Sri Lanka puts the splendour into travel
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Sri Lanka puts the splendour into travel

Colonial mansions and chattering monkeys turn up the heat for Brigit Grant in Sri Lanka

Brigit Grant is the Jewish News Supplements Editor

There are lots of things one expects to see at breakfast. Cereal boxes. Eggs in cups. Toast in a rack. But a monkey hanging from the branch of a Foxtail palm tree? Now that’s something different. Except it’s not, in Sri Lanka. Tufted grey langur monkeys engaged in a game of chase or clinging to rattans as they swing from palm to palm is morning cabaret at Haritha Villas + Spa and it’s an unmissable petit dejeuner performance.

Sipping freshly-pulped mango juice to the song of the yellow-fronted barbet while deliberating over whether to eat a butter croissant with pineapple jam or tuck into more passion fruit is the toughest choice you have to make at the Haritha. And to think that only a few days earlier, mornings were about beating red lights on the school run while spilling coffee on my coat.

Sri Lankan family safari

Now, in nothing more than a sarong and a smile, my family and I were guests at a boutique hotel that would charm even the most seasoned resort traveller. No matter how fabulous your last five-star stay was, the Haritha will top it, but it does so discreetly and with such good taste. Perched on a hilltop above the playfully-named seaside town of Hikkaduwa (which means sword of knowledge or seashell jungle depending on who you ask) the property is gasp-worthy and stops you in your tracks soon after you pass through the iron gates and luscious foliage.

Gripped by the heat we so long for at home, Sri Lanka is supposedly cooler from November to March, but with temperatures of more than 26°C in the last weeks of 2021, it’s the kind of ‘cool’ I can live with, particularly when I’ve got my own pool. Yes, I did say “my own pool”, which was a mere five steps (I counted) from the heavy wood door of my Colonial Mansion.

Pool at Haritha

In truth the only sensible place to put a  family of five with a lot of luggage (Jews don’t travel light) is a Colonial Mansion and, luckily, the Haritha has two, both of which have high-ceilinged majestic adjoining suites containing large four-poster beds dressed with 500 threadcount linen under stylishly-swathed mosquito nets. Around the room, carefully placed glazed figurines, an iPad and state-of-the-art moveable speaker suggest ‘at home’, so I had to remind the family we were not and could only lay claim to the complimentary chic black stationery and toiletries. That the bathroom was outdoors exposed to the elements and visiting striped palm squirrels was a delightful novelty – at least until a Kandyan dwarf toad landed on the face of my step-son’s girlfriend while she was on the al fresco toilet. Despite being a small Indian Ocean island, Sri Lanka is recognised as an amphibian hotspot, with 116 species, 90 percent of which are not found elsewhere  on Earth. And occasional toilets.

Al fresco bath

Proximity to wildlife is just another perk while staying at the Haritha, which also has seven independent contemporary villas with saltwater plunge pools. Hidden on leafy shelves beneath the Colonial Mansion, the guests in the other villas are invisible and only seen in the restaurant, which sits beside an infinity pool overlooking rice fields. Having only arrived a month before us, the hotel’s new GM, an ebullient Italian called Umberto Piccolini was as enthusiastic about Haritha we were and, having overseen the openings of hotels in the Maldives and Dubai, knows how to  run five-star  places. He had also been culinary director at The Four Seasons, so we left it to him to choose our lunch and dinner menus, as well as the wine.

Fish is available on a biblical scale in Sri Lanka and you have your pick of yellowfin and bigeye tuna, along with all the crustaceans the Torah forbids us to eat, but some can’t resist. For those who are not averse to dining at J.Sheekey or Scott’s in London, Sri Lanka offers better quality at a tenth of the price, so make the most of it.

After a fish feast and the sommelier’s skilled wine choices, the heat of the night called for a dip in our phosphorescent lit pool. A few pranks, Lion beers (that’s a brand not the beast) and then delicious silence fell beneath the stars. Even the monkeys were sleeping – but they made it to breakfast before us the next morning, ready to swing.

 

Haritha Villas is currently offering a two-night stay with breakfast, three-course dinner, private airport transfer and a couple’s spa treatment for 90 minutes from £308 per night.

www.harithavillas.com

 

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