Nestled beneath the ravishing Knuckles Range stands boutique-belle Clingendael hotel near Kandy, a five-year labour of love constructed using reclaimed Dutch colonial antiques. Ringed by plush lawns bounded with blushing bougainvillea, Clingendael’s gravity-defying hillside setting within the Victoria Golf & Country Resort is a joy for both golf-loving escapists and tranquility seekers alike.
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Your choice of a picnic basket for two, a Sri Lankan souvenir or a golf thermos flask
Noon, but flexible subject to availability. Check-in, 1pm.
Double rooms from £428.75 ($588), including tax at 11 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional service charge of 10% per booking on check-out.
Rates include breakfast, coffee, tea, soft drinks and beer.
Victoria Golf & Country Resort rates as one of the most scenic courses in the world and is a challenging par 73 championship course. Golf lessons are well-priced and a breeze to arrange. Green fees are reasonable and Clingendael’s special golfer’s three-night package includes a bonus round of 18 holes, plus a dinner for two with drinks at the hotel.
The hotel closes for 4 days in April for the Singalese New Year.
At the hotel
Library of books and DVDs, flatscreen TV in bar area, free WiFi throughout, Jacuzzi, gardens. In rooms: Nespresso coffee machine (except in Green Room), iPod docks, own-label toiletries. DVD player and iPods on request.
Our favourite rooms
The Master Suite is super striking for its lavish four-poster bed, sofa-plumped lounge and far-reaching views, but we also adore the Red and Brown Rooms for their delicious mezzanine chill-out floors garnished with rom-com antique day-beds. They also have direct access onto individual terraces for vista-blessed private dining à deux. Bathrooms are monochrome with double rain showers for handy his-and-hers ablutions.
Surrounded by tropical foliage, the compact outdoor infinity pool offers panoramic views over the reservoir, golf course and vertiginous mountains, or take to the sunbeds on the timber-topped terrace. A heated Jacuzzi provides bubbly respite for golf-weary muscles.
The open-air spa sala is at the top of Clingendael’s garden; white curtains shade the treatment area from the sun, and massage include full body holistic or detox sessions, and targeted head, neck, shoulder and foot massages. All use locally-produced unguents, such as natural lime balm, ginger balm and Ayurvedic oil. In-room massages can be arranged on request.
Come club-ready if you prefer the drive of your own up-to-date golfing gear or kit up at the resort’s Clubhouse. Hot to trot Smiths could include jodhpurs and boots in their bags for horseback romps. Mossie repellent is a must.
Smoking is allowed in outside areas including the bar and verandas.
Clingendael is geared towards romantic stays and golf getaways, but can accommodate children. Baby cots and extra beds for the under-12s cost US$62, and babysitters are available for US$62 a pop.
Under the boughs of the shady tree on the bougainvillea-edged front lawn is a seductive setting for breakfast or lunch. This part of the garden magically appears to jut out over a rippling sea of vivid greens.
Light cashmere jumpers for cooler evenings and long linen trousers to avoid becoming a mossie munchfest.
With its grand timber table for 14 just footsteps from a koi carp pond, the companionable dining room is coveted by groups, so picking a private perch on your own Knuckles-view veranda, by the pool or in the garden, is more couple-savvy. Start the day with an English, Sri Lankan or Continental breakfast followed by sandwiches and soups for daytime snacks. Four-course candlelit suppers every evening feature traditional Sri Lankan or western feasts of beef tenderloin, pork fillet and Australian lamb, as well as a sprinkling of oriental, Italian and veggie dishes. Meals are presented impeccably to invoke the splendour of colonial days gone by.
Clinging to the corner of the dining room is Clingendael's fully stocked timber-panelled bar where drinks are concocted, but rarely served. Chilled wines, classic cocktails, traditional spirits and beers are brought to you, wherever you are. There may not be minibars in the bedrooms, but the 24-hour butler service more than makes up for it.
Eat wherever you like, whenever you like. Just bend the ear of the staff if you plan on having brekkie especially early or your dinner unusually late to allow them time to prepare.
Around the clock, although it’s usually only simple meals and snacks that are available during the twilight hours.
C/O Victoria Golf & Country Resort, Coconut Hill, Rajawella
Spectacularly sited amid the Victoria Golf & Country Resort and enveloped by the mountainous Knuckles Range, Clingendael is situated 10 kilometres to the east of cultural-capital Kandy in the Kandyan Hills.
Capital Colombo’s Bandaranaike Airport is the country’s only international landing strip and from here Sri Lankan Airlines operates a daily 15-seater Air Taxi service to Kandy’s Polgolla Reservoir (US$75 each for minimum four people). From Polgolla it's just an eight-kilometre drive to the hotel. Call our Smith24 Team on 03300 376 891 to arrange flights and transfers.
You can travel by first-class train between Colombo and Kandy but seats sell fast for this popular route and baggage space is limited. You’ll also need a taxi to take you from the airport to the Colombo train station, and again to shuttle you to the hotel from Kandy (40 minutes), so it’s more time-consuming than driving. Direct services on Sri Lanka Railways operating from Colombo Fort Station to Kandy take between 90 minutes and three hours.
Visitors rarely self-drive in Sri Lanka, delegating this job to those that know the island’s chaotic roads best. If you're travelling after midnight, transfer time can drop to two hours.
Charter a Bell Air Ranger chopper (from US$2,350 each way) for minimal transfer time; it takes less than an hour from Colombo airport and lands on the fairway at the heart of the resort.
Worth getting out of bed for
Victoria Golf & Country Resort (www.golfsrilanka.com) is Sri Lanka’s top golfing hotspot with tournaments throughout the year attracting amateurs and pros from all over the globe. It remains pleasantly undersubscribed, so grabbing tee time is a piece of cake and golfing lessons can be scored fairly easily, too. For non-golfing Smiths, the resort proffers a riding stable, tennis and badminton courts, a luxe pool, mountain bikes and mapped treks; strolls along fairways, beside the glittering reservoir and up to the mighty dam beyond, are recommended. Guides are available to take you on rugged nature walks and into the little-visited Knuckles Mountain Range – so named for its resemblance to a human fist. Further afield, go temple-hopping in culture-rich Kandy town, a 30-minute drive west. Start with the city’s revered Temple of the Tooth, then savour a picnic lunch on the lawns of the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens before heading up to Hantana’s 1925-built hillside Tea Museum to clue up on the island’s green gold and enjoy a refreshing cuppa. For more relaxed pursuits, massage gurus can be called to your hotel room to work their magic on travel-weary bods and minds.
Clingendael has the best chef for miles, but if you’re keen on a teensy change of scene then the resort’s Clubhouse (Victoria Golf & Country Resort; +94 (0)812 376 376) serves up decent curry and rice lunches and afternoon cream teas. Other meals are a tad disappointing.
Tables on the Clubhouse veranda are splendidly situated beside the gorgeous green fairway, with the bar itself just a few feet indoors. Wine, beer, cocktails and spirits are served with bowls of fiery, thirst-inducing nutty snacks.
‘Water buffalo have great slung-back horns but they’re rubbish at running,’ observes Mrs Smith from the infinity pool. Once they have trundled ungainly below us – seemingly indecently late for an urgent appointment – we take in the view. It is magnificent: around the blue lake palm trees stretch towards green hills that roll into the Knuckles mountain range.
Clingendael’s pool is next to the hot tub in the immaculate terraced gardens that surround the boutique hotel. The veranda looks onto the croquet lawn with its flagpole and astrolabe. This charming colonial malarkey is contained within a low hedge, while beyond, all is pure Sri Lankan magnificence.
It has been hot, hot, hot; gloriously so. Inspired by the old-school, hill station stylings, we crave G&T as the cocktail hour approaches and the cicadas, monkeys and frogs give free range to their voices. Mrs Smith sips hers elegantly while eating Bombay Mix, semi-prostrate in a deep antique chair; mine spills, while I wonder when and why I ever stopped eating Bombay Mix.
Life at Clingendael is lived on the large veranda, amid the plants, bowls and wicker. It is a place that rewards inactivity; even after two days shamelessly on the slack, there are still new spots to relax on loungers, sofas and armchairs.
Feel you need to earn your leisure? Clingendael is in the grounds of Sri Lanka’s finest golf course. Mrs Smith is in no danger of becoming a golf widow but has developed an indecent love for golf buggies. So, with the carrot of a possible drive dangled enticingly in front of her, we walk down the lanes to the club.
Unlike the courses I remember from my formative years in England’s home counties, this par 73 has instructions on the score card about wild boar damage to the green. Two players freshly arrived at the 19th tell us of the monkeys on the fairways annoying the peacocks, while eagles soar above, and even the occasional cobra in the rough – if you do see one, we’re told, just tell your caddy and he’ll dispose of it. The standout hole is the 15th, which has a vicious dog-leg over the lake. There’s no need to book a round, just rock up at 7.30am before it’s too hot, advises the club pro. It is a generous offer but we plan to be horizontal at that time – under the fan, which gracefully pushes air around, while the AC does the hard work of cooling the room from within its modesty box.
Our cream-and-chocolate Brown Room with mezzanine floor is gorgeous in a tastefully unstated way. With unnerving ease, Mrs Smith totally colonises the dressing room, which boasts steam-punk scales that reveal their innards of springs and dials. As you might expect, the bathroom is palatial, while the vistas beyond the wooden blinds are jaw-dropping: past the flowers are row upon row of verdant peaks fading into the horizon.
We could have washed a baby elephant in the bath, it’s that big. We could even have bathed a couple of well-behaved monkeys in the depths of the basin. Monkeys, however, are not renowned for their good deportment and have established a bad reputation on their visits to the hotel. Part of me is delighted to hear that they have been known to leave the fruit trees and sweep through the lobby. I imagine the cheeky fellows wreaking havoc, moving the exquisitely placed objets d’art, swinging off the chandelier, behaving inappropriately with the croquet set and doing unspeakable things to the bronze telescope. In reality, everything is the very definition of blissed-out decorum.
While we aren’t over-extending ourselves by most definitions, we do opt adventurously for the Sri Lankan brekkie. This starts conventionally enough with tea, juice, fruit and toast – from our own tableside toaster, no less – and then the fun starts. A magnificent spread of gloriously inappropriate breakfast food then arrives including stringhoppers (rice-noodle nests), sambal (a spicy coconut condiment) and curries of potato, chicken and fish – yes, fish curry for breakfast. It is fabulous and I pity any Sri Lankan expected to eat Weetabix. The various dishes are whisked in and out by the charismatic waiters, their amazing silk/cotton uniforms shimmering and changing colour as they move silently.
Satiated, we give lunch a miss, but our appetites are back up and running in time for the Sri Lankan dinner option – there is always a western alternative – which is even more spectacular than breakfast: 12 delightful pre-pud dishes; the highlight is the green, cashew curry. I eat an injudicious amount of deep-red dried chilli – seduced by its pretty appearance, I am dealt a sucker punch by the seeds. At this point, I really appreciate that water is served from a jug, so I am not amassing a mountain of plastic bottles.
Changing into ninja-black costumes by night, the waiters retain the same irony-free smile that can be somewhat disconcerting for English people. They seem to have an unnerving ability to read our minds, appearing with torches so we can watch huge bats flap in their leathery way around the fruit trees. Given my weird tendency to be targeted by birds – and even a passing elephant at the nearby sanctuary – what I probably need is an umbrella, but luckily at Clingendael the bats behave impeccably.
Golf fanatics would love this place, and at the end of our stay, part of me wishes I had taken in the 18 holes of the course, if only so Mrs Smith could have driven a buggy. Even without teeing off, though, we wouldn’t miss a chance to play around at Clingendael again.