Lovers of lesser-trodden coastlines will fall hard for boutique hotel Kumu Beach, a placid 10-room hideout a stone's throw from the golden sand. Set on a raised strip of beachfront on Sri Lanka’s south-west coast, this modern, villa-style property has been designed to encourage a stay of the most serene sort. While the sun sits high in the sky, lounge by the ocean-facing infinity pool or on a day-bed beneath the palms, sampling exotic smoothies and iced Ceylon tea to stay cool. Come evening, dine on coconut-encrusted tiger prawns, seared tuna steaks and Sri Lankan hoppers (bowl-shaped pancakes) at a table on the lawn, watching the sunset give way to an inky sky thick with stars.
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 2pm.
Double rooms from £166.68 ($208), including tax at 10 per cent.
Rates usually include à la carte breakfast, daily afternoon tea and a selection of soft drinks in the minibar.
The stylish interiors are the work of Annika Fernando, one of Sri Lanka’s leading young designers. If you like what you see (and are making the trip north to Colombo), go for a whirl around her store, PR.
Oceanview Suites are the largest of the lot, coming with a living area, private terrace and roomy bathroom. If it’s the view that matters most, book a suite on the first floor, where the floor-to-ceiling windows and terrace look out to the horizon through the tops of palm trees.
The 23-metre infinity pool is at the foot of the garden, looking past slender palms to the boulder-strewn beach below. There’s a sun deck with eight parasol-covered sunloungers off to one side, and several shaded tables set up on the lawn.
There's a one-room spa hut offering a variety of treatments. Pre-booking is recommended.
Bring breezy clothes in shades of blue, turquoise and white, which will chime nicely with the hotel’s artworks and the ocean. If you plan to visit temples, bear in mind that you’ll need to have your shoulders covered.
All of the public areas are wheelchair accessible, and some of the Oceanview Bedrooms and Suites are specially adapted.
All ages are welcome. Extra beds (US$39 a night, suitable for children under 12) and baby cots (free) can be added to Oceanview Suites subject to availability. Babysitting is available for US$10 an hour; a week’s notice is required for booking.
Aim for one of the poolside tables on the lawn, which have the best sunset views and star-gazing potential.
Smart beachwear during the day; flowing dresses and loose-weave shirts at night.
Owing to the hotel’s size, its restaurant is a fairly intimate affair. There’s an elegant indoor section with rattan chairs and a banquette strewn with blue-and-white-patterned cushions, but the bulk of the tables are outside on the lawns, where diners can make the most of the balmy evenings and palm-framed ocean view. Borrowing from a range of South Asian cuisines, the menu features the best of Sri Lanka’s bountiful waters: offerings like tiger prawns, kingfish carpaccio and seared tuna steak are paired with exotic flavours and warming spices. There’s plenty produce from the land, too, including rack of lamb served Asian style, Australian rib-eye steak and classic Sri Lankan hoppers with black-pork curry.
There’s no separate bar; drinks can be ordered in the restaurant or brought to your preferred sunning spot.
The restaurant is open from 7am to 10.30pm.
Anything from the menu can be delivered to your room while the restaurant is open.
The hotel sits on the edge of Balapitiya beach, a stretch of boulder-strewn sand on Sri Lanka’s south-east coast.
Bandaranaike International Airport is the arrival point for most visitors. From there, it’s a two-hour drive to the hotel. The other option is to hop onto a Sri Lankan Air Taxi service to Bentota, a flight of around half an hour. From Bentota, it’s a 30-minute drive to the hotel. The Smith24 team can arrange flights and transfers; call anytime, day or night.
Trains run from Colombo Fort to Balapitiya five times a day, but be warned that they can get incredibly busy at times. If you’re happy to compromise on luxury, the hour-and-40-minute journey will bring you face to face with lush landscapes and local life.
Driving in Sri Lanka can be a bit bewildering if you’re used to smooth tarmac and a strict highway code. Unless you’re really determined to make the drive yourself, you’re better off hiring a professional to navigate the island’s roads.
Worth getting out of bed for
Kumu Beach lends itself wholeheartedly to lazy days by the pool, long lunches and walks along the beach – but that’s not to say exploring is discouraged. If you’re looking to get close to some of the native wildlife (and help protect it), try the Sea Turtle Farm and Hatchery on the edge of Balapitiya Beach. This not-for-profit organisation helps boost the local population of native turtles, rearing them from eggs until they’re large enough to be released into the sea. For more natural thrills, take a boat trip across the Madu Ganga wetland, made up of two lakes, various estuaries and 65 different islands, many of them home to untouched mangrove forests. Unsurprisingly, the area is teeming with life, including hundreds of plant species, crabs and crocodiles. For a slice of the local culture, stop by the Mask Museum in Ambalangoda, a small seaside town in which the locals make vibrant devil masks for various dancing rituals – some of them meant to exorcise demons, others to poke fun at their one-time British colonists.
Salty Swamis brings a shot of SoCal beach culture to the shores of Hikkaduwa, a popular surfing destination. The staff are fittingly laid-back, but don’t be fooled by the beach-bum vibe – they turn out delectable breakfasts, brunch and artisanal coffee with aplomb, earning them an unbreaking wave of praise. If you’re visiting the city of Galle to the south, try the elegant Dining Room at Amangalla, which resides in a colonial-era building within the walls of Galle Fort. Period furniture and antique silverware provide a refined backdrop to dinner, which always showcases the chef’s pick of the local markets. Another enticing option is Church Street Social, also within the historic fort complex. Nodding to Galle’s history as a thriving international sea port, the food here shows influence from Arabian, North African and South Asian cuisine, all served within a lively, laid-back setting.
We’d arrived at Sri Lankan boutique stay Kumu Beach in a frizzy-haired fluster: the heat, humidity and long car journey from Colombo had been tough, especially for Baby Smith. Kudos to the lovely staff who didn’t bat an eyelid at our unkempt appearance, but instead welcomed us with ice-cold Ceylon tea. I’m not sure if it was the welcome drink, the gleaming white entrance, or the gentle sea breeze, but stepping into Kumu Beach made us feel miraculously clean. Even when covered in baby sick.
The hotel is the only property along this sandy stretch of Balapitiya Beach (on the island’s southwest coast) – unfortunately not for long, it seems, as plans to build a giant apartment block are sadly but firmly in place (all the more reason to visit ASAP). But, during our stay, it was all ours to explore. And so we spent much of our time collecting sea shells and listening to the waves swoosh, froth and fizz. The rhythmic roar of the ocean was occasionally interrupted by the thwack of a cricket ball from a game being played further up the coast. Peace. We had travelled a long way for exactly this.
Well, nearly: there was an incident with a lost cow on the beach one afternoon: it bolted in our direction, we scrambled onto a boulder, Mr Smith flapped about, the confused animal wandered off – no big deal. Otherwise, there was no drama to report – unless you count the views, which were pretty dramatic. Skinny coconut palms leaned across the property’s manicured garden, reaching towards the Indian Ocean, seemingly as eager as us to linger over those paradisiacal beach panoramas. Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t take long for guests to unwind here.
Back at the hotel, it felt like we were the only ones staying, thanks to clever design features. There are only 10 rooms, for a start, and the symmetrical layout of the communal areas maximises privacy and space. Twin open-plan living rooms (with beautiful batik cushions) are separated by a giant copper ball – the work of Sri Lankan artist Sanjay Geekiyanage, whose metallic fish sculptures adorn the hotel’s walls and ceilings. Vertically aligned terrace tables meant we were never sat next to other guests at meal times. Even the long, slim shape of the pool discouraged anyone from swimming at the same time – there seemed to be a silent ‘one at a time’ code, even though there was plenty of space for everyone.
The wooden door of our Ocean View room was marked with a string of seashells. As with the rest of the hotel, local designer Annika Fernando has kept things fresh and simple inside – a couple of blue-and-white vases and dark-wood panelling against plain white walls (what could compete with those sea views anyway?) And yet, it felt stylish rather than soulless. The bathroom was enormous, illuminated by a skylight above a pebble-floored open shower. Beside the four-poster bed, floor-to-ceiling windows opened out onto our small private terrace – the perfect spot to enjoy the hotel’s complimentary afternoon tea, served daily at 3pm sharp. I could’ve spent a lot of time doing nothing in that room and on that terrace, but, well, we were staying with a two-year old.
Baby Smith had squealed with delight when he first saw the pool and, internally, so had I. It’s the infinity pool of dreams. To the left, a neat line of ocean-facing day-beds looked wonderfully relaxing from where I stood (which was usually in the shallow end, performing the Baby Shark song). To the right, a hammock bed sat invitingly on an immaculate lawn, its curtains billowing in the breeze. I didn’t think it was possible at the time, but this patch of paradise became even more beautiful as the sun set against a purple-hued sky, transforming the tall palms into elegant silhouettes, as lanterns glowed around the edge of the pool.
‘It’s the perfect honeymoon destination’, mused a relaxed Mr Smith over a meal of coconut shrimp and seared tuna one night. It’s certainly true – all other guests were couples when we stayed – but families are made to feel just as welcome. The staff cooed over Baby Smith and didn’t seem to mind him charging around the place on the occasional post-pancake high. Kumu Beach caters to tired parents too, with on-site spa treatments and generous, tropical breakfasts. (Talking of which, special mention must go to the blueberry-and-coconut chai smoothies, which were heaven in a glass.)
On one afternoon we took a tuk-tuk ride to the nearby town of Ambalangoda to visit its mask museum, where Baby Smith gawped at the grotesque wooden faces that stared back at him. Another day, we glided through the mangrove forests of the Madu Ganga wetlands by boat, stopping off to visit a Buddhist shrine set on an island and a small, family-run cinnamon plantation. There are a few other decent local highlights, such as the estates of the famed architect brothers, Geoffrey and Bevis Bawa, or surfers’ paradise Bentota beach. But, we found, each time we tore ourselves away from Kumu Beach, we just couldn’t wait to get back.