A 21st-century stay with its toes dipped in history, Malabar Hill is a fine brew of modern comforts and heritage details. This boutique hotel on a jungle-carpeted hilltop comes with a top-notch restaurant, impressive infinity pool and luxuriously appointed villas – so far, so modern. But its antique Rajasthani furniture, palace-worthy architectural flourishes and meticulous service feel fabulously old-fashioned. The slower pace here has a yesteryear charm, too, inviting you to stroll one of the hotel’s nature trails, stretch out on the yoga lawn accompanied by birdsong, or soak up the bucolic views over a long G&T on the terrace.
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A chilled bottle of sparkling wine and canapés served on your private roof terrace.
12 noon. Earliest check-in, 2pm. Both are flexible, subject to availability.
Double rooms from £420.09 ($520).
Rates include breakfast.
Monkeys, mongooses and rare Malabar hornbills have all been sighted in the grounds at Malabar Hill.
At the hotel
Swimming pool, yoga lawn, bar, restaurant, spa, bikes to borrow, electric tuk tuks. In rooms: free WiFi, in-room safe, power adaptors, sarongs, beach bags, binoculars and field guides; minibar, refillable water bottles, free tea & coffee, Green Pearl bath products.
Our favourite rooms
All villas are created equal at Malabar Hill – only the views set them apart. For views towards the coast, 109 and 113 stand out; wetland-facing winners are 105 and 106.
Cushioned, four-poster cabanas on the wooden deck frame a 35-metre wide, saltwater infinity pool – lined with sage-hued sukabumi tiles and staffed by a pool attendant; open 6am until 8pm.
Choose from a menu of beauty treatments and massages using Spa Ceylon products, either at the spa villa in the grounds or beside the pool on your private patio.
Trainers for jungle trails – loose-fitting finery for dinners on the terrace.
Villa 107 is wheelchair accessible, as is the main house. A PA is on hand to assist visually impaired guests; those with impaired hearing can access a tablet loaded with hotel information.
Remote and restful Malabar Hill only allows over-12s.
Malabar Hill uses solar power to heat its water; rain water is harvested for irrigation and the hotel has a waste-water treatment plant. Guest water bottles and bath products are refillable. Electric tuk tuks provide transport around the grounds and the hotel uses energy-conserving LED lights throughout. A biodiversity survey was conducted to officially log the flora and fauna at Malabar Hill, and a reforestation project is planned to create further habitat for birds and insects.
The views at Hill House are emerald-tinted and enchanting and best enjoyed from a table by the railings. For casual dining, grazing platters shared from cushioned benches on the open-air terrace are hard to beat.
Come as you are for breakfast, but by night, lightly formal longs for him and floaty palazzo pants and a top for her will fit right in.
Dining at Hill House restaurant is a flexible feast of Sri Lankan, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean dishes, overseen by chef Charitha Mallikaratne, whose team is happy to adapt the menu to meet guests’ wishes. Kick off with chilled flutes of fizz beside the fire pit on the terrace, then linger over plates of crispy skinned barramundi in sweet and sour broth and tamarind-glazed pork ribs at wooden tables in the wood and terracotta-decked open-sided dining room, where potted palms, vast rice chests and retro ceiling fans lend a colonial vibe.
An ornately carved wooden bar, shaped in an arc of polished petals, is the figurative heart of the main house – the place to pull up a high stool and browse the extensive cocktail list or order a bottle of wine to savour from your sofa on the terrace.
Lunch is served 12 noon-3pm; dinner, from 6.30pm – although earlier or later services are available on request.
Dishes from a selection on offer at Hill House restaurant are available 7am until 11pm.
In Sri Lanka’s southern province, Malabar Hill is in the cinnamon- and rice- growing countryside just north of Weligama, and near enough to the coast to have ocean views from its jungle-covered perch.
Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport is two hours and 15 minutes away by car. The hotel can arrange private transfers at extra cost. An 80-minute drive away, Mattala Rajapaksa airport is nearer but served by fewer routes.
Weligama Station – served by express trains from Colombo Fort – is a 10-minute drive away and the hotel can arrange private transfers at extra cost.
Travel by taxi or with a hired driver is more prevalent than hiring a car and driving yourself in Sri Lanka. But if you do opt to self-drive, there’s a private car park at the entrance to Malabar Hill, from where electric tuk tuks can ferry you and your luggage.
Worth getting out of bed for
On the hotel estate you can take a guided conservation tour, hike the jungle trails or enjoy a private picnic. Further afield, see the stilt fisherman in the surf between Thalpe and Weligama, visit a working tea plantation or cinnamon estate, or head to Galle to tour the fort. Explore the island’s southerly wetlands on a river tour or spot big game on a private safari. Between December and April, it’s whale-watching season; enjoy a private yacht charter or seaplane tour to see these majestic mammals off the south coast.
At Spice Chest at The Merchant in Galle Fort, a dining room lit by a sea of pendant lamps above a chequerboard floor and jade-upholstered benches is the scene for a broad church of dishes from towering burgers to generously topped kade paan (open sandwiches), pasta and pizza. Wraps stuffed with slow-cooked meat or falafel are the speciality at Middle Eastern barbecue restaurant the Persian Kitchen, beside the beach in Thalpe. Head to La Boheme in Unawatuna for wood-fired pizza, sumptuous pasta and Italian mains, served at chunky wooden tables and benches in the palm-dotted dining room.
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 inland hotel in Sri Lanka and unpacked their tea and cinnamon, a full account of their rural break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Malabar Hill in Weligama…
Hotel lovers, take heed: staying at this Indo-Islamic-style boutique stay atop a jungle-carpeted hill in the rice- and cinnamon-growing area of Sri Lanka may lead to delusions of unchecked privilege. There’s awe-prompting attention to detail at every turn – through a salvaged antique door frame here, past a tile-inlaid Rajastani side table there. Even a stroll down a corridor is framed by ribs of invected arches worthy of a mughal palace. But don’t let this jewel of a main house eclipse its outlying, jungle-shrouded villas: terrazzo-tiled interiors with white-linened beds open onto a sofa-edged terrace and plunge pool. Climb the outside stairs to a roof terrace with soul-soothing views facing either the coast or inland over the paddies. And, when you can tear yourself away from the scenery, anything from a chauffeur-driven temple visit to a vista-affording picnic on a jungle-fringed outcrop can be arranged.