A sprawling lakeside estate with gardens so good they attract daytrippers, Lunuganga Estate is the life’s work of starred architect Geoffrey Bawa, who transformed this disused rubber plantation in coastal south-west Sri Lanka. A series of standalone buildings dotting the grounds now serve as luxe suites that celebrate Bawa’s legacy with antique furnishings and original features. Yet this is a hotel that cossets with modern comforts, too, including a fine restaurant, predictably impeccable service and days out touring Gallé Fort, paddling the wetlands or taking a seaplane tour in search of whales.
Get this when you book through us:
Guided garden tour for two, fresh fruit platter on arrival, afternoon tea, plus a mocktail
Double rooms from £169.27 ($215), including tax at 26.5 per cent.
Rates include breakfast.
A guided tour of the garden is the only way to fully understand Lunuganga Estate’s brilliance – which you can compare and contrast to Brief Garden down the road, the work of Geoffrey’s landscape-architect brother Bevis.
At the hotel
Restaurant, lounge. In rooms: free WiFi (except in Ena House and Cinnamon Hill), cable TV, free tea & coffee, free bottled water, Green World Ceylon bath products.
Our favourite rooms
Three-bedroom Ena House, set around a Frangipani-crowned courtyard, full of antiques and art and strewn with Ena da Silva batiks, is hard to top – especially considering it was moved here brick by brick from Colombo. Of the rooms for two, sheer size and a private walled courtyard make the Gallery Studio Suite top of the pops, although the portico-topping Glass House and beautifully beamed Gate House are characterful runners-up. If proximity to food and WiFi is your priority, go for the Main House Studio.
An infinity pool overlooking the lake is in the process of being built, putting guests staying at Cinnamon Hill in pole position for a dip in the peaceful surroundings of the garden.
Gossamer-light sleeves and longs for candlelit dinners alfresco; your widest-brimmed hat for saunters around the garden; beach attire for days at the coast.
Butler service is available to guests who book exclusive use of either Cinnamon Hill (two rooms) or the trio of bedrooms at Ena House – the latter also comes with private dining for group stays.
Welcome. The restaurant has a children’s menu. Multi-bedroom Cinnamon Hill and Ena House are ideal for families, if booked exclusively, and an extra bed for kids can be added to the Gate House, Cinnamon Hill and Ena House.
Clever use of natural light and efficient air conditioning help reduce electricity usage. Waste is recycled and rainwater is harvested to sustain the garden. Both water bottles and bath products are refillable. All furniture is either antique or crafted from fallen timber. Suppliers for everything from food to tours are local; bread comes from a bakery nearby and veg is grown at Lunuganga Estate’s sister hotel.
Terrace tables with uninterrupted lake views take top spot.
Flowing dresses, flared pants and floaty sleeves suit the unhurried, glamorous vibe at Lunuganga.
There’s a wholesome simplicity to the menu on offer at the hotel’s terrace restaurant; chef focuses on Sri Lankan cooking done well in dishes such as mutton cutlets, coconut and mustard fish curry and grilled barramundi. Dine at blue-clothed tables on director’s chairs indoors or on the terrace, where two curlicued frangipani trees, grafted Bonsai-style, create a dramatic focal point against a backdrop of Lunuganga’s paddy field and the lake beyond. For an added dose of romance, a candlelit private dinner in the grounds is available by arrangement.
There’s no bar as such but make sure you know where to head for sundowners at tree-fringed Gin and Tonic Place.
No place for strict timetables, the restaurant is open for distinct periods covering breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. Though, complimentary tea and coffee is served between 3.30pm and 4.30pm.
Distance from the main hotel makes room service at Ena House or Cinnamon Hill impractical, but the latter has a kitchenette where you can store drinks and snacks.
On the shores of Lake Dedduwa in the Bentota coastal belt, and within easy reach of the ocean, Lunuganga Estate is in south-west Sri Lanka between Gallé and Colombo.
Bandaranayake International Airport is less than two hours by road from Lunuganga Estate. The hotel can arrange private transfers from US$120 each way.
It’s an 80-minute rail trip from Colombo to Aluthgama with several services a day. The hotel can arrange transfers to and from Aluthgama, costing US$20 each way.
There’s free parking for guests within the hotel grounds.
Worth getting out of bed for
Bentota’s coastal belt is a patchwork of rice paddies, coconut plantations and cinnamon estates, edged by powder-sand beaches including boulder-strewn beauty, Balapitiya. Snorkelling, windsurfing and kite-surfing can all be enjoyed from its shores. This stretch of south-westerly coastline provides nesting grounds for Sri Lanka’s five species of marine turtles and a turtle hatchery there is open to visitors. Inland, tour fauna-rich wetlands with a boat tour of the Madu Ganga river estuary. Visit Geoffrey Bawa’s brother’s estate, Brief Garden: landscape architect Bevis’s design is made striking with ornate archways, eye-catching sculptures and murals. Back at Lunuganga, chef can take you on a culinary tour, guiding you as you create Sri Lankan curries and rice, with the fruits of your labours for lunch afterwards. In the company of a fourth-generation puppeteer, discover Sri Lanka’s puppetry heritage in Balapitiya with a museum tour and puppet show. Enjoy a half-day art tour covering batik, puppetry and mask-making in and around Ambalangoda, including a visit to an art-adorned 18th-century monastery. The hotel can also arrange for a local guide to take you on a tour of Gallé Fort. Between December and April, it’s whale watching season: catch sightings of dolphins, orca and elusive blue whales with a private catamaran tour or from the air on an authorised charter.
Thirty minutes away, Lunuganga Estate’s sister hotel Kumu Beach serves South Asian plates such as spiced rack of lamb and kingfish carpaccio to tables on the lawn. Zest at Cinnamon Bentota Beach Hotel turns Sri Lankan cuisine into theatre with flaming woks, tandoori ovens and hoppers prepared tableside in a scenic beachfront setting. In Aluthgama, 20 minutes away by road, Pier 88 started out as a supermarket but is now an open-sided restaurant with tables by the water: a vast menu spans Sri Lankan classics, pan-Asian rice and noodles, as well as Italian plates; its substantial brunch menu makes it a good bet for daytime grazing, too.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this country estate in Sri Lanka and unpacked their batik art and coconut oil, a full account of their lakeside break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Lunuganga Estate in Bentota…
Conserving an architect’s 50-year love affair with this sultry corner of Bentota, Lunuganga Estate is an aesthetic marvel. Prolific Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa – whose style is defined by playful indoor-outdoor spaces and designs built around the mature ebony, blue olive and frangipane trees in situ – took ownership of this disused rubber plantation in the late 1940s. Every building in today’s hotel tells a story: the main house where Bawa stayed, the gatehouse where junior colleagues camped out, right up to the rooms atop Cinnamon HIll, built by Bawa in the Nineties. No stay is more storied, however, than jewel-in-the-crown Ena House: batik artist Ena da Silva commissioned Bawa to build this three-bedroom house and courtyard in Colombo in 1962 and it was transported brick by brick to Lunuganga in the Noughties and rebuilt over six years. Book all three rooms here and you can dine a casa and enjoy butler service in a house rich in original art, da Silva’s batik textiles, and tiles and bricks still sporting their number codes for reassembly. So much of the hotel serves as monument to Bawa: original features intact; hand-painted ceramics on display; rooms dressed in antique Dutch colonial furniture – and yet Lunuganga Estate is no fusty museum piece, but a convivial, restful retreat fit for modern whims. Gin and Tonic Place is a tree-fringed clearing with sunset views where guests traditionally gather at apéro hour. Sri Lankan curries and rice are the signature fare at the hotel’s restaurant, where terrace tables offer frangipani-framed views that roll down to the lake. Everything from sea-plane whale watching to a guided tour of Gallé Fort with a local can be arranged. And the gardens, combining rice paddies, Japanese, Italian and English elements, Greco-Roman statues, sweeping lawns and tree-framed vistas, are a spectacle you don’t need to be green-fingered to appreciate – yours to wander long after the tourists have left for the day.