Join the monkeys, mongooses and bright-feathered birds at Kahanda Kanda, set in a lush green tea plantation on a quiet Galle hillside. British owner George has styled this eight-room residence: expect stately teak furniture, blue-white china, and plenty of homely touches, including squashy chairs and tome-stuffed bookshelves.
Get this when you book through us:
A cooking class; plus a shoulder spa treatment with two-night stays or a deep-tissue massage for three (and a bottle of sparkling wine for GoldSmiths)
Noon but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 2pm.
Double rooms from £266.80 ($356), including tax at 21.11 per cent.
Rates usually include breakfast (Continental and full English). Guests can add half-board dining for an extra US$35 a person, each night; full-board is US$60.
Take part in a cookery class at the hotel, so you can treat the folks back home to Sri Lankan feasts. Just let the chef know what you want to cook (perhaps one of the curries that you had for breakfast). British owner George is an interior designer and it shows: he's responsible for the rooms' colonial elegance, and chose all the antiques and nick nacks.
At the hotel
Gardens, library, mini gym, home cinema, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: radio, iPod dock, minibar, air-conditioning, bathrobes, slippers.
Our favourite rooms
Peacock, Tamarind and Mango each have a veranda surveying the garden. Ornithologists should book the former, which is named for the attention-seeking birds that strut down to the balcony, hoping for a feathered female audience (roosting parakeets and peacocks like Tamarind and Mango’s balconies, too). Honeymooners should opt for the Dubu Suite, set on a hillside all by itself and with its own large lawn (ok, you might have to share it with the monkeys, too) and private pool, perfect for parties or horizontal sunset smooching. Dubu is the only room with a TV.
The inky-green rainwater infinity pool curves around an ancient tree in the gardens, overlooking Koggala Lake and flanked by sleek black sun loungers.
Be rubbed with scented oils in the plantation-spying massage pavilion, set in the pretty gardens. Have your knots worked out with a deep tissue massage, or go for a soothing head or foot massage. Mani-pedis can also be arranged on request. All spa therapists are male, but if you prefer a woman's touch, please let the hotel know and they'll try to arrange a female therapist for you (for an extra US$30).
This is the perfect place to quietly learn a new skill (aided by G&Ts, of course): bring bridge, a pack of cards or a Sri Lankan phrase book. Come with cat treats in your pockets for Rosie, the sociable resident tortoiseshell.
The hotel can arrange a free tuk-tuk shuttle for guests who want to dine at sister property KK Beach. There's a compulsory gala dinner for all guests staying on 24 or 31 December, costing US$75 and US$100 a head respectively.
It's over-12s only at Kahanda Kanda, but once Smiths hit that age mark, they're very welcome. Extra beds are $60 a night.
Sit and admire the lily pond and its darting mandarin-coloured fish from the open-air restaurant, which serves up fragrant, spicy dishes featuring fresh produce from the gardens. The chef often rustles up Sri Lankan curry buffets, so guests can gallop through a range of different local favourites. Should you be after something more familiar, Western options can be requested.
The airy Lounge Pavilion is open all day: start with tea here and return for something more potent, an Arrack Sour perhaps (a local twist on a whisky sour, featuring arrack, lime juice, sugar syrup and soda water). By night, the bar flickers with candlelight.
You have until 9.30pm to order dinner; the restaurant closes at 10.30pm. Drinks are served in the bar until 11pm.
Dishes from the restaurant menu can be brought to your room between 7am and 11pm.
The hotel is set high on a hillside on a green tea estate, a 25-minute drive from Galle's fort.
Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport is 150km away from the hotel; Sri Lankan Airlines is the only carrier that flies direct from Sydney and select European destinations. Call our Smith24 team to arrange hotel transfers (US$95 each way for up to three guests).
Galle station is 15km away, with services connecting to major cities including Kalutara and Hikkaduwa. The three-hour rail ride from Colombo’s Fort Station to Galle is a lesson in cultural immersion, both inside the carriages and out.
Galle is a 25-minute drive from Kahanda Kanda. Don’t worry about wheels, though: the hotel has a car to get guests around in, and a tuktuk.
Worth getting out of bed for
Borrow bikes and go free-wheeling around the tea plantation, or also borrow Alex, who will take you on a guided ride to or from Wijaya: start with a swim and lunch at Wijaya and cycle back to Kahanda Kanda, or start at the hotel and finish with cocktails and a swim at Wijaya. Go on a Koggala Lake boat trip: you’ll start by visiting Talathuduwa Temple Island, and can go on to visit Spice Island, where you’ll learn about how spices grow and are used in Ayuverdic treatments. You can continue on to an island where cinnamon is harvested, and then visit the sanctuary on Bird Island. Learn about tea by going tea-leaf plucking with the female pluckers, before visiting the local tea factory to see how tea is made, and then on to Kahanda village to drink tea the traditional way, at one of the tea plucker’s houses. If you want to explore Galle fort, staff will give you a map and a list of the best local restaurants. Go looking for blue whales and spinner dolphins (January until April).
Why Beach is a chic little two-bedroom resort with an excellent Italian restaurant at Uyana Bandarawatta, on Matara Road. Try the fresh pasta and the tuna carpaccio (dip into the sea first, to work up your appetite). Dress up for the beautifully restored Amangalla Hotel and its Zaal restaurant, styled with colonial elegance. Come here for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea or dinner. Sample classic Asian cuisine in the Verandah Café and Dining Room at the Galle Fort Hotel, set in the heart of the fort.
Retracing our steps of 30 years prior, we were visiting Sri Lanka’s ancient cultural sites north of Kandy. A day’s more travelling would take us down to the coast to Kahanda Kanda. We set off early, heading south via the new toll road, avoiding Colombo; quick and convenient, yes, but we soon wearied of the lack of action and detoured to join everyone else on the bustling – and at times still perilous – Galle Road.
Picturesque and architecturally fascinating, Galle remained familiar though busier and slower to navigate; we headed for the Galle Fort area, which had changed a lot. Now a World Heritage site the level of investment in the historic buildings and infrastructure is astonishing. Our old haunts were still there, some enhanced through sensitive development, others, not so much. We wandered happily down memory lane, and took more photos that morning than we shot in the whole time we lived there in the mid-80s.
The walls that define the thriving Galle Fort area seem to define the extent of the investment in this historic city. The rest of Galle appears untouched by the outside world – great produce markets, never-say-die lace hawkers, beautifully turned out schoolchildren, tempting gem hawkers… Our Singhalese came back in fits and starts, but got us into more trouble than speaking English.
After a sensory overload and mangled language attempts, we drove out east along the south coast stopping briefly at the beach town of Unawatuna, which we hardly recognized. Next we turned inland and climbed through villages, which had hardly changed. We got pretty close to our target just via the map but then resorted to asking directions at caddies – our kids taking every opportunity to disembark, befriend aunties, get close up to children and puppies, to emerge from these village shops with exotic local biscuits and fruit. We arrived later than expected at the gate, tackled a steep incline through prettily planted tea, ending up at the stone staircase that takes you to the summit and the collection of carefully appointed pavilions and ponds that is Kahanda Kanda.
Here it was all calm, serenity and sophistication, the perfect rejoinder to the irrepressible Galle which lay somewhere behind us. We looked out over the treetops trying to locate ourselves, and we could see across valleys south, east and west – to the north the green was thicker. A troupe of normally shy monkeys broke through the canopy and fed unperturbed by us being there. We’d dawdled in the villages and now dusk was arriving, the sound of evening prayers drifting across from the temple on the adjacent valley, the cranes and herons gliding down to roost by Koggala Lake and wood smoke billowing gently up from village fires – we were won over before we’d even checked in.
The main reception building sets the scene well: open architecture, nature understood and celebrated, piles of books everywhere, Sri Lankan authors Michael Ondaatje, books about Sri Lanka, Leonard Wolf’s classic Village in the Jungle, Dominic Sansoni’s sensuous and scholarly photographic studies of the architecture of Geoffrey Bawa… I reminded myself to come back but there was no need as our Peacock Suite had almost as many tomes, and a perfectly appointed window seat.
The suite was just what we’d hoped for: a stand-alone pavilion with views out over the planted tea and a spacious, tasteful monochromatic scheme with an imaginative private garden and two walled outdoor bathrooms. The architecture and interiors throughout Kahanda Kanda are sensitive to location, obviously created by someone who intimately understands how life here ought to be.
We’d been feasting on Sri Lankan cuisine and arrack cocktails but our first evening here had us tempted to detour – especially now that we knew we were in good hands and set up for a memorable couple of days blissfully isolated on the top of a tea plantation. The tranquility, the pool, and the food would have been enough to have us smitten – then came the wild peacocks. I’d seen a Sri Lankan peacock dance from a distance away, deep in Yala National Park in 1985. It’s a fond memory but one totally eclipsed by being roused by the exotic bird’s cries here one morning when we witnessed a spellbinding display from the children’s Tamarind Suite balcony that stunned one of our Miss Smiths into total stillness for about 15 minutes.
On hot and humid days at Kahanda Kanda, you can slide into the cool, dark infinity pool, and you don’t mind if the monkeys perching on the ancient tree drop a few leaves on your head. You don’t mind if you wake early to the sounds of the jungle – the chatter of birds and the chirrup of crickets – or it you hear the music of the bakery van as it drops off bread to the hotel each day. You don’t mind anything, here: it’s so relaxing, you slide into a state of grace as easily as dipping into that pool. Sri Lankan curries as hot and colourful as the local landscape punctuate your days (we recommend string hoppers, egg hoppers, Seeni Sambol, Paripou, Pol Sambol, Kiri Hoddi for breakfast), along with ice-cold G&Ts expertly mixed. Of course, for livelier moments, there’s Galle and the fort a drive away, or Sri Lanka’s beautiful beaches within easy reach. Kahanda Kanda arranged a trip on the lake for us, a visit to an island temple and a bike ride through the villages to the beach, stopping for king coconut (tambili). But if you just stay put and do nothing, we wouldn’t blame you – memories of our time at Kahanda Kanda with the wildlife will stay with us forever.