The Indian Ocean island of Sri Lanka is one of the top destinations in the world for boutique honeymoon hideaways
Known as Ceylon until 1972, Sri Lanka lies just off the southern tip of India and has the most to offer of all the Indian Ocean islands. Gold sand beaches, check. A wealth of historical shrines and sacred sites, check. Top luxury and boutique hotels, check. Little wonder the island consistently tops lists of the world's best destinations for honeymoons and weddings abroad.
Mount Lavinia Hotel
Mount Lavinia Hotel is one of the oldest, grandest hotels in Sri Lanka and boasts a history steeped in romance. Built more than 200 years ago, it was originally a mansion where Sir Thomas Maitland, the Governor General of Ceylon, held secret trysts with Lovina, a local dancing girl and the love of his life. Its scenic coastal location (12 kms from the capital, Colombo, and Ratmalana Airport) makes it an enchanting place to start and end a honeymoon. Book in to one of the 275 colonial-style rooms, which are beautifully decorated with dark wood furniture, and wallow in the hotel’s old school charm. For dining, there’s the swish Governor’s Restaurant - think polished wood floors and crisp white tablecloths - but for pure romance try the Seafood Cove. You select your own fresh fish and choose the way it’s cooked before dining on the sand by candlelight to a backdrop of star-lit sky and crashing waves. Pure magic.
Lighthouse Hotel & Spa
Designed by Sri Lanka’s premier architect, Geoffrey Bawa, the Lighthouse Hotel & Spa was built in the mid-90s and is still considered one of the most striking hotels in the country. Situated just outside historic Galle Fort (a UNESCO World Heritage site), its spectacular setting, overlooking jagged rocks and ocean, makes it a honeymoon hotspot. The 63 rooms are vast and come with the usual honeymoon essentials (giant bed with soft linen, balcony with sea views and a sexy bathroom), plus non-essentials like a well-stocked mini-bar and boys' toy bedside console controlling heat, light, radio and alarm clock! As in most of Sri Lanka’s upmarket hotels, the cuisine here is exceptionally good. A visit to The Cinnamon Room, a fine dining restaurant with atmospheric lighting and exotic dishes like tamarind yellow tuna steak on a salsa of beans in spicy coconut curry cream, is a real treat. Throw two enormous swimming pools, a spacious spa, yoga lessons and glorious palm-fringed beaches into the mix, and it’s a recipe for romance.
The Dutch House
This gem of a boutique retreat was originally a country mansion, built in 1712, and has just four suites, each of which is sensationally styled. The Ball Room, where pop star Sting has stayed, is particularly memorable, boasting a large four-poster bed and dramatic floor-to-ceiling curtains between the bedroom and living room. The VOC, Yellow Room and Blue Room are equally individual and filled with period Dutch furniture and exquisite fabrics. Although the rooms are grand, there’s a delightfully relaxed atmosphere here. You can take breakfast at any time, and lunch and dinner can be served where and when you like, whether that be in the English tropical garden (complete with croquet lawn), by the treetop infinity pool or in your room. This exclusive getaway lies in a lush hillside overlooking Galle on the south coast and is a popular spot for weddings.
Boutique chic is where Sri Lanka is leading the way in 2009, and one of the most exciting of the latest openings is Kurulubedda near Galle. It has just two stilted private villas, each with plunge pool and a large terrace with day beds for lounging on when the heat begins to soar. Guests reach this top spot via a 10-minute boat journey on the Kepu Ela River and on arrival are greeted with delicious tropical fruit cocktails and flowers. The icing on the cake is a dining pavilion overlooking rice fields, where a personal chef whips up culinary delights just for you. And if you want to get back to nature, Anoma, the resort’s naturalist, is available to take you for guided walks in the surrounding countryside.
Vil Uyana is another notable new hotel on the block, offering jaw-droppingly impressive rooms. I love the forest villas, which are two-storey and boast a lily pond in the open-plan downstairs bathroom, private pool and beds that appear even larger than a king-size. Its location in the interior of the island, close to Sigiriya rock, one of Sri Lanka’s top tourist attractions, makes it a great alternative to a sun-and-sand getaway. The resort is also the perfect spot for nature- and culture-lovers, offering lots of excursions, from wildlife tours to the temples of Kandy. But if all you want to do is laze around, you’ve hit the jackpot here. There’s the Mandhiya Library with sprawling comfy sofas to relax on, the funky Graffiti Bar to hang out in, plus Apsara restaurant, an open-sided restaurant with soaring ceiling and amazing mural of intricate flowers and animals covering an entire wall.
The Malabar House
Hiring your own private villa may sound extravagant, but when it’s as gorgeous as The Malabar House you won’t mind flexing the credit card. This swish town house lies in hip Galle Fort and has just been transformed by its British owners into a chic retreat. Honeymooners will adore the long pool, pretty courtyard and roof terrace; the perfect spot for sunbathing or watching a dazzling sunset. There are three bedrooms; the en suite master bedroom, complete with four-poster draped with mosquito nets, is perfect for newlyweds. Don’t think that if you book a villa you’ll have to lift a finger – if you don’t fancy shopping in Galle’s colourful market or dining in the town’s restaurants, you can send the villa’s maid out with a shopping list or arrange for a private chef to cook for you. And if you can bear to leave this luxurious home from home, Unawantuna, one of Sri Lanka’s best beaches, is just a short tuk-tuk ride away.