Luxury resort Cape Weligama, on Sri Lanka’s southern coast, follows in sister hotel Ceylon Tea Trails’ footsteps as one of the island’s most wanted. Laid out village-style over an Indian Ocean headland, each butler-attended contemporary villa – designed by architect Lek Bunnag – sits within a flower-scented watta (garden), steps from a cooling pool. Bays and beaches are a short meander away, and the crescent-shaped, cliff-edge infinity pool has swoonsome panoramas.
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A romantic candlelit bath with Ceylon Sea Salts, infused with vetiver, lemongrass and ginger; and your choice of chilled drinks
Thirty-nine, including 16 suites and 20 standalone villas.
11am, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 2pm.
Double rooms from £573.04 ($773), including tax at 21.23 per cent.
Rates include breakfast, room service, and all taxes and service charges.
Architect Lek Bunnag designed the hotel’s villas, and he’s worked his mod-Asian magic at fellow Smith style dens the Oberoi and Maia Luxury Resort & Spa – so you could say we’re fans.
At the hotel
Dive centre, gym, gardens, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: flatscreen TV and DVD player, minibar, coffee machine, kettle with a selection of teas, free bottled water, air-conditioning and natural bath products.
Our favourite rooms
The two-storey 307sq m two-bedroom Cape Pool Villa will suit privacy-seekers with a blow-out budget. Upping the ante for honeymoon romance, they have sweeping Indian Ocean views from both bedrooms, and this is the only category with a private infinity pool on the roof terrace. However, Master Suites are more intimate and cost-effective, flaunting the same ochre and ultramarine-hued style as larger villas.
This resort promises the moon and delivers, with an unheated, adults-only, 60-metre, crescent-shaped pool, with an infinity edge that curves around the cape, where swimmers can enjoy 270-degree Indian Ocean views. The Cove Pool welcomes kids, and each watta (stone-wall-ringed garden) includes a shared pool for two to three villas.
Smell as sweet as the garden surrounds, with locally inspired in-villa treatments made with home-grown spices. Therapists will soothe and relax you with scented steam showers, organic spice scrubs (clove, nutmeg, sweet orange and sandalwood), Ceylon tea and cinnamon-laced essential-oil massages, and green-tea facials. Hidden under the Moon Pool, there’s a fully equipped air-conditioned gym, and cliff-edge yoga and pilates platforms offer sights for the sore-thighed.
Binoculars for an in-depth look at that view, a notebook for pressing some of the local flowers, and a Marco Polo-esque sense of adventure.
Cape Weligama is not wheelchair accessible, due to the contours of the garden and steps leading to common areas.
Under-2s stay free, and 2–16 year-olds stay for up to US$45 for bed and breakfast, US$83 half-board and US$108 full-board, a night, for each child. A baby cot and one extra bed can be added to most rooms and babysitting is available on request.
2–12 year olds. Child supplement rates change seasonally' the highest half-board child supplement is US$95 and full-board is US$125.
Junior Suites connect with Master Suites to make a spacious two-bedroom residence. Large families can also opt for the Duplex Two Bedroom Cape Pool Villa.
There’s plenty for swim-confident kids to do: banana-boating, snorkelling, kayaking on Lake Koggala and scuba-diving classes and sessions at the on-site dive centre. There’s also turtle-spotting, whale- and dolphin-watching, boat trips, safaris in the nearby National Parks and day trips to Galle.
Tots from two to eight can swing by Jungle Nook daily from 7am to 10am. This pint-sized club has a play area with toys and offers storytelling and art sessions. Meals and snacks can be arranged with the main restaurant, and space is limited to eight kiddos at a time.
The Cove Pool is for under-12s only, with a shallow end, inflatables to play with and parasols to shade at its sides.
Children are welcome in Ocean Terrace and Cape Club (Ocean Grill is a little more grown-up), and chefs can adapt dishes on request. Highchairs, booster seats, beakers, weaning spoons and kids’ cutlery are available on request.
Babysitters are available for an hourly charge, if booked a day in advance.
No need to pack
The hotel has an impressive amount of kit; there’s no need to pack baby towels, arm bands, kids DVDs or socket covers.
Dining options in the evening are limited to light meals at the Cape Club, or Steakhouse & grill at more grown-up eatery Ocean Grill – and there are few restaurants close by – so parents may have to make the most of room service.
Watch the Indian Ocean merge into the clear-skied horizon from the Ocean Terrace restaurant. Or sit in seclusion on your villa’s veranda.
Slip a sarong on for Pola, but shimmy into swish neon silks and bejewelled flip-flops – or a pair of chinos for Mr Smith – at more-refined Tableau.
Two. Start the day by choosing freshly caught fish from the on-site pola (market) and have it cooked to your taste at ocean-facing Ocean Terrace restaurant. Pola is set for casual mid-day dining, with colourful curries. In the evening, opt for some upmarket chef wizardry at intimate 12-seater steakhouse and grill restaurant Tableau. Sundowner cocktails, and high tea with a truly excellent Ceylon brew, are dished up at the Cape Club.
Three. The Surf Bar is secreted underneath the pool, where locally influenced cocktail concoctions, wines and beers are served, and movie nights with popcorn are held. The sociable Cape Club has light bites and cocktails. There’s a small bar beside the Cove Pool, too.
Ocean Terrace is open from 7am to 10.30pm, and Tableau from 7pm to 10.30pm. The Cape Club serves tea and drinks from 3pm to 12pm, and the Surf Bar’s final cocktail is shaken at 6pm.
From 7am to 10pm, the room service will ensure you’re well fed by bringing requested dishes and drinks to your door (depending on which ingredients are available).
Cape Weligama, Abhimanagama Road, Weligama, Sri Lanka
Cape Weligama resort is in a quiet coastal town in Sri Lanka’s Southern Province. Beachy and laid-back, Weligama has a rugged cliff-sheltered coastline, speckled with coconut palms and trimmed with turquoise bays. The town of Galle is 30km away.
From Colombo Bandaranaike International Airport, catch a Cinnamon Air seaplane to Mawella Lagoon Airport (a 25-minute journey); from there the resort is a 45-minute drive along the A2 coastal route. Call our Smith24 Team on 03300 376 891 to arrange flights and transfers.
Weligama train station is on the Southern Rail Line; the journey from Colombo Fort Rail Station takes roughly two-and-a-half hours.
If you want to explore the surrounding area, a hire car will come in handy; the drive from Colombo Bandaranaike takes about three hours, and is best suited to those with nerves of steel; watch out for wayward tuk-tuks, and be sure to pack all documentation.
Worth getting out of bed for
Before visiting Weligama town, you’ll be itching to shimmy down the cliff-clinging steps to the near-private West Beach below (the East Beach is a five-minute walk from the villas), to frolic in the cool turquoise waters of the bay. If you want more souped-up splashing about, the hotel can organise banana-boating and snorkelling, and scuba lessons and sessions at the on-site dive centre, to explore submerged wrecks and come face-to-face with neon marine life. The trade winds make this optimum surfing territory (just be sure to avoid the main fishing areas in season), and Koggala Lake is ideal for kayaking or boating, a 15-minute drive from the hotel. On dry land, cycle through emerald green, tiered paddy fields, or take a day trip to Udawalawe or Yala National Parks to spot elephants bathing in reservoirs and sloth bears, boar and leopards stalking through dense greenery. Galle’s independent boutiques and Unesco-protected colonial fortifications are a 30-minute drive away, and to the east, Matara has atmospheric jungle-clad ruins, Buddhist temples and the sleek white Dondra Head Lighthouse. Fishing town Weligama, (‘sandy village’ in Sinhalese), has lively fish markets and petite craft boutiques alongside the odd mall. Zippy tuk-tuks and animated commerce keep it chaotic, but there are several serene spots where you can watch local fisherman perch on poles plunged into the coral reef. In season, turtles frolic in the shallows, and the hotel has whale and dolphin-watching tours, or you can explore secluded coves by kayak.
Set by Weligama’s bus station, unassuming smoothie shop AVM Cream Club has gained popularity for its impressive selection of tropical fruit, which is added to ice-cream, milkshakes, drinks and snacks in imaginative combos. Its shawarma, samosas, and coconut pancakes – and the penny-saving prices – are a big hit with visitors too.
‘Smell the sea, and feel the sky, let your soul and spirit fly’; so sang Van Morrison. I doubt the rock singer has been to Weligama – I mean he might have been, but that would be quite the coincidence. It’s just that standing here on the edge of the clifftop, on this southern Sri Lankan headland, kissed by the salty air, frothy waves crashing below… this whole scenario feels like a tonic true to Morrison’s lyrics. While the Indian Ocean setting refreshes the parts that many hotels can’t reach, other yearnings are seen to, too. There’s an exceptional array of food and drink, and spa treatments – it’s a full-service luxury resort fit for a rock star, which is an entirely new concept for Sri Lanka. (There’s even a steak house.) Tea lovers will especially adore it.
Cape Weligama is a generous creation from the family behind Dilmah tea, one of the world’s most popular brews. For those who appreciate home-grown businesses, this Resplendent Ceylon hotel is very much Sri Lankan, if not always in look, certainly in spirit – the 270-degree panoramas don’t let you miss an inch of those views. The villas are arranged in wattas (‘gardens’ in Sinhala), and they’re each named after old-Ceylon explorers. (I promise no more tenuous Irish rocker references – although, if you enjoy some random trivia, did you know Van Morrison’s first name is in fact George?)
The architect behind Weligama is Lek Bunnag; he’s Thai, which comes through in details such as the pagoda-like roofs of the restaurant. Distinctly resort-y, sure, the huge trade-off at Cape Weligama is comfort. The suites are set in walauwas (mansions) – their names inspired by artists and writers who lived in Ceylon. Every perk has been considered, right down to private butlers – chaperoned to our walauwa by electric buggy, we meet our new loyal friend at the top of the lane to our home, which has an Indian Ocean backdrop beyond, and the bright turquoise, family-friendly Cove Pool just below. (There’s an absolute stunner of an adults-only, crescent-shaped infinity pool on the other side of the resort – Moon Pool is the stuff of Instagrammer’s and honeymooners’ dreams.) It’s all about splashing around in the pools here – the beaches aren’t so much about sunbathing.
Warning: you may indulge yourself. There used to be an all-inclusive arrangement when it came to the eating at this Sri Lankan luxury hotel, which frankly would have had me rolling home if we’d stayed any longer. Who could resist ‘string hoppers’ (steamed rice noodles) for breakfast, with all those little bowls of rich, delicious, zingy curries? And then curry again for lunch? Not me. There are international classics too – but those creamy chili and coconut concoctions are hard to beat. It’s especially fun when it’s a pola (market) night, when staff set up stations spilling over with photogenic produce and just-caught fish laid on ice, for you to choose and then have cooked just how you like it.
Our eight-year-old daughter made it clear she’s a bigger fan of seeing tropical fish in their natural habitat, and so the highlight of our holiday for her was the Sports Centre, a five-minute walk out of the resort along a dirt road (hello, cow; hello, local kids playing football). The sweet professional diver gave her a try of all the diving equipment in the pool, and though she was never brave enough to give it a go in the sea, it was a bucket-list experience.
As well as being happy to organise all sorts of water shenanigans for guests, the front desk is poised to inspire guests to explore on land too. Half an hour away is Sri Lanka’s most popular destination, Fort Galle. This Unesco-protected 17th-century fortress is filled to the gills with precious gems, chic batiks and aromatic spices to browse and buy. Be sure to visit Stick No Bills, a gallery in a Dutch colonial townhouse which makes postcard-sending a must. Meg, a former risk analyst, and her husband Phillip set up the print studio which creates these quality postcards and vintage-look lithographs. Their framed limited-edition Ceylon scenes and Bollywood-movie references now add personality to cafés, restaurants and hotels throughout Sri Lanka. We enjoyed writing our cards in a cute colonial café and then popping into the World-Heritage-listed post office on Church Street to mail them.
Travel articles are always about what you should do and what you should take. So I thought I’d buck the trend and give you a checklist of what to leave at home. Most of the clothes you’re planning to pack. (There is an incredibly efficient free laundry service.) Watersports kit. Books about Sri Lanka. (If you don’t find the one you want in your room, the splendid tea-and-cocktail lounge, Taylor Pavilion has a magnificent selection of photography books and literature about this fascinating land.) Backgammon board. And you definitely don’t need to bring your favourite English Breakfast blend. They think of everything. After indulgent lunches, refreshing flannels appear, and in the evening, say the word, and natural insect repellent is at your disposal. Whether you bring any classic rock albums to sing along to is up to you.