From its impeccably minimalist design to its star-quality health packages, everything at luxury retreat Santani Wellness Resort & Spa is geared towards achieving harmony. This may mean finding a balance between active yoga sessions and restorative Ayurvedic spa treatments, or a healthy fruit juice at breakfast and cleansing herbal tea after dinner. At one with nature, the hotel’s glass walls and indoor-outdoor lounging spaces mean you can wake, dine and fall asleep to breathtaking views of emerald-green paddy fields and thick forests; the hillside rooms are open to the elements, so you feel like you could step right out into the scenery…
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 2pm. If a room isn’t available on arrival, or if late check-out isn’t possible, guests are welcome to use the facilities while a room is prepared, and reception will store your luggage.
Double rooms from £352.26 ($455), including tax at 11 per cent.
Room rates include the resort's Full Board meal plan of breakfast, lunch, dinner and non-alcoholic drinks; daily sunrise and sunset yoga; and use of the sauna, steam room and salt bath. Laundry is included for stays of three nights or more.
The hotel doesn't currently serve alcohol, but guests are welcome to bring their own wine with them. There's no corkage fee.
At the hotel
Media room with a 15-seat cinema and a computer, free WiFi in public areas, laundry service. In rooms: minibar, free bottled water, tea- and coffee-making facilities, WiFi available on request.
Our favourite rooms
All rooms have similarly minimalist interiors, but for a room with a seriously impressive view, request ambalama one; the first in the row of hillside villas. It has totally uninterrupted views of the valley. Wake early and take a seat on your private balcony to watch the sun rise over the mountains, see the mist clear to reveal lush green paddy fields, and listen as the rainforest comes to life.
There are two pools at the hotel, including a thermal salt pool in the spa which, although covered, has one partial wall so you can gaze at the surroundings while you soak. Perched on the side of a hill, overlooking the forests below and mountains beyond, the main infinity pool has some of the best vistas in the hotel; wake early to watch the sunrise while leisurely swimming, and return for a dip at dusk as the setting sun transforms the surface of the pool, turning it shades of pink, purple and inky blue.
Tucked into the side of a hill, this is Sri Lanka’s first destination spa, which houses the country’s first hydrotherapy facilities. Inspired by the ancient Buddhist meditation caves in the surrounding mountains, this minimalist space has a steam room, a cedar-wood sauna with a glass wall overlooking the valleys, and a thermal salt pool. On the lowest level are four open-air treatment rooms, including one couple’s room. The expert therapists offer both western treatments, like detoxifying scrubs, cleansing wraps and hot-stone massages, and a range of Ayurvedic practices including Shirodhara and Takra Dhara therapies using vitamin-rich organic oils.
You’ve guessed it – enough yoga gear for days of meditation. Unplug and leave all your tech, gadgets and chargers at home (you might even have enough space left in your suitcase for your yoga mat).
You're encouraged to unplug during your stay so mobiles, iPods, tablets and laptops can only be used in your room, not in public areas. Meal plans are available for those on a vegetarian or raw food diet.
Children aged 12 and over are welcome at the hotel, but it’s best suited to older teenagers who appreciate that silence is golden and are able (and willing) to fully participate in the hotel’s wellness programmes.
Santani is Sanskrit for harmony, and this philosophy drives everything at the hotel. Natural ventilation in rooms saves more than 70 per cent of energy used. As well as recycling, Santani runs a replanting program and has grown more than 1,000 plants on-site so far. The hotel sources 80 per cent of its produce locally; organic fruit, veg, coffee, tea and herbs and spices are grown in a greenhouse in the grounds.
Change tables every night to get a 360-degree panoramic view of the valley. For unparalleled vistas, the best seats are those around the edge of the pavilion, but bring a shawl or cardigan as the windows are often open and the breeze can be chilly.
Take style inspiration from Buddhist monks and loosely drape brightly coloured shawls over easy-breezy dresses and shirts. The restaurant has a no-shoe policy, so be sure to book a pedicure before you arrive.
Forget set menus: at Santani you’ll have your very own customised meal-plan, specially designed by chef Wajira Gamage and Santani’s very own Ayurvedic doctor, Dr Sreekanth Nair. Gourmandes, don’t be put off by the mention of healthy food – you can still enjoy dishes like grilled, grass-fed Australian tenderloin, duck confit and masala chai crème brûlée. The food here is exceptional and all locally sourced; try dishes like a traditional Sri Lankan curry with organic vegetables and chutney, or a crunchy banana-blossom salad with shredded coconut and tamarind dressing. The only thing rivalling the food in wow-factor is the view: the four external walls are made of glass, and offer breathtaking views of the valley and forest.
The restaurant serves breakfast between 7am–10am, lunch from noon to 2.30pm and dinner between 7pm–10.30pm.
Nestled in a lush valley between the Knuckles mountain range and Campbell’s Lane Forest Reserve, Santani is set on a remote, 48-acre former tea plantation, about an hour’s drive from Kandy.
Bandaranaike International is the closest airport, about a four-hour drive from the hotel. Our dedicated Smith24 team are on hand to organise your flights; fly direct from London, Hong Kong and Singapore or get a connecting flight from other destinations. We can also arrange airport transfers from $140 a vehicle each way, or $198 for a SUV. Call our team on 03300 376 891 to arrange it all.
Worth getting out of bed for
No matter which wellness package you choose, you’ll have ample opportunity to unwind on your own time. Get out your hiking boots and roam the hotel’s 48 acres of tropical jungle and fertile rice fields, from the tops of the mountains right down to the Hulu River. Take a day-trip to Kandy to explore the spiritual centre of Sri Lanka. The ancient city is home to the golden-roofed Sri Dalada Maligawa temple, which houses Sri Lanka’s most important Buddhist relic, one of Buddha’s teeth – a big hit with dentists. Discover the origins of Buddhism in the Dalada Maligawa and then visit one of the city’s most popular religious sites, the Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha statue; glistening white and standing 88-feet tall at the top of a hill, it’s quite hard to miss. If you’re visiting in August, be sure to attend the Esala Perahera procession, a historical event in which the sacred tooth relic is paraded through the streets amongst dancers, drummers and 100 elephants dressed in colourful, glittering fabrics.
There ought to be a disclaimer when booking a room at Santani Wellness Retreat that says: ‘Warning! Approach after sundown will be treacherous!’ For here is a hotel that wants to be sought out, not stumbled upon. The last 90 minutes of our journey from Colombo proffers only hairy C-roads flanked by sheer drops that could upset even Bruce Parry’s constitution.
After much searching, many phone-calls to the totally helpful staff at the hotel, several dead-ends, and a kiss to the screen of Google maps, we arrive in darkness. The reception area resembles a heavenly outdoor bus-stop; a wooden bench with cushions and a small hut surrounded by trees. There is no sign of rooms, a pool, a bar… We’re met by smiling staff in blue tunics who offer warm, perfumed hand-towels. Our suitcase is loaded onto a tuk-tuk which rumbles off down a dimly lit footpath into the unknown. After the check-in formalities we follow in our own tuk-tuk, still very much in the dark as to where exactly we are.
Having politely expressed our intense hunger and fatigue it is decided that we’ll go straight to dinner, and so stop at the first landmark we reach, Santani’s central hub: its dining/bar/lounge area. It is a beautiful two-storey building of wooden beams and large windows that crouches on the hillside like a giant insect. Its many windows aglow with warm candlelight. Mrs Smith and I swoon. It is magical to Ghibli proportions.
On the ground floor, sat on sofas, we’re served juice the colour of yellow highlighter pens. It goes down like it’s medicinally restorative: with a wince. Two chefs – pastry and sous – come down to shake our hands. They have the confident smiles of men with meat and eggs in their kitchen, and I am so glad we didn’t sign up for Santani’s full wellness package that includes a strict meal-plan – presumably of painfully healthy dishes consumed raw/intravenously.
We’re taken upstairs where the dining room is every bit as magical from inside as out. We’re shown a table by a window overlooking we-know-not-what in the night outside. The meal that follows is immaculate. Yes, we’re famished, but had we eaten an hour before it would still be irresistible. Vietnamese summer rolls dissected into three so as to reveal their scrupulously cut and grouped vegetable innards like the inside of a telephone cable. A peanut dip for hedonism. Salmon bisque with fish and vegetable gems treading water within. Pork chops lounging on a bed of perfect mash, roots, and glossy jus. No, this is not Sri Lankan food but it is executed with enough finesse and confidence to suggest we’re eating age-old national dishes. To finish, a trembling puck of red-berry jelly nested in shreds of grapefruit and hibiscus. Our palates have been officially cleansed. The service was quiet, friendly, and totally charming. We’re comfy before we’ve even seen a pillow.
We follow a chap down lit paths and stairs to our ambalamas (‘place of rest’), which is one of 20 more or less identical stilted huts that we are told overlook mountains. We shall see when the sun is up. The rooms are equal parts basic and luxurious; that is to say everything that ought to be in a room is there and everything that ought not to be isn’t. Dark wood and white linen everywhere, well-hidden rainforest-shower and wash facilities, and a balcony facing the bed-end that even at night seems to promise a view like no other. Yoga is at 7am, we’re told. Goodnight.
We sleep. Well, Mrs Smith does. I can’t. Blame it on jet-lag, or the anticipation of the view that will be illuminated over my toes in several hours.
Neither Mrs Smith or I could say we were prepared for the noise of Santani at night. Mother Nature is putting on a festival and our room is at the front of the main stage. Crickets rattle and hiss, squirrel-sounding animals tiptoe over our roof, a dog (later corrected to ‘barking deer’) moans somewhere on site. It’s romantic, but it is astonishingly loud. I would suggest earplugs. At 6am a different sound joins the ranks; iPhone alarms from neighbouring rooms – the zealous yogis awaken. And so do I to the most jaw-dropping hotel room view I have ever had the pleasure to witness; plumes of forest mist souping about the green hills that plunge deep below our balcony. An IRL screensaver that would put a lump in Attenborough’s throat. It is cool outside, refreshing. Just taking a deep breath feels like I am consuming one of my five-a-day. Santani promotes itself as a wellness retreat. This view makes me feel well.
Yoga – our first ever session(!) – is held in a stunning sort of outdoor atrium. The floors are cold and polished concrete. The mats we’re given feel like pulped banana leaf. We’ll not be able to do yoga ever again when our first time is so perfect. Our teacher is clear, helpful, and tailors the session to every participants’ needs without ever seeming to fuss. It’s 90-minutes of calm, with a little straining in there for good measure.
At breakfast the bliss continues in the form of bacon, spinach, eggs poached to perfection on toasted muffin for me. Mrs Smith has egg hoppers with curries. We both have beautifully presented plates of fresh fruits. It’s a 10-out-of-10 breakfast. And now with the mountain views from the dining room to gawk at we wonder if we’ve ever had a better breakfast experience.
Later in the morning we’re taken on a fantastic naturalist (not naturist) hike to the nearby river (which is suitable for a paddle) by a hugely knowledgeable student named Dileepa. It’s wonderful to be given a sense of where Santani is, and how it fits in with the flora and fauna that conceals it.
The pool is the first of many infinities to follow on our Sri Lanka trip, and a fine example. The spa is a Tomb-Raider-ish multi-level complex of small concrete rooms and spaces. The appeal of Santani is obvious in almost every detail.
On our second night we’re treated to full Sri Lankan culinary excellence. Dhal, seer-fish curry, rice, vegetable curries, multiple sambals, roti, the lot. You can taste the chefs’ pride and love for this food. We try to order a second Lion beer each and are told they have ‘run out…of all beer’. We feel like barbarians. It seems other guests are downing much more wholesome tipples.
On leaving we have no doubt that for the dedicated yogi or health-hacker this place is the last service station on the ascent to nirvana. For your average holidayers like myself and Mrs Smith it’s an unbeatable place to spend a couple of days in luxurious peace and quiet. The odd barking deer aside…
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