Step into the Villa Bentota, an easygoing stay designed by Sri Lankan starchitect Geoffrey Bawa, and you’ll be whisked into his world of tropical modernism: crisp simplicity, with gently swaying coconut palms and open verandas to idle on. A refresh by KK Collection – led by its eccentric British interior designer-cum-hotelier George Cooper – has made Villa Bentota an even more serene sanctum inside the racing heart of Sri Lanka’s southern surf coast. The walls are adorned with George’s favourite pieces from his local artist friends, the menu is built around a contemporary take on provincial classics, and there’s effortless access to the golden sands of Bentota’s Ventura Beach.
Check-in is from 2pm, and check-out is by 12 noon. The hotel will accommodate additional requests where possible.
Double rooms from £114.36 ($144), including tax at 10 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of 3% per room per night prior to arrival and an additional service charge of 10% per room per night prior to arrival.
Room rates include a full Sri Lankan breakfast served to your room each morning.
Like the canvas hanging in your room? The artworks displayed throughout the hotel are all originals by well-known Sri Lankan artists, and they’re all for sale via the hotelier’s gallery, KK Boutique, in nearby Galle.
At the hotel
Two acres of private tropical gardens, terrace bar, outdoor pavilion, boutique, spa treatments, beach access. In rooms: TV, free WiFi, air-conditioning, Bluetooth speakers, writing tables, umbrellas, bathrobes, slippers, tea- and coffee-making kit.
Our favourite rooms
It’s impossible to ignore the draw of the Mohotti Suite, a magnificent execution of Geoffrey Bawa’s architectural vision. Decorated with painstakingly restored antique furniture and with its own steep wooden staircase and sunken sitting room, you’d be forgiven for thinking of it as your own private villa. And with wide-opening windows and doors, you can fall asleep to the sounds of The Jungle Book right outside.
The geometric precision of the Villa Bentota’s main pool is deeply satisfying, with its careful arrangement of sunloungers facing a towering garden bed of coconut palms and the promise of poolside cocktails from the terrace bar. The second pool is designed for children, allowing for carefree splashing about in the shallows without the worry of disturbing other guests. The beach is within easy reach, but is not swimmable during the monsoon season (May to September).
Sri Lanka has a rich heritage of natural wellness and healing treatments, and the Villa Bentota offers a selection that includes massage and body wraps, based around the ancient principles of Hela Wedakama: indigenous medicine that concentrates on the physical, mental and spiritual aspects of wellness. Therapists apply pressure-point techniques and deliciously scented plant-based products to help you relax. The hotel also offers week-long detox packages.
Bring a GoPro with a waterproof case – not only is Sri Lanka’s west coast a famous nesting ground for the green sea turtle, but the snorkelling is first-class.
Guests can take advantage of regular yoga classes held at the spa.
Children are welcome, and those aged 12 and under are considered as infants.
Children under 10 will spend hours happily splashing about in the children’s pool.
With its two bedrooms, the Family Room will be ideal for most travelling tribes. However, the Mohotti Suite adds a sitting room, and kids and parents alike will love that it’s also right next to the children’s pool.
There is a dedicated shallow children’s pool inside the hotel’s gardens.
No need to pack
A crib for babies and toddlers – these are available on request from reception.
Waste water is recycled for use in the garden, and locally grown produce is used in the restaurant.
A large one – a proper Sri Lankan breakfast consists of seven different dishes served at once, plus teas and juice, don’t forget.
Best described as ‘tidy casual’ – no flip flops or t-shirts, but otherwise, as you were.
The Villa Bentota’s restaurant is a gastronomic experience that fuses the essentials of Sri Lankan and South Indian dining with a contemporary, creative flair. Chef Nalaka worked with hotelier George Cooper to devise a forward-thinking yet authentic menu. Working in unison, the pair deconstructed local and Western classics and rebuilt them with a distinct Ceylon influence, creating their own takes on well-known dishes like their burger with coconut calamari, or their signature whole mud-crab curry. All ingredients are supplied by local producers, and the restaurant’s menu plays its part in the Spa’s Hela Wedakama wellness program, by nourishing the body with ample healthy dining options. Every week there is a global theme night where the menu pays homage to a different region’s cuisine, and a weekly beach barbecue, too.
Ambalama is Sinhala for ‘pavilion’, and it is here that evening cocktails and daily sundowners are served. Take in Bawa’s poolside landscaping at the front, or look to the local railway as it bisects the gardens immediately behind. Sip your mojito as the evening service slowly canters by, waving to the cheering kids hanging out of the carriage windows as they pass.
Breakfast is served until 10am, lunch until 2.30pm, and the kitchen finally closes for dinner orders at 9.30pm.
The full restaurant menu can be served to your room, or to your poolside or seaside sunlounger.
The Villa Bentota is situated in its namesake town on Sri Lanka’s south western surf coast, 70km from the capital Colombo.
Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport is 112km away and takes just under two hours by car. The hotel offers private transfers for US$85 each way by car (for two passengers) or US$110 by air-conditioned van (for five passengers). There is also a scheduled seaplane service from Colombo which lands on Bentota Lagoon, 1.5km away.
Sri Lanka’s extensive railway network is a magically rickety post-colonial gem, and there are several daily services south, departing from Colombo’s Fort Railway Station to Aluthgama Station, 2.5km from the hotel. Large groups or the truly flamboyant soloist may want to charter the entire 75-year-old Viceroy Special steam locomotive for the journey, complete with its two saloon carriages and restaurant car.
It is possible to hire a self-drive car but driving in Sri Lanka is not for the faint-of-heart, especially in rural areas and at night. Should you choose to drive, parking at the hotel is free. Hiring a car and driver for transfers and day trips is a far more relaxing option, and surprisingly affordable. The hotel’s concierge can arrange this.
Helicopter transfers are available from Colombo, allowing you to land right in the hotel’s tropical gardens.
Worth getting out of bed for
The Villa Bentota’s location on Sri Lanka’s south-western coast gifts its guests any number of noteworthy day trips. The train line traces the shore from Colombo around the southern tip of the island, passing right through the villa’s gardens, and it is known as one of Asia’s great train journeys. Ride with the window down, rocking side to side with the warm breeze blowing in your hair as you gaze across the Indian Ocean, and savour the tastes of freshly roasted peanuts and small bags of sweet pineapple sold through the window while stopped in stations. Bentota itself is a resort town, with its accompanying watersports opportunities on open ocean and the river, and 10km inland are the quirky Lunuganga and Brief Gardens, on the private estate of celebrated Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa. For a taste of Ceylon’s colonial past, keep heading another hour south until you reach the town of Galle, and more specifically, Galle Fort. Built by the Portuguese in the 16th century and then heavily fortified by the Dutch 100 years later, the Unesco World Heritage Site still functions as a town but these days it’s filled with galleries, cafés, boutiques, and creative spaces. With encircling views over the sea in almost all directions, a sunset walk around Galle Fort’s raised ramparts is one of the best experiences that Sri Lanka has to offer. A little further afield, the celebrated Yala National Park takes nearly three hours each way by private car, but a jeep safari there can be a life-affirming experience – it’s worth the effort. Expect to see wild leopards snoozing in the midday shade, crocodiles prowling the oceanside lagoons, and parades of elephants stomping through the undergrowth with their young.
While visiting the gardens at nearby Lunuganga and Brief, book an open-air table at the Lake View Restaurant for traditional rice and curry dishes to tuck into as the wild lakeside fights for your attention. Galle is the centre for gastronomy in the region, and the Fort Printers Hotel has a delightful western-influenced, seafood-heavy menu. For Mr Smith, the lagoon-crab bento boxes by Japanese-Sri Lankan chef Dharshan Munidasa at the Tuna and the Crab are ‘chef’s kiss’. However, some of the most authentic and memorable Ceylon fare can be found roadside, with all manner of curries, sambols, and egg hoppers awaiting your discovery.
Bentota’s best coffee is found at Café Italiano, where there is also a small snack menu with hybrid delights such as the coconut sambol and cheese toastie. Nearby, Barista is a good option, too.
All of the large hotels in Bentota have their own bars, many with dazzling ocean views and plentiful club nights. But for true mixology, it’s worth making the journey to Smoke & Bitters, nestled among the palms on Dikwella Beach. Some proclaim it to be one of the best bars in Asia, with cocktails like the Halmilla Tapper (Rockland Halmilla old arak, kithul, falernum, coconut syrup, Ceylon bitters) that riff the local terroir.
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 re-energising hotel break in Sri Lanka and have unpacked their sarongs and sarees, a full account of their tropical break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside the Villa Bentota in Sri Lanka…
It wasn’t a typical start to a luxury break, but it couldn’t have been planned better. After touching down at Colombo’s BIA airport, we took a car to the city’s railway station for the journey down to the Villa Bentota.
The driver would have taken us the whole way, but a few hours on the rickety train was somehow more appealing. As we rocked down the railway line the carriage doors were wide open, scooping in a cooling breeze, but we still arrived hot, sweaty and dirty as we clambered into a tuk-tuk for the final few kilometres to the hotel.
As we pulled into the hotel, the concierge gave our driver a friendly jeer, and then extended the same courtesy to us. We were shown right inside, with some ice water ready at check-in for our parched lips. Entering this modernist paradise felt more like arriving at a good friend’s home.
A friend who has exquisite taste, mind you. As we walked into our suite a colourful mural hanging on the wall caught my eye, and we appreciated the soft bedlinen as we flopped down, finally off our feet. And then the cooling rush of a refreshing shower, before sundowners on the beach. True relaxation needs to be earned, and my Lord, had we earned it.
Our heads were also turned by the carefully considered decor – no surprises here given George Cooper’s background as a man-about-town interior designer in London, and the recent renovations have really brought the hotel into the modern age, maintaining the architectural integrity bestowed by Sri Lanka’s famous Geoffrey Bawa without sacrificing anything in the pursuit.
There’s no escaping the fact that Sri Lanka can be somewhat hectic at times in the best possible way, and you often return from day-trip adventures a little frazzled. But knowing there’s a quiet tropical garden with a chilled glass of iced Ceylon tea waiting for your return makes all the difference. And come nightfall there’s never a better sleep than with the windows of your suite open, as the sounds of the tropics lulling you to slumber, with dreams of the following day’s escapades to come.