The morning is just shaking off its last remnants of crispness as I make my way towards Sri Lanka’s hippest new hotel, Cape Weligama. As I hurtle along the country’s southern coastal road in the back of a three-wheeler, flashes of colour appear and recede to each side of me. To my left, fishermen tout tangerine snappers and indigo tunas. Beyond them the sweeping, crescent waves of Weligama Bay pound the shoreline. The sea is a churning, stormy green, despite clear skies.
As the iridescence of fish gives way to blurs of banana-yellow fruit stands, the road turns away from the water’s edge. We turn after a potter’s hut where clay wind chimes sway above terracotta earthenware and the road’s incline increases sharply. I find large wooden gates, which reveal nothing of what might lie within, at the end of a modest lane. Discreet, concealed; the entrance to Sri Lanka’s most exciting new resort is no fanfare. It makes a point with its understatement. Pomp has no place here and in an era of overdone opulence, it’s refreshing.
Once inside, I quickly understand why there is simply no need for attention seeking. Below the hotel’s reception lounge unfolds the dramatic coastline that southern Sri Lanka is famous for, and it’s breathtaking. The colours from outside the property’s gates seem to intensify against a backdrop of endless sea and sky. With scenery like that, the location does all the talking.
And what a location it is. Sri Lanka, the resplendent isle, is the same shape as one of the paisley tears that adorn its women’s saris. Weligama lies on its most south-westerly edge, just before the coast begins to curve up towards the east. In the evening, the whole sky erupts into a purple sunset. The colours are so all-encompassing that every direction seems west. The founder of Resplendent Ceylon, the brand that both owns and manages the hotel, Mr Malik Fernando chose the spot to complement the other property in the company’s portfolio, Ceylon Tea Trails. The boutique four-bungalow property sits amongst the cool hills at the heart of Sri Lanka’s tea country. Cape Weligama, with its southern heat and seaside charm, is a world apart.
Inspired by this contrast and in celebration of the two hotels being the only Sri Lankan properties awarded with Relais & Chateaux membership, Fernando created what he calls the ‘Tea and Sea Journey.’ Relais & Chateaux, an association which admits only those they deem amongst the finest hoteliers, chefs and restaurateurs in the world, emphasises holistic experiences that take guests on a sensual journey that reflect a ‘deeper understanding of the Art of Living.’ “With Resplendent Ceylon, guests can enjoy the emerald tea hills at Tea Trails then take the seaplane down to Cape Weligama for a different experience of Sri Lanka,” Fernando explains.
As I stand beside the hotel’s 60-metre crescent-shaped Moon Pool and take in the panoramic views, I realise that the ‘deeper understanding’ to be found here, is in the property’s ability to combine refined indulgence with the raw energy of its surroundings. Whilst the gardens and grounds are lovingly tended to, this is not the manicured existence that some five-star properties offer. From the craggy cliffs that plummet into the crashing ocean below, to the dense jungle that beckons from beyond the beach, Cape Weligama offers a luxury that has retained the vitality of the Sri Lankan wild.
The hotel’s spacious villas overlook this enchanting sight. Designed by renowned Thai architect Lek Bunnag, the residences are roomy and uncomplicated. From above, their terracotta roof tiles resemble those of a quaint Sri Lankan village. Their interiors, on the other hand, are a contemporary homage to 19th century colonial style. Deep mahogany furniture is set against neutral creams, offset with splashes of colour.
The villas, which offer a total of 40 bedrooms, sit within eight ‘wattas’ (the Sinhalese word for garden) each with its own private swimming pool. Named in honour of the many legendary explorers that have graced these southern shores- Marco Polo, Fa-Hsien, Ibn Battuta to name a few – these wattas create a feeling of intimacy on an otherwise wind-swept headland.
For each of these villas, a designated butler is at hand to orchestrate the details of guests’ stays. Whether it’s arranging for an in-villa massage with a resident therapist or arranging a dive with the in-house PADI dive centre, there’s nothing that’s beyond the call of duty for these butlers.
Indeed, the entire resort experience is designed around providing a hassle-free stay. The property’s signature ‘no bills to sign’ rate includes breakfast, lunch or dinner, all beverages around the clock (yes, including the mini bar), laundry, taxes & service charges. The resort’s General Manager, French national Mr. Frederic Perrin explains that a holiday at Cape Weligama is all about indulging in the finer things in life, without having to deal with the details. “We want all our guests to have the experience of a lifetime and we will strive to make sure their stay is as stress-free as possible,” he says, adding, “We understand our guests only want to enjoy their holiday, we will look after everything else.”
One decision that might need a little thought however is that of what to eat. Of course, with such a proximity to the sea, it’s unsurprising that the hotel’s main restaurant – The De Mauny Dining Pavilion – serves up an incredible variety of the freshest seafood. But, it doesn’t stop there. There’s also Kumbuk, an alfresco Sri Lankan village-style restaurant and Misaki, the Japanese Teppanyaki restaurant with seating for 12 on the cliff’s edge. Lastly, with its sister property nestled amongst tea plantations and the hotel brand itself an offshoot of Dilmah Teas, Cape Weligama doesn’t disappoint when it comes to rustling up a mean afternoon tea in their Taylor Living Pavilion.
With three more properties set to open over the next two years, Resplendent Ceylon is positioning itself at the forefront of luxury travel on the island. The new locations, again testament to the geographic diversity of this relatively small island nation, span the entire country covering sand, sea, rock and hill. For a company that fell into the hotel trade thinking that its first property would be its last (they simply wanted to share the beauty of the tea country where their Dilmah tea leaves are cultivated), those most surprised might just be the proprietors themselves. Yet with Cape Weligama having garnered attention from across the globe in the seven months it’s been open, these ‘accidental hoteliers’ as Mr Fernando labels himself, have struck a balance between elegance, authenticity and discretion that has captivated a market of discerning travellers.