Seductive boutique hotel The Kandy House, in Kandy’s leafy outskirts, effortlessly purveys intimate luxury. A 200-year-old aristo palazzo gone 21st-century, it blends minimalist lines, atypical antiques and quirky strokes of colour around a central courtyard, with just eight romantic individually designed rooms, named after indigenous butterflies. If you can bear to leave the genial grub and your chaise longue on the veranda, enticing hammocks beckon for ginning and sinning around the infinity pool.
Eight, including four Deluxe and four more spacious Ultra rooms.
11am; check-in, 2pm, but both flexible subject to availability.
Double rooms from £187.73 ($260), including tax at 10 per cent.
When the proprietor is in residence, there's usually a happy hour at sundown, with free canapés and cocktails poolside. If you fancy some entertainment, groups of six or more guests can request Kandyan dancers, who will shake their stuff in silver breastplates to tom-tom drums and eat fire while you sample the delicious menu on the veranda. During Kandy's Perahera Festival, in July or August, there is a free high tea provided before guests depart for the ceremony.
The Kandy House closes during Sinhala New Year, usually 12–15 April.
At the hotel
Free WiFi in the Butterfly Bar and on the restaurant veranda. In rooms: waffle linen bathrobes, natural bath products made from local herbs. A laundry service with one-day turnaround is also available.
Our favourite rooms
For romantics, Deluxe room the Pioneer (though small and sans bath tub) is nearest the infinity pool and has its own veranda and garden with a hammock. We also love Ultra room Indian Admiral, which sports an original mahogany veranda with French café table. You may need high-jump skills to access the ancestral four-poster, but you can recover afterwards in the claw-foot bath-with-a-view. Ultra room Red Spot Duke will bring the scarlet harlot out in anyone, with a shiny metal bathroom and cane chaise longue on the wraparound veranda.
The expansive infinity pool is fringed by palms and jungle foliage, with cushioned teak sunloungers and towels festooned with fresh frangipanis on the surrounding lawn. Early risers can breakfast poolside gazing at buffalos in the fields.
Take a map if you like to know where you're heading: locals don’t believe in them. And swap the Choos for sandals you won’t mind leaving outside temples. A hip flask will come in handy so you don’t get caught ‘dry’ on poya days (full-moon holy festivals), and mosi-repellant is de rigueur.
Every honeymoon couple staying three nights or more receives a bottle of bubbly, an aromatherapy bath, a tray of tempura, a pair of cocktails, his and hers designer sarongs and a candlelit dinner for two (valid April–June; September–November only).
Children over-12 are welcome and can stay with parents or in separate rooms (although there's no single room occupancy rate). Extra beds for older kids (US$65 a night) can be added to Ultra rooms Indian Admiral or Black Rajah for under-16s.
The Kandy House uses locally sourced, seasonal food where possible and makes bicycles available for guest use. Smoking is allowed in outdoor areas only.
If you feel sociable, share the candlelit ancestral dining table with others in the house. For more secluded romance, opt for the table beside the pool, lit by stars and serenaded by bullfrogs and crickets.
Glamorous vagabond will see you through. Barefoot is the house style but diamanté flip-flops will look a treat.
The Kandy House restaurant serves up top-notch food on a relaxed veranda with Through the Looking-Glass mirrors and café tables for two. A 10-course curry feast is laid on twice a week. Other evenings are also delectable, with retro comfort-meets-Asian fusion fare: expect delights such as Thai pumpkin soup with blue swimmer crab, home-made crab ravioli or Indonesian goat rendang (a spicy curry) followed by rhubarb crumble or cardomon kulfi (ice-cream). Lunch is lighter, with pastas, salads and club sandwiches to savour poolside. Home-baked bread and cakes will please carb lovers.
Hit the bar, a low-lit, chill-out area under white arches – or take your Tiger beer out to deep canvas bucket seats under the stars. Dreamy drinks include Veuve Clicquot champagne, plus interesting wines and dependable cocktails blended from house brews of lemongrass, vanilla, ginger or chilli vodka. Try the arrack sour along with fresh-roasted cashews. The cure-all for jet-lag and unsettled tummies is the thambili, a coconut drink available at the roadside, which is also perfect chilled as a mixer with vodka or gin.
Apart from during Kandy's Perahera Festival (over 10 days in July–August), the restaurant stops serving at 9.30pm (unless you request a later meal in advance). The bar goes to bed when you do.
Staff can deliver anything off the menu from 7am–9pm (six out of eight bedrooms have their own veranda table). For breakfast you can order either full English or local (such as mango pancakes with buffalo curd).
The Kandy House is about a 25-minute drive east of bustling Kandy town, across the Lewella bridge and along winding rustic roads.
Touch down at capital Colombo's Bandaranaike International Airport; from there it's a three-and-a-half-hour drive (110 kilometres) north-east to Kandy. If you'd rather wing your way there, air taxis operate flights from Colombo airport to Kandy's domestic airport at Victoria Reservoir, a 20-minute drive from the hotel. Call our Smith24 Team on 03300 376 891 to arrange flights and transfers.
The Airport Express luxury train service between the airport and Colombo Secretariat Station (near the Hilton) aims to cover Kandy next. Ordinary inter-city trains run between Colombo and Kandy (three hours), but are crowded with no space for luggage. Kandy station is nine kilometres from the hotel.
Cars are the easiest mode from the airport, although it's a three-and-a-half hour drive on unforgiving roads. Don’t attempt self-drive: road signs don’t exist and other drivers are not always insured. If you must, remember: size of vehicle plus strength of horn defines right-of-way. Try Dream Island Tours (www.dreamislandtours.com; +94 (0)718 560 379) for BMWs and 4WDs. Valet parking is available at the hotel. Phew!
Three-wheeler rickshaw or tuk tuk is the best way to get through traffic jams for short-haul trips around Kandy or for rally car mayhem. Agree fairs in advance and set out with correct change as drivers often profess to have none.
Worth getting out of bed for
Perched clifftop like a house in Capri, Villa Rosa (+94 (0)81 221 5556), overlooks the Mahaweli River at 71/18 Dodanwela Passage, Asgiriya. Your host Volker serves up curry that won’t destroy the taste buds, doesn't mind if you loiter till sundown for arrack on the rocks and will happily direct you to a suspension footbridge slung 70 feet over the fast-flowing ganga (river) for cool views and a taste of Indiana Jones broohaha. Or choose a table on the terrace of Theva (+94 (0)81 738 8296/8299), off Upper Tank Road in Hantana. This family home is perched high on Hantana hill for spectacular vistas over the city, especially at night. Enjoy the adventurous list of cocktails, well-presented imported salmon and lamb, and the hospitable service.
Need to quench a thirst for macchiato, lassi or fresh juice? The restored colonial White House at 21 Dalada Veediya (94 (0)81 223 2865) should do the trick. Don't miss the lamprais baked in plantain leaf, a Dutch-influenced dish of stock-flavoured rice with curry and meatballs. Upstairs, on the spacious first floor, an Indian chef tosses tandoori breads and jhingha (prawns). If you don’t feel you’ve seen a country until you've tasted its street food, then kottu roti (a spicy Sri Lankan pancake served with meat, veg and egg) is a must. Seek it out at road stalls after dark – the cleanest and most reliable is the stall in front of the Arpico Supermarket on Peradeniya Road, where you can watch cellophane noodle strips, julienned vegetables and chicken and fish get spliced and diced: cabaret and fast food in one.
Kandy is like the Vatican City for Buddhists, so alcohol consumption is officially frowned on within earshot of temple bells. However, a G&T at the Queen’s Hotel bar (+94 (0)81 223 3026) should provide the chance to hobnob with eccentric locals. Elizabeth II slept upstairs on her 1954 Coronation Tour when mammoth blocks of ice and manually operated punkawallah’s fans were the only way to keep cool. Come sundown, chill out at the riverside pavilion at Chaaya Citadel Kandy (+94 (0)81 11 230 6600), which faces a thick ribbon of river hemmed by rainforest. The drinks list may not be the most exciting, but the view more than compensates – as long as the dopey ‘Mexican’ hotel minstrel trio don’t land in your lap strumming La Bamba…
It’s not every day you’re greeted by Sri Lanka’s tallest man (surely a contender), dressed in a sarong and offering a passionfruit martini. Yet after an energetic, four-hour journey in the dark from Colombo Airport, this is the sight that meets us when we finally arrive at the Kandy House, in the leafy suburbs of Kandy. Nuwan, introduced to Mr Smith and me as our personal butler, not only sports the ‘sarong look’ better than Beckham, but also turns out to be a true sport when it comes to service.
Ushered through a series of elegant chambers and an open-air courtyard surrounded by bedrooms, we’re shown to our Ultra Room. Proper-job Dutch antiques, ticking curtains and piles of silk bolsters and cushions (the sort that Mr Smith loves to fling off the bed before his slumber) contrast with polished concrete floors and an octagonal stone bath bedecked with candles at the foot of the four-poster. ‘How romantic,’ we both remark. ‘Let’s eat.’
The bath can wait… in the meantime a delicious dinner is served on the veranda – calamari, grilled fish and meringues with fruit compote, all washed down with Sri Lankan Lion beer. Afterwards, we sink into deep Butterfly chairs for a nightcap. We have some of these design classics in our garden at home, so we’re familiar with how difficult they are to excavate oneself from. We spend the conclusion of the evening giggling as a succession of husbands tip tipsy madams onto the lawn.
A tropical paradise envelops us as we awake the next morning. Walking out onto the colonial-style terrace is like stepping into a Rousseau painting: a jungle filled with brightly coloured birds chortling foreign ringtones and naughty monkeys plucking mangosteens from the trees. Reflecting this green oasis are five oversized mirrors that flank the walls of the veranda.
You can take the boy out of England, but you can’t take the full English out of the boy, so while I tuck into my Sri Lankan hoppers (a traditional rice pancake), Mr Smith devours bacon and eggs. As we sit there feasting, a narcissistic crow flies into one of the mirrors – attracted to his own reflection, he becomes rather annoyed and starts to attack his double repeatedly. One of the Sri Lankan butler boys emerges and – with a swift overarm – skillfully bowls a piece of gravel at the bird to deter him. ‘Stone the crows!’ cries Mr Smith.
The resident masseuse awaits after breakfast, as we’ve booked a session for both of us, but as Mr Smith is a bit sheepish about massages (truth be told, he’s nervous about having his feet touched), he gallantly sends me in first. Seventy-five minutes later – after one of the best full-body treatments I’ve experienced – I float back down to the pool and plonk myself on a lounger for several hours. Impressed with my new stress-free mood, Mr Smith follows suit for some re-energising. Upon his return, wearing a sleepy expression on his face, he reveals that he’s not only been healed but was also rather pleased to be told that he has strong bones. Ticklish feet don’t even rate a mention from this former skeptic.
After overdosing on relaxation, Mr Smith has the itch for exercise. On arrival, we’d been told that Nuwan could do anything we asked of him, so Mr Smith demands a game of cricket. For half an hour, all service at the hotel is put on hold as the staff gathers on the front lawn to meet his unusual request. The England team is playing a test match against Sri Lanka in Galle that day, but I believe this was a more keenly fought contest.
After the last ball is bowled, we decide to hit Kandy. A tuk-tuk arrives to take us on this heritage town’s customary trail: Temple of the Tooth, followed by food market, followed by lookout point (we couldn’t see the point), followed by lake. Don’t get us wrong, it’s a charming place, but we can’t wait to get back to the retreat of the Kandy House.
Sipping cocktails that evening under a clear night sky in the courtyard, we survey the scene: an English Colonel and his wife playing Scrabble, a pair of young Japanese lovers gazing into each other’s eyes, and an elderly couple from the south of France talking gemology, all sitting beneath antler heads resplendent in giant earrings and gold Hindu turbans. We soon conclude that we’re not the only ones who feel life is sweet at the Kandy House.