes accessing this idyllic country retreat easier than ever; it takes just 40 minutes from terminal to door. The boho chic pavilions at Casa Heliconia – enriched by intricately carved doors, lavish fabrics, chandeliers, statues, antiques and curios – house just two bedrooms: the brick walled “Temples of Angkor” and the more glamorous “Pagoda Gold”. You'll also find an eclectic lounge and poolside summer house, all wrapped within a lush tropical garden. It’s a top spot to chill out before a long haul flight.
This three-year-old beach club near Koggala was the south coast’s first design-driven lifestyle hotel. The fifteen intimate white suites at Cantaloupe Aqua, some accessorised with jacuzzis, balconies or a lofty mezzanine for sleeping, are enlivened by bright Andy Warhol-style pop art. Shameless vistas of the turquoise sea, its shallows dotted with the stilts of local fishermen, reveal themselves through floor-to-ceiling windows. There’s a plunge pool for cooling off and Coconut, the very affordable restaurant and bar, serves a moreish menu of inventive seafood alongside Thai and Sri Lankan cuisine.
The three suites at Fortaleza, a 400-year-old converted spice warehouse, blend centuries of history with elegant interior design. Attached to a convivial coral-walled restaurant edged by banana trees, this atmospheric abode is also home to a bar, amply stocked with both locals and drinks. Stroll out of the front gates and history continues to immerse you; the streets are lined with ochre-hued colonial houses, museums, cafés and ice cream parlours, and the grassy lighthouse-spiked ramparts are a prime sunset spot.
The views from the four-bedroom Rangala House, a converted tea planter’s bungalow in the World Heritage-listed Knuckles range, are unbeatable. The 180-degree panoramas unfold ridged wooded hills, lush valleys and even Kandy in the misty distance. At around 1000m above sea level, hot days and cool nights ensure the beautiful garden, swimming pool and the fireplace all get plenty of use. For those that take food seriously, the home-cooked meals are excellent, and complemented by pesticide-free, locally-sourced produce like sun-dried fruits, tahini and peanut butter.
The vibrant personalities of husband-and-wife team Koki and Henri illuminate every corner of this Kikili House, a five-bedroom B&B in Galle. While guests are welcomed like family, the house is an eclectic renovation of an eighties Sri Lankan abode, quirkily encompassing a roof terrace, cushioned lounging nooks and a bijou library. The lush front lawn is the perfect place for lazy alfresco breakfasts, afternoon tea (with cake) and pre-dinner G&Ts (there's an honesty bar). The couple's Wednesday “secret sushi” nights attract an eclectic local crowd.
Situated in the buzzing bay of south coast Unawatuna, Kingfisher opens onto a stretch of blonde, bohemian beach, making it one of the best boutique hotels in Sri Lanka for location alone. The four minimalistic Indian Ocean-facing bedrooms on the upper floors are well appointed and place you right in the heart of the beachcombing action – surfing, snorkelling, diving and kayaking are all popular local pursuits. The convivial restaurant below has had a leading presence here since 1998, and its delectable menu, featuring grilled lobster, spicy ginger chicken and prawn wraps, is one of the best on the south coast.
Unawatuna beach is popular for watersports © BlueOrange Studio/Shutterstock
Set within 60 acres of scrub jungle in the island’s rural northwestern heartlands, these clusters of chic open-walled mud huts sleep between two and ten people. Showers are open to the skies, there’s an idyllic lake for swimming and a circular island pavilion acts as a floating yoga retreat. Tasty hearth-cooked Sri Lankan cuisine is on the menu and refreshingly, much of the fresh produce is grown onsite in the hotel's organic farm. Bicycles get you mobile, and you can peddle to Buddhist temples, rural villages and historic archaeological sights. Rates include all food, local excursions and activities.
There are few budget hotels as well located in Colombo as Lake Lodge; tucked down a quiet, easy-to-miss side road near Beira Lake, it’s close to many of the city’s prime attractions. Taru, a reputed local designer, transformed her family home into this stylish, modern B&B back in 2009, moulding the 13 simply designed rooms and suites with polished cement, adding modern bathrooms and infusing a neutral colour palette. This was the capital’s first affordable boutique digs, and even today, few can beat it.
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