Ulagalla Resort is where the wild things are – expect to see monkeys, peacocks and elephants galumphing around this Cultural Triangle treat. An open-air spa, resident horses, ravishing dining and serene villas make romance as natural as air here.
Get this when you book through us:
A free activity for two (archery, kayaking or a nature walk)
11am, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 2pm.
Double rooms from £272.99 ($340), including tax at 20.01 per cent.
Rates usually include breakfast (Continental and hot options) and WiFi.
Volunteer to help out with the rice harvest if you're here in March, when the rice is in season. You'll learn about traditional harvesting techniques and will wield a sickle alongside fellow rice-pickers (if you'd rather help eat it, the restaurant puts its crop on the menu).
At the hotel
58-acre grounds, stables, day spa, basement wine cellar, library, stash of CDs and DVDs. In rooms: TV, DVD player, iPod dock, minibar.
Our favourite rooms
Villa 21 is the most private and romantic of the sleeping quarters, set furthest from the main building, overlooking a little lake (a hammock for two swings temptingly by the water).
All rooms come with a private plunge pool, except for One and Two, which have an in-room Jacuzzi instead. There’s also a large, family-friendly communal pool, whose pretty azure and opalescent tiles are a vivid contrast to the hotel’s lush green foliage and red-tiled roofs. A lifeguard keeps watch over the pool between 6am and 11pm daily (timings may vary).
Two rooms built within a mud-brick-walled natural depression – in view of a pond with a water feature, reeds and glimmering fish – make up Ulagalla’s serene open-air spa. Opt for the Royal Body Ritual, which kicks off with a traditional herbal foot bath, foot scrub and forehead massage, and leads on to an exfoliating back scrub and full body massage.
Binoculars to spy on the elephants, monkeys and peacocks.
Each villa has his 'n' hers bicycles so you can wheel around the verdant 58 acres.
Little Smiths are very welcome: extra beds cost US$15 a night, cots are free, babysitting can be arranged (US$15 an hour) and the hotel has plenty of activities and extras for junior adventurers, including horse riding (US$25 for half an hour).
Little ones old enough to toddle around and hop on horseback.
Opt for the two-bedroom Nikawewa Villa for lashings of space.
Kids will love trying archery or going horse riding in the grounds (both are chargeable activities). They can splash happily around the lifeguard-supervised pool and go for rambles in the gardens, looking for monkeys, peacocks and even elephants.
A lifeguard keeps watch over the pool between 6am and 11pm daily (timings may vary).
Highchairs are available and the restaurant has a children’s menu.
Babysitting costs US$15 an hour.
No need to pack
There are kid-friendly board games in each villa.
Kids will love spotting the resident giant squirrels and colourful chameleons.
The hotel has a LEED certificate and an onsite solar farm that generates half of its energy.
Try out each of the flexible dining options on offer here: poolside, in the thick of things; out in the romantic rice paddies; on top of the observation platform under the twinkling stars; in the privacy of your own villa; out on the helipad.
Easy breezy: light layers, short sleeves and a dash of spicy cologne. If mozzies find you irresistible, opt for longer sleeves or hemlines during the wetter months.
Liya Wela occupies the top floor of the main building, with views of the gardens, pool and surroundings. Because it’s open to the elements, a pleasant breeze blows through the dining room. Furniture is traditional, crafted from timber; the menu ticks off international options and Sri Lankan classics (mostly vegetarian, including a delicious sweet-potato curry – though the chef’s signature Wallawa chicken with curry leaf, spicy sauce, rice and home-grown vegetables is also worth sampling).
The bar sits directly below the restaurant and shares its open-air, unfussy design. Timber rafters and sturdy pillars punctuate the space. If you're thirsting for something fruity, order two Pink Millenniums – a zingy muddle of sparkling wine, vodka and cranberry juice.
The restaurant stops serving food and drinks around 11pm.
Available 24 hours, room service spans all the restaurant’s breakfast options, plus a selection of light dishes such as salads, sandwiches and soups.
Ulagalla Walawwa, Thirippane, Ulagalla Rd, Anuradhapura 50072, Sri Lanka
The hotel sits within Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle, a destination steeped in history and heritage. The hotel’s immediate surrounding area is rural and remote – don’t expect lots of distractions.
Anuradhapura domestic airport is 25km from the hotel (a half-hour drive). Connecting flights leave daily from Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo. Call our Smith24 Team on 03300 376 891 to arrange flights and transfers.
Anuradhapura train station is the same distance as the airport, served by SriLankan Railways.
Maintain the holiday mood and leave wheels at home; it’s cheap and easy to get around by taxi. You might find yourself loath to go far, anyway.
The hotel has a helipad, if you fancy bringing your chopper.
Worth getting out of bed for
Have a cookery class with the chefs; you’ll learn to make a traditional curry and perfect rice in the resort’s organic garden, where produce for the restaurant is plucked. There's an onsite archery range (staff will lend you all the kit) in the gardens; the friendly staff will show you the ropes and coax you into hitting some bull's-eyes. Set off on a nature walk along the two reservoirs adjoining the resort (keep your ears and eyes peeled for elephants), or hop onto the hotel's two horses and canter around the property. Staff are on hand to help beginners. Take your bikes and cycle to the local village – be sure to hop off by the Buddhist temple. You can also borrow kayaks and take to the water.
Ulagalla's remoteness is what makes it so wonderful, and relying on the hotel restaursant for meals is no chore.
A small blue bird is tapping at the window of our luxurious eco-house in the trees. ‘Wake up!’ it says, ‘There’s so much to fun to be had – let’s go.’ Soon enough I’m ahead of Mr Smith as we cycle to breakfast; we’re chasing the trailing feathers of a peacock which is weaving through the paddy fields. Butterflies tumble alongside us, and the air is filled with the scent of freshly cut grass. Whizzing past Ulagalla’s archery station, we say hello to a guest out horse-riding, and wave to another who is birdwatching. Arriving at the wallawwa – the Sinhalese word for mansion – we’re at the heart of the hotel.
Ulagalla was built in the Dutch colonial style in 1916 as a family house. It still feels like a home – we rang the original doorbell when we arrived – and as a resort it still feels wonderfully private. Guest have their own chalet on stilts, and like us, are treated to a private plunge pool. The peaceful abodes are dotted around the 60-acre estate so that everyone has their own space, but if you feel more sociable you are invited to gather for meals and relaxation in the wallawwa.
Saranga and Kasun seat us at a table upstairs overlooking the epic swimming pool. A white, linen mechanical fan sways above our heads. It’s friendliness like this that sets stays in Sri Lanka apart from other destinations. Contentedly we eat poached eggs and pastries and drink tea, coffee and sip king coconuts that have been grown inches away from where we are.
Our first adventure is to the ancient sacred city of Anuradhapura where we see the Sri Bodhi Tree, the oldest planted tree in the world. It’s said to have been grafted from the very plant under which Buddha became enlightened while meditating in India. Mr Smith and I sit beside the temple beneath the swaying branches, watching monks and families offering lotus flowers. We listen to the leaves rustling in the wind thinking it’s the same sound that Buddha must have heard thousands of years ago in India. We chat to the monk who takes care of the Sri Bodhi temple, we light butter lamps and explore Jetvana stupa, believed to be the largest structure made out of bricks. (We’re stacking up some impressive stats.)
Back at Ulagalla as we swim we watch a peacock whose haunting call has drawn our eyes to its perch at the top of a tree. Supper is exactly what we crave – an array of spicy curries served in clay pots, savoured by candlelight in our chalet, us cosy in our dressing gowns. By the time we roll to our bedroom there are tiny meringues in boxes on our pillows with a note that bids us to ‘Sleep tight, and dream happy’.
Climbing 1,200 steps up Lion Rock, the ancient palace of Sigiriya, the next morning is worth the exertion to check out King Kassapa’s former home atop the huge peak. We mount the final stairs to the summit through the paws of a giant lion and we look over swathes of jungle, a huge golden Buddha in the distance and the tops of stupas poking out of the canopy. We can’t help but wish the King’s pool could be full of water as it was back in the day – a refreshing swim would feel amazing right now.
The magical caves of Dambulla are filled with Buddha statues. Here we buy lotus flowers too and place them at different Buddhas, taking in the cool stillness of the caves as we make our offerings. As we head back to Ulagalla our souls are soothed and we’re happy to take it easy for the rest of the day. But who could not get diverted by signs for an elephant safari? Next we’re in an open-top jeep watching families of elephants munching grass. By the time we make it through the carved wooden gates of Ulagalla we’re really ready for that swim. Our splash is under the stars until Mr Sumanaratne – a man with the most wonderful moustache – whisks us back to our chalet in his golf buggy, having given us swimming towels to swaddle ourselves in.
The garden around the wallawwa is by now lit up with lanterns. Our evening segues to us stuffing ourselves with the most tantalising fish curry and crisp salads made from ingredients plucked from Ulagalla’s organic vegetable garden. After such an extraordinary 24 hours, we’re happy to enjoy our last day without a schedule. Happily, we read in the sunshine by the pool as we listen to the birds singing; we watch frangipani blossoms drop from the trees into the swimming pool. We contemplate yoga or a cooking lesson but instead relax with a massage in the Coco Spa grotto care of two amazing Balinese therapists.
Renewed, we head for a bike ride along the reservoir at the edge of Ulagalla, then curl up on a sofa with Nuwara Eliya tea. Tiny birds swoosh in and out of the wallawwa to their nest above the snooker table. I think they are swallows, but Jevan who takes care of the hotel’s guests assures me they are paradise flycatchers – he tells me it’s good luck if they nest in your home. There are 90 varieties of birds here, plus giant squirrels, colourful chameleons and plenty of other gem-bright lizards. Mr Smith and I wish we could remain in our cosy nest at Ulagalla. It’s been a remarkable base from which to explore central Sri Lanka, and we hope, like swallows, to be back next year. We’d love to see more temples, and ancient cities and revel once again in the heavenly grounds of Ulagalla.