The Cultural Triangle, Sri Lanka

Kalundewa Retreat

Rates from (ex tax)$224.62

Price information

If you haven’t entered any dates, the rate shown is provided directly by the hotel and represents the cheapest double room (including tax) available in the next 21 days.

Prices have been converted from the hotel’s local currency (USD285.00), via openexchangerates.org, using today’s exchange rate.

Style

Architectural eye-opener

Setting

Paddy fields and Kumbuk trees

Kalundewa Retreat had humble beginnings, starting life as a 25-acre agricultural project; these days, it’s a sleek timber-and-glass design den. An excellent chef captains the open-air restaurant (which sources 85 per cent of its produce from the gardens) and even the swimming pool honours nature – it’s an ulpatha (natural spring).

This hotel is one of the luxurious hotels in our Sri Lanka itineraries.

Smith Extra

Get this when you book through us:

One special set-menu dinner in the grounds

Facilities

Photos Kalundewa Retreat facilities

Need to know

Rooms

Six, including four suites.

Check–Out

12 noon; earliest check-in, 2pm.

Rates

Double rooms from $224.62, excluding tax at 26.88 per cent.

Price information

If you haven’t entered any dates, the rate shown is provided directly by the hotel and represents the cheapest double room (including tax) available in the next 21 days.

Prices have been converted from the hotel’s local currency (USD224.62), via openexchangerates.org, using today’s exchange rate.

More details

Rates usually include breakfast (full English or Sri Lankan) and WiFi. Guests can borrow the hotel’s bicycles, paddle boats and canoes without charge.

Also

Yoga devotees can enlist the guidance of a local yogi and perfect their poses on a special platform amid the rice fields, in sight of a small waterfall. Love the food in the restaurant? Have a cookery class with the chef, who will take you into the gardens to pick your produce. (Ask nicely and you might even be able to cook in the paddy fields.)

At the hotel

100-acre grounds, swimming pool. In rooms: desk, minibar, Sri Lankan bath products.

Our favourite rooms

Sleeping quarters are spread across three buildings: the first sits in the paddocks, housing three entry-level rooms; the second and third buildings are overwater, set in the wetlands and shrouded by a canopy of trees. One building holds two bedrooms, the other holds just one – the Kumbuk Chalet, which is the most private option and has its own overwater plunge pool.

Poolside

We’re seasoned swimmers, but this pool took our breath away: set away from the main buildings (a short walk or buggy ride), it occupies a small depression, next to a creek and bordered on one side by a canopy of palm trees and a sea of rice paddies on the other. It’s an ‘ulpatha’: a natural spring that wells up from underground (watch the water bubbling up while you swim). Light-blue tiles contrast with the green and timber surrounding the organic-shaped oasis; next to the pool is a roofed terrace designed for sun bathing and al fresco meals.

Packing tips

A shawl or shirt for temple visits; green fingers for the gardens.

Also

The hotel’s brilliant design earned it a place in Tatler’s 101 Best Hotels in 2012.

Children

Little Smiths are welcome, but there's no babysitting or on-loan cots (the hotel reckons it’s best suited to children aged six and above).

Food and Drink

Photos Kalundewa Retreat food and drink

Top Table

Ask staff to set up your own private dining experience: out in the middle of the plantations, at a pagoda near the pool or by one of the little bridges over the creeks. Alternatively, dine on the deck of your chalet, or in one of the outside pavilions.

Dress Code

Nature rules: cotton, linen, leather and wooden jewellery.

Hotel restaurant

Overlooking the fields and wetlands, the open-air Rice Field Restaurant is a relaxed setup with timber and stone styling. An impressive 85 per cent of the produce is grown onsite – including rice, sweet potato, citrus, tapioca, ginger, beetroot, bananas, mangos and many others. The hotel also makes its own honey. Try the delicious Sri Lankan curries (fish was our favourite, accompanied by flavoursome vegetarian options and perfect rice). If you want further proof that food is taken seriously here, the chef is also the manager.

Hotel bar

Located next to the restaurant, the bar is in an ideal position for a pre-dinner arrack punch or an after-supper Singapore sling. Their drinks menu changes every couple of months, so you'll just have to keep coming back to sample their latest concoctions

Last orders

Dinner service finishes relatively early, at 9pm; breakfast is 7am–10am. The bar will be open 10am to midnight, but alcoholic drinks will stopped being served at 10pm.

Room service

On offer between 6am and 10pm, the hotel's room service menu spans sandwiches and snacks, alongside Sri Lankan and Western mains.

Location

Photos Kalundewa Retreat location
Address
Kalundewa Retreat
Kalundewa Road, Dambulu Oya
Dambulla
Dambulla
Sri Lanka

Planes

Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport is around 140km away (a four-hour drive), served by Sri Lankan Airlines. Call our Smith24 Team on 03300 376 891 to arrange flights and transfers.

Automobiles

Dambulla is the closest town, a 20-minute drive away.

Worth getting out of bed for

Once you’ve splashed around the ulpatha, had a cookery class and relaxed in your room, ask staff to take you exploring. In the dry months (August–October), the Kaudulla National Park attracts more than 300 elephants, which gather on the banks of its reservoir (built by King Mahasen about 15 centuries ago). The park is an hour and a half away from the hotel by car.

The Sigiraya (Lion’s Rock) fortress dates back to the fifth century, and was built by King Kashyapa. Marvel at the ancient palace complex and keep your eyes peeled for the remains of four indoor swimming pools, where the king’s 500 concubines bathed. Complex water arteries in the walls provided natural air conditioning in the hotter months. From the summit – accessed by metal walkways and ladders – you can spy the remains of gardens, ponds and palace walls. Mirror walls are decorated with frescoes depicting the king’s concubines, who hailed from all over the world. Open from 7.30am until 3.30pm, the fortress is a 45-minute drive from Kalundewa.

The Dambulla Cave Monastery, the best preserved ancient edifice in Sri Lanka, has religious images emblazoned across its rock contours. The temple complex spans five caves under a vast overhanging rock, and dates back to the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC. Historians should pay a trip to Anuradhapura, the cradle of Buddhist civilization in Sri Lanka. Highlights include Sri MahaBodhiya (the 2,300-year-old sacred bo tree) and the largest stupas of the ancient world – the Ruwanweliseya, the Jethawanaramaya and the Abhayagiriya. The Jethawanaramaya was the third tallest building in the ancient world, after the two largest pyramids of Egypt. The city is an hour and 45 minutes away from the hotel by car.

Reviews

Photos Kalundewa Retreat reviews
Mike MacEacheran

Anonymous review

The first sign that Kalundewa Retreat does things differently is the dancing peacock that ambushes me in the shower. Gyrating, twitching, neck-craning, it hops to and fro: a flutter of gold and blue feathers and plumage. While I’m covered in soaps and suds in the glass-walled, rainforest-style washroom, it stands above me staring through the transparent roof. In Africa, if you’re lucky, you may gaze out on a giraffe from under the canvas of a platformed tent, or see a scarlet macaw from a treetop eco-lodge in Central America. Rare is the day you have a dancing, exotic bird try to court you while you’re in the shower. I’d been hoping for that from Mrs Smith.

In Sri Lanka, they say this courtship dance is a harbinger of the approaching monsoon. At Kalundewa Retreat, as Sushil our chalet butler tells us after check-in, it has become an early morning ritual for guests. 'The peacocks come', he says with an approving head-wobble, 'because they like to see their reflection in the morning sun, before it gets too hot.'

With hindsight, the peacock’s appearance – followed by a surprise honk after I flash my towel – is perfectly fitting. So much of life at Kalundewa is outdoors, it feels like a hotel without walls, even borders. Earlier, arriving by tuk-tuk along a russet-red, dirt path that strays far from the Dambulla–Kandy road, we had no clue as to what lay ahead. The telling contours of dusty green hills of the beautiful nearby ancient cities of Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa – hills that would have inspired Kipling or Hemingway – had vanished. We were greeted by 100 acres of jungle wilderness. There was little, if any, sign of a luxury hotel.

But that is Kalundewa’s ultimate trick and its triumph. The reception and restaurant structure of glass, concrete, steel, and exposed brick is so well-camouflaged – a minimalist, open-air frame built around two gigantic old-age Kumbuk trees – that it could be trying to sneak up on you and shout: 'Boo!' It is sleek, with arrow-straight lines and floor-to-ceiling windows that let in a remarkable sense of light from the terraces of garden vegetables and a freshwater lagoon that help screen it on approach. It feels effortless, but it is anything but. The soft scurry and papery flight of brown fish owls, squirrels, lizards, peregrines, mongooses, Indian flycatchers, hornbills and – yes – those coquettish peacocks add to the wholly natural welcome.

We plump for the sheltered Kumbuk Chalet, a stilted, floating lagoon villa shielded by feathery trees and vines with great stalking roots. There’s a secluded terrace for bathing by the plunge pool, a private terrace for dining by candlelight, and a wooden boardwalk, our only access to the outside world – the perfect escape for a sexed-up, pretend mini-honeymoon. (Mrs Smith is still waiting for the real thing.) At night, the sun filters over the lagoon, through the pomelo, willow, and jackfruit trees, glowing mauve and violet. It is comfort of Sri Lanka’s highest order. 

The story goes that the country’s most influential architect, Geoffrey Bawa, had originally wanted it. He had flown overhead by helicopter, paid for by a rival luxury hotel operator, remarking that it was the best spot in all Sri Lanka on which to build. What he didn’t know was that he had been beaten to the task. He just couldn’t see it.

The beauty of Kalundewa – its real unfiltered, untarnished beauty – is in the subtle details. Drop your gaze from Mount Kalundewa, the knuckle-shaped peak that towers over the surrounding rice paddies, and you’ll see all Sri Lankan life before you. A chef in a crisply-pressed white uniform cycles through fields of sweet onions and yams on a rickety bike; sun-ripened old men and veiled women in pink, orange and gold saris pick fruit; there is a makeshift, scorched-earth cricket pitch with wooden stumps and wickets; Buddhist dagobas and caves dot the pastoral landscape; cicadas and fruit bats buzz at dusk. It is all the delicious glory of South Asia within a mango’s throw.

It’s so sybaritic, in fact, that Mrs Smith and I struggle to do much during our stay. We gorge on jumbo lagoon prawns the size of small rocket-ships, devour heart-pumping curries zingy enough to bring tears to my eyes (I blame the romance of the occasion), and wallow at breakfast over traditional egg hoppers: pancake-thin slivers of spicey goodness. 

There are canoes and bikes for exploration (we only pedal out to breakfast); forest hikes with the resident naturalist (nope); an excursion to the local village (in this heat?); cooking classes with executive chef Lal Priyantha (maybe next time); forest yoga (seriously?). Instead, Mrs Smith takes to the sun lounger like an oven-hot buffalo and I watch blue-eared kingfishers dive bomb the lagoon from the plunge pool. We also beeline to the ulpatha, a natural spring converted into a jungle pool, to float like overfed lizards post-lunch each afternoon. And we are the only ones to share it – the rarest luxury of them all.

As we leave Kalundewa the next morning, I take one last look around. The mongooses have sulked off, so too the fruit bats, squirrels, kingfishers and eagles. The peacock sees me, right enough, but it doesn’t so much as flinch. It fans its tail, a sign that it really couldn’t care less, and continues dancing unapologetically.

The Guestbook

Whenever you book a stay at a Smith Hotel with us, we’ll invite you to review it when you get back. Read what other Smith members had to say in Kalundewa Retreat’s Guestbook below.

We loved

We loved riding our bikes around the property, the minimalist modern interior design and the breezy 'ourdoorness' of it all. We had a lot of fun bird and bat watching, and discovering other creatures like water buffalo, monitors, and geckos. The staff are very friendly.

Don’t expect

5-star comfort – this place, while luxurious, is definitely 'natural', with lots of wind and bugs. The pool leaves something to be desired.

Rating

Stayed on 2 Aug 2017

We loved

The setting – very peaceful. Great base from which to go on a safari into the national parks to see elephants. We saw many including very young ones.

Don’t expect

Gourmet food, a lively bar or an ant-free bathroom.

Rating

Stayed on 30 Jul 2017

We loved

Nature.

Don’t expect

City nightlife.

Rating

Stayed on 26 Apr 2017

We loved

We absolutely loved Kalundewa Retreat, it's unlike anywhere we have ever stayed before. The service was outstanding from the moment we arrived, when a golf buggy took us to our enchanted tree house which was nestled among the trees overlooking the lake. The chalet was spacious and bright with floor-to-ceiling glass windows so we could take in the stunning scenery around us. We enjoyed pre-dinner drinks every night in the main tree house, followed by some delicious food from the a la carte menu. In the mornings we ate the Sri Lankan breakfast option which was a real treat. There's plenty to do here including a paddle around the lake, bike rides, walks or simply relaxing in your chalet. The staff were extremely friendly and nothing was too much trouble, we just wish we could have stayed for longer. We hope to return again one day.

Don’t expect

Late nights/night life.

Rating

Stayed on 19 Apr 2017

We loved

The location, scenery, wildlife, walks, peace and quiet. The staff are wonderful and made me feel very welcome. By far my favourite stay anywhere, ever. Can't wait to return! The trip to the local elephant sanctuary was brilliant, all arranged without hassle by reception.

Don’t expect

Nightlife other than what you make of it.

Rating

Stayed on 17 Apr 2017

We loved

The location is stunning. The retreat is set in acres of natural landscape and the wildlife is abundant. Take a set of binoculars!

Don’t expect

Lively nights.

Rating

Stayed on 10 Mar 2017

We loved

The wildlife.

Don’t expect

Well-lit dinning.

Rating

Stayed on 17 Feb 2017

We loved

The architecture

Rating

Stayed on 13 Jan 2017

We loved

For starters, the setting is really something... Kalundewa retreat is built on a vast farm where you can wander during your stay (you even get a bicycle per guest ...) You also have to bear in mind that Kalundewa retreat is not a hotel but a collection of small architectural gems they call chalets.. We were lucky enough to stay in the Bakmee chalet, remarkably designed with vast glass panels that reflect the surrounding lake and foliage. We originally booked the upper chalet but they were kind enough to put the whole chalet at our disposal as the lower chalet was empty. The Kalundewa staff is also worth mentioning. Service in general in Sri Lanka is outstanding but these guys are taking it to the next level. They genuinely want you to be comfortable and relaxed.. and they're doing their very best to ensure that. We were humbled by their kindness. 

Don’t expect

Nightlife. A well stacked bar. A Mosquito-free stay

Rating

Stayed on 19 Nov 2016

We loved

The wild.

Don’t expect

Night life.

Rating

Stayed on 25 Sep 2016

We loved

How away from it all you felt and the staff were lovely. Great place to relax. Sigiriya rock is beautiful, make sure you go early morning or later in the day as it's quite sweaty work in the midday heat!

Don’t expect

True 5 star luxury. The accommodation is lovely but the facilities are relatively basic.

Rating

Stayed on 21 Mar 2016

We loved

The semi-rural setting with lush natural beauty, birdlife and wildlife, local village life. The great à la carte menu, the delicious breakfast, the service, the friendliness of the staff.

Don’t expect

A bug-free holiday.

Rating

Stayed on 27 Dec 2015

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