Luxury Explorer Review

5-Star Hotel Review


Sri Lanka

Contemporary seafront resort amidst a coconut grove - an inherently romantic destination

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Situated in a mature coconut grove, on the coast of Tangalle

Travel Information

Colombo airport (BIA) - 3 hours
Cinnamon Air runs an airtaxi service from BIA to Dickwella airstrip, a 15 mins drive from Amanwella

Top Tips

Prearrange a private dining experience among the coconut groves - incredibly romantic

5-Star X-Factors

Location, location, location!


Soul surging at Amanwella
The wild side


Soul surging at Amanwella
The wild side

Soul surging at Amanwella

Amanwella is situated two hours east of Galle in the intensely lush and rural coastal district of Tangalle, where the bays are renowned for their pale palomino-hued beaches, fringed with manes of flourishing palm and mango and a brushstroke-perfect aqua sea. It is rich in wildlife, from exotic birds to monitor lizards and turtles, with a flora that boasts a cornucopia of tropical delight. You travel for this.

After the comparatively high energy of Galle Fort, a luxury escape by the Indian Ocean is a good choice. The journey was easy, besides, back seat driving is an excellent way of absorbing day-to-day life. We also stopped en-route to check out a jaw-droppingly amazing retreat, high up above a mango grove, called Kahanda Kanda. 

As our 4x4 pulled into the gravel road that leads to the deep clay-coloured forecourt of Amanwella, I lowered the window. The air is tangibly different: lighter on urban humidity with an intense ocean essence. Buddhist prayers compete with the chorus of birdsong, which is punctured entirely by the haunting cry of a wild peacock. A glass of coconut water is handed over, along with a scented flannel, while your carload of bags and journey paraphernalia is taken care of.

The shoulders drop and we sigh with pleasure; it's soul-surging here. The lake-long infinity pool reflecting a fringe of soaring palms merges without trace into the inky blue sea, beneath a slightly moody dusk sky, while sun-kissed guests gather for drinks in the sweeping open-plan space of the sitting room/lounge/bar that opens out onto the panorama of coconut grove glory.

It is to this priceless and private location the enduring pristine beach, the flourishing, mature coconut grove that Amanwella has sworn allegiance. The resort was designed by well-known architect Kerry Hill in honour of its surroundings, allowing guests to coalesce with their idyllic setting.

The architecture reflects the nuances of highly-acclaimed Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa, who is now regarded as one of the most influential Asian architects of the 20th century. Bawa's work is characterised by sensitivity to site and context, while Sri Lanka is the home and root of all his inspiration.

Suite heavens

All the suites are the same in size and interior, which is very pleasing in these situations, as suite-envy is not an issue. However, they feel slightly different according to their location on the hill. We stayed in one of the Beach Suites, a short stroll from the main hotel, with a slightly higher price tag, as the views to the sea are uninterrupted. The suites on the hill's incline benefit from a more dramatic ocean view so are equally desirable.

The suites here are more like mini apartments without the hassle of a kitchen. They are extremely exclusive in design, nestled down steps behind a tall wall of privacy with views to the sea and coconut grove. All the suites have the same interior layout, design features, and sandy cream palette, and are connected by a walkway which terminates at the beach club. It's a win-win-win suite situation.

The uncluttered and peaceful sandy-toned interiors are designed and furnished with a luxury that speaks more about its space than its fittings. The rooms are slick and contemporary, decorated and furnished in a tropical/local/fluent minimalist style, allowing the arresting view to steal the show.

Walls of glass together with sliding rattan shutters surround the suites, allowing the arresting view to be on show at will. They are suitably spacious in design, with beach-coloured terrazzo flooring, a kithul wood sideboard housing the well-stocked mini-bar, plus a luxuriant armchair with footstool and a long recumbent armoire that nestles at the foot of an expansive bed.

Adorable keepsakes are left in the suites at turndown, along with sweet treats and little cards. The separate bathroom, shower room and private room all benefit from a pool or sea view. Lovely, locally-blended potions, in opulent measures, are placed throughout, while the service is excellent, swift, and 24/7.

A large wooden fan with speed control, above the bed, allowed us to switch off the air-conditioning, with the mellifluous sound of the waves to lull us to sleep. I have friends who can only sleep to this sound, even if it comes out of their headphones! We really appreciated the iPhone dock too; the 21st century snuggles in neatly.

There is more: in total privacy, a good-sized plunge pool is situated at the entrance of each suite, complete with a covered courtyard and dining/lounging area. Sea-facing terraces off the living area house attractive furniture in dark kithul wood a supreme spot for alfresco breakfasts, cocktails and tea breaks. The kithul palm supplies the treacle that is poured over the delectable buffalo curd a truly organic experience.

A moveable feast

You can also dine to your heart's delight at Amanwella, as the cuisine is delicious, with a variety of venue options to enjoy your rich pickings. It's unpretentious and relaxing. Flat-line your stress and don't fret about your heels, hairdo, or time for that matter. Also, if you missed out on a coveted kaftan from Mimimango in Galle Forte, you can buy one in the boutique near reception.

The official dining room is airy and open-plan, emitting a cool laid-back ambience with several seating options. You can choose a private spot alongside the small lawned courtyard, with frangipani trees and a water feature gurgling with koi carp beneath purple and pink water lilies; alternative you can dine on the sea-facing terrace above the pool for an alfresco experience. Or, choose one of the tables in the lofty split-level interior.

At night, local musicians play soft plinkety-plonk tunes, while the relentless motion from the ocean continues to dominate the sound waves. The menu is light and diverse, being mostly Asian and Mediterranean. But as I never migrate from the 'local plate' when I am travelling, the western options went untried.

With sea fare our natural choice beside the ocean, we still had to savour one of the chef's Sri Lankan curries as well. Besides, you can curry fish and prawns too (any excuse to continue in the spice vein). It was a spread of all spreads, with every bowl brimming with local notes even the rice tasted slightly different.

I was now bowled over by the gotukola leaf salad plus the sweet potato curry with yellow lentils, both of which were deeply more-ish. Lime leaves, coriander and chilli, in perfect proportion to the microgramme, were infused into most of the dishes, and the prawns still tasted of the sea. Quite an achievement when spices are included.

Crusoe club

With catch-of-the-day ranging from yellowfin tuna, red mullet, lobster, prawns, butterfish and crayfish, plus the local lagoon crab, our eyes were on stalks with delight. However, for us, there was no better place to enjoy such offerings than down at the beachclub restaurant.

I adored this spot: a Robinson Crusoe setting with subtle luxury statements. There are bathrooms and shower rooms at the back with lashings of body cream, shower gel and piles of plump white towels. I became hooked on the citronella spray they offer guests and, as a result, kept the buzzing pests at bay.

The jumbo prawns, barbequed over coconut charcoal, were stupendous. I noted one couple indulging in this delight on two consecutive days. You simply won't get it better. We enjoyed very chilled Pinot Grigio at the beachclub, and Planeta la Sagreta Bianca, from Sicily, with our spicier dishes.

So, here, at paradise bay, you can simply let nature overcome you while you stop the world from turning. Just recline on a cushion-clad sunbed under the heavenly dappled shade of verdant healthy palms, in a grove that delivers an aura of remote paradisiacal island-living, while you are served fresh passion fruit and coconut sorbet, all set before a pristine beach and the vibrant Indian Ocean.

Sophie Marchant
Sophie Marchant

The wild side

Paradise can be hard to leave when you find it. However, there really is a calling here to explore the wonders of the land when you stay at Amanwella, from the natural habitat to the culture.

So, leaving Bibi and Clio to the beach, I went off to a sacred temple which was quite a climb; over 500 very uneven steps to the flat-boulder summit, where I admired a magnificent far-reaching view to the sea. Around an hour away, past Tangalle, and then inland going north, is the Mulkirigala Rock Temple. A visit here is advised at either early morning or late afternoon. I opted for the latter.

Situated at Mulkirigala in the district of Hambantota, this intriguing temple is miraculously carved and designed out of an enormous outcrop of rock boulder. The Dutch, during their rule, believed that the tombs of Adam and Eve were perhaps here and termed the site 'Adam's Berg'.

There are many tales around this temple but the obvious spiritual testament today is that of Buddhism. There are seven extraordinary statues of Buddha, including three massive reclining poses, ancient wall murals and seven chalky white stupas the largest of which resides at the top with spectacular views, 533 steps later.

On my ascent I was blessed by a very old, wise and reputedly holy man who wrapped white cotton around my wrist and smiled intently into my eyes. This temple is an active hallowed site, with many worshippers visiting daily, plus it sits in the centre of a village with a monastery alongside. On this occasion, there were no other visitors besides my guide, the chattering monkeys, crows, and the temple's stray dog.

Sky delight

On the drive back to paradise beach, the sun exited with such fury that we pulled over while the sky blazed a deeper and deeper blood orange. That's what happens here: nature is on fire. My driver was puzzled and asked me what was so special about the sky? Was it really worth a near tuk-tuk wipe out?

That night we had an exclusive beach dinner, dazzling in Arabian Nights allure, with hundreds of candles in hurricane lamps and atmospheric liturgical torches dug deep in the sand. It looked magical. With butter-soft beach between our toes and a cooling sea breeze, we dined on an ocean-rich platter of flame grilled fruits de mer, sensationally barbequed, with a host of salads, local pulses and sauces.

Nature and prayer created a romantic soundtrack mix and we thanked our lucky stars for such a naturally enchanting occasion. The constellations in the jet-black sky sparkled with such exacting brilliance; it was as though someone had turned up the dimmer switch to the skylights.

Paradise gained

At 4am on our final morning, I left the other two sleeping beneath their shrouds of white veil (nets are optional) and crept off into the still black, prayer-filled night, to visit one of the most special wildlife reserves in Asia, Udawalawe National Park. Paradise was not lost after all a new one was gained.

The car was waiting at the entrance, piled up with comfortable cushions and water so the two-hour journey was no hardship. In order to reap the full rewards and, quite honestly, to cope with the relentless sun, you have to visit at dawn or dusk. Besides, there is no more ethereal light in this world than the gentle one at dawn, while the animals love it too.

My amazingly kind, helpful and well-spoken driver, Chamly, woke me up just before sunrise, on the outskirts to the park's entrance, beside a deep amethyst-toned reservoir. A lone man, sitting in prayer position in his canoe, was the only sign of humankind. It all seemed surreal. The wake-up sounds of the tropics were pulsing across a misty forested jungle, while a few feet away, spilling into the road, some slothful cattle were deciding whether it was night or day.

I stood transfixed beside them taking in this vast expanse of dream-like wilderness as the sun gently lifted itself up, warming this intensely tranquil scene as though the sky's oven had just opened its door. The peacocks wailed out their hauntingly shrill cry, another break in the calm, and a cue to continue. All this, and we were not yet in the park. For every hour of sleep lost, you gain a lifelong experience.

Jumbo appearance

The night before, the chef had prepared me a bespoke picnic, including a constant supply of refreshments and coffee. Once inside the park, we met with our ranger, the driver, and switched into an open-topped jeep. Within ten minutes of leaving base, the first elephants appeared, sauntering lazily across the track, swaying their sleepy trunks and occasionally checking to see if the family was in pursuit.

All in good time, a whole herd surrounded us, spanning a couple of generations, with the most adorable babies snuggling under the protective bulk of their elders, or alleviating a little scratch from their heads by rubbing up and down their parents' pillar-solid legs.

These elephants are so unlike the African ones I am used to, which are thrilling to the core but threatening too. The Sri Lankan elephants are adorable and mild tempered, with a gentle disposition; I simply fell truly, madly, deeply in love and without the surging pulse this time. During our drive around the park we saw so many contented herds that I lost count, though there was nothing like watching them at play in that early, soft, dewy light.

An alpine touch

The park's terrain is spectacular, being pretty much evergreen with marshland and lush grassland plains for the most part, which makes viewing easier. The verdant landscape is framed by a mountain range called Sudu Kanda, which, as the light picked up, looked more like a scene from summertime Switzerland than the tropics. We stopped the car whenever the ranger spotted an interesting animal or, sometimes for a less interesting one too, but that didn't matter.

Breakfast was laid out for me, on white with silver, in a sheltered enclave of foliage with a view to the mountains. With fresh hot coffee and a platter of exotic fruits beside a bowl of the creamiest vanilla and cinnamon yogurt, I really did feel blessed. Amanwella ensures that the experience is extremely special and spoiling.

Before we hit the mystical, wonderful, almost eerie area where small lakes, fed from the enormous reservoir, are swamped in mystery and wildlife, it was me that screeched 'eagle!' Turning off the engine we watched an enormous grey-headed fish eagle sitting on a low branch, only a few feet away. Beneath his beady eye a Eurasian spoonbill was slapping his beak into a pool of water while a smooth soft-shelled turtle came up for some air.

This stunning scene was briefly interrupted as a sturdy monitor lizard swaggered to the water's edge for a drink. The ranger pointed up towards the tree above the eagle and there was the prettiest pigeon I have ever seen, feathered in pale to brilliant greenish blue: the pompadour green pigeon. All this profusion of extraordinary wildlife unfolded a few feet from the jeep and in a space no bigger than a small sitting room.

Motion capture

The incorporeal area of motionless small lakes, part of the Uduwalawe reservoir, appears both pastoral and freakishly outback: soft flat grassy banks surround the water pools with the majestic mountains in the distance. Lone black leafless trees stand upright amid the flat still waters with arms outstretched as though designed for birds to perch.

I was displaced, entranced by the stillness and enthralled by the glut of birdlife, including cormorants, kingfishers, herons and Indian darters. We saw the Malabar pied hornbill, and plenty from the comedic stalk family: both the black-necked and the painted stork. A pair of fish eagles circled this scene as though waiting for a kill to unfold.

But, while we watched this delicate, fantastical and tranquil scene, only the lanky, beautifully ugly storks put on a show. The crocodiles stayed almost motionless, bar a momentary raising of their glassy eyes. The burly water buffalo seemed blissfully unaware of the deadly predators sharing their cooling waters.

The park is teaming with wildlife, from exceptional birdlife to animals great and small, rare and common, and while you may not spot a leopard or a crocodile, you will be riveted, even transported, by its soft tempered cradling of this enchantingly captivating habitat. This is a sanctuary after all one where wildlife and terrain thrive in spectacular fashion. So, for that elusive leopard, you may need to visit Yala, where a sighting is said to be almost definite. That's on my list for next time.

Amanwella made many dreams come true and has defined the template for new ones.

Sophie Marchant
Sophie Marchant

Luxury Explorer
Luxury Explorer