Living Heritage Koslanda sits in an area called God’s Forest; spend five minutes amid its cinnamon-scented serenity and you’ll soon see why. Romantic, rustic rooms, a dazzling hilltop infinity pool and a brilliant chef keep things heavenly. Instead of visiting angels, elephants stomp by during the drier months.
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Check-in, from 2pm.
Double rooms from £181.54 ($235), including tax at 25 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of 6.4% per on check-out.
Rates usually include breakfast (Continental or American).
Have a cookery class with chef Lal for US$20 a person; you'll learn how to make perfect Sri Lankan rice and curry, hoppers (pancakes made with rice batter and coconut milk), rotis, pittu (rice layered with coconut), sambals and other local dishes. You can even spend some time with Lal in the kitchen garden, selecting the produce you want to cook with. Pluck some home-grown pepper while you're there.
At the hotel
Swimming pool; library; stash of on-loan CDs; WiFi in the restaurant (the other common areas are WiFi-free zones). In rooms: TV, DVD player, local bath products. The Pepper Garden Cottage and Suites have WiFi (but the Forest Pavilion does not).
Our favourite rooms
Villa One, housed in the main building, has its own little courtyard with mountain views; it's a spacious, simply designed haven from the heat. For maximum privacy, opt for the Garden Villa, set away from the main building and tucked in the undergrowth, close to the pool. This room is smaller and cheaper than the other options, but it has a private courtyard and the same timber- and stone-styling.
To get to the pool, you’ll need to stomp up a hill, but you’ll be richly rewarded when you do: Koslanda’s jaw-drop hilltop infinity pool surveys the valley below. Staff will also point you in the direction of a secluded waterfall and river that you can swim in (depending on the season), close to the hotel.
Waterfall-proof swimwear; sturdy shoes for walking on the rough paths around the hotel; your notebook for cookery lessons.
Wondering where the hotel gets its architectural good looks from? It was designed by the late film-maker Manik Sandrasagra, in collaboration with renowned Sri Lankan architect Channa Daswatte. After Manik’s death, his wife Lucy completed the project.
Little Smiths aged six and above are welcome, but parents should note that this is a grown-up affair, with few distractions. Extra beds can be added to rooms for US$50 a night.
The restaurant is lovely, but who could resist a lantern-lit table for two by the creek, or tucked away in a hilltop pavilion behind the pool?
Stay cool in light linens – it gets humid here.
Housed in an open-air timber pavilion with a pagoda-like roof, the restaurant serves delicious Sri Lankan food (don't expect any beef) cooked on a traditional wood-fired stove, plus Western favourites. Chef Lal rustles up a mean home-made pasta; the grilled prawns are pretty toothsome, too. The locally made timber tables are topped with dark cloths and red-glass bowls that twinkle with candles at night. Food and drinks are priced very fairly, so you might find yourself ordering extra.
There's no formal bar area as such, but drinks are served by the pool and throughout the hotel. Pick from beers, wine and a small selection of cocktails.
Dinner is served until 10pm at the restaurant; breakfast is 7.30am-10.30am.
Available 24 hours, room service spans the full restaurant menu.
Koslanda is named for the area it sits in: a rural, remote village in Sri Lanka’s verdant Hill Country. The hotel is so hidden, drivers are asked to call the hotel on approach, so that staff can be sent up the road to point cars in the right direction.
Bandaranaike International Colombo airport is around five and a half hours from the hotel by car, with connections to Singapore, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and London Gatwick, among other destinations. Call our Smith24 Team on 03300 376 891 to arrange flights and transfers.
Haputhale station is 20km from the hotel, a 45-minute drive.
Koslanda is your retreat, the kind of place you get to and stop moving (apart from the short stroll to the pool and waterfall). Plus the road that leaves to the hotel is rough and rocky; you’re better off leaving your wheels back home.
Worth getting out of bed for
Let staff take you on a guided nature walk in the jungle and forest; if you want to explore further afield, they’ll also take you to Diyaluma Falls and a nearby rubber plantation, or to a local tea plantation, where you’ll see people picking tea, learn about production and taste a brew (US$45 a person). You can also visit a local jam-maker. For US$10 a person, staff will take you on a tour of the hotel gardens and teach you about pepper and spice cultivation, fruits and Ayurvedic plants. Set off on foot with your swimming gear and splash around the waterfall and river (in season). Take a book to the relaxation pavilion or communal veranda, or pack your bags for a serene, sunny afternoon by the hilltop infinity pool.
Set amid 80 acres, Living Heritage Koslanda has the stature to be considered a National Park of its very own. As you wind your way down leafy alleys to find the gated entrance, it immediately starts delivering on its promise to help guests ‘replenish, breathe, regenerate and heal’.
Privacy is high on the agenda here; it’s no wonder prime ministers and heads of state often come to seek sanctuary. With an abundance of nature, the estate’s skeleton crew, and only a dozen or so other guests at any given time, Koslanda is most definitely a retreat to experience a restorative intermission. More than two parties, we found out, were on their second and third return visits here.
You’ll often have the infinity pool to yourself; I had only Mr Smith and an arrack sour cocktail for company (and the occasional macaque) while I admired the views. You can walk through the grounds alongside the butterflies, birds and tamarind trees, or watch the harvesting of peppercorns (we’re gifted a packet on check-out so we might take away a taste of our stay).
Staying at Koslanda is comparable to having your own two-tiered house. Bedrooms are spacious, as is your private courtyard/living room just a couple of steps below. And for those that like a hot tub, there’s one of those too – and an outdoor shower. Rather in keeping with the insouciant vibe, there are no room keys.
Attention to detail is also paramount: the team, under instruction from acclaimed architect Channa Daswatte, collaborated with local craftsmen – in some cases reviving long forgotten construction techniques – to ensure that each and every building is authentically Sri Lankan. They’re also expanding, with more treetop suites by the swimming pool being built in time for spring 2018.
Allowing ourselves to unwind is very much what Mr Smith and I had in mind. We embrace the simplicity of sitting in the shade of the grand ambalama (a Sinhalese term referring to places originally constructed for pilgrims, traders and travellers to rest in rural locations) with a good book, interrupted only by an offer of tea and cookies. On some days, at dusk, an elephant will roam through the estate – alas, we miss out. ‘Only on especially hot evenings,’ we’re told by Mr Carim, the hotel’s fantastic manager.
On our second day, we decide to be a bit more adventurous and find the secluded waterfall. We’re told you can swim in its tranquil, clear waters before jumping out for a picnic on the banks. It’s not quite what it seems, however – and not just because it’s tricky to locate. There are also leeches on the walk. Thankfully, we are provided with leech socks, saltwater (to get them off) and a swimming towel. Quite the trial by fire, but we do eventually swim, returning gladly leech-free.
Joining the handful of guests before dinner for a cocktail, we’re served vegetarian canapés and wend our way down to the outdoor dining area. A five-course feast awaits us. A starter of homemade Mushroom soup, beansprout salad and a vegetable samosa is followed by a moist grilled chicken in a garlic cream served with pillowy, coconut rice and finally the highlight of the evening: a passionfruit cheesecake that will make you blush it’s so unctuous.
The evenings – like in much of Sri Lanka – are very quiet. After dinner most of the guests filter back to their suites to read a good book, watch a movie or play a game of chess. Our first night is comfortable, soundtracked only by crickets and the occasional scampering monkey.
Breakfast is the usual affair of fruit platters and smoothies, tea, coffee pastries and a hot dishes cooked to order, delicious on every count. In fact, the food conjured up by the wonderful in-house chef is some of the best we ate in Sri Lanka – he prepares everything fresh that day and also provides cookery courses in the afternoons.
On our final evening we’re served a Sri Lankan spread: a multi-dish extravaganza of chicken curry and rice with spiced potatoes, caramelised chilli aubergine, dahl, green beans, vegetable Singapore noodles, string hoppers, coconut and chilli breadfruit and poppadoms. This is all washed down with a spritely Prosecco and ends with that passionfruit cheesecake.
It’s worth noting that there are many little touches that make your stay here that fraction more perfect. From the fragrant petals on the fresh sheets, to the stacked minibar complete with teas and coffees, and the selection of DVDs to watch. Everything you might need is always at hand and each guest is given a phone to contact reception for anything that isn’t.
Owner Lucy and her late husband, film director Manik Sandrasagra, had a shared vision for their property: to provide a luxurious stay while respecting and preserving local culture and the rituals of the forest. Koslanda ticks all of those boxes, along with those marked ‘Tranquility’, ‘Sanctuary’ and ‘Really, really good food’.