As winter sets in, you’re probably starting to regret using up all your holiday on a blur of wedding parties (not that you had a choice in the matter). But what’s to stop you from dreaming of your 2018 getaway? To lend some inspiration, DOSE contributor, Ishbel Lohman, takes us on a surf and yoga adventure in Sri Lanka…
Our holidays often revolve around active adventures. My boyfriend, Rory, taught me to surf in Portugal last summer and since then we have been itching to get back into warmer waters, which is what drew us to Sri Lanka.
A surfer-foodie-yogi-adventurer’s paradise, we fell hard for the country’s achingly beautiful and diverse scenery and the kind, generous people who always want to show you their little piece of heaven.
We visited some massively varied places, so whether you are looking to hone your surf skills, unplug in the jungle or enjoy sun downers by the pool, read on for a rundown of what Sri Lanka has to offer…
Water Gardens Sigiriya
Don’t indulge the usual “it takes me a week to switch off” nonsense in this place of pure bliss. Whether in brilliant sunshine, haze or a tropical monsoon (get in the pool if this happens) Water Gardens is astounding. The thoughtfully designed hotel uses the landscape to the max, framing the iconic Sigiriya rock, visible in the distance.
Nestled within paddy fields, the 30ish villas provide privacy, and total luxury once you step inside. With a separate sitting room, and many with private plunge pools, the villas have everything you could wish for including a real coffee machine and an awesome sound system. The incredible, friendly staff are always moments away to help with anything, yet never imposing.
To break up blissful sessions of lounging by the stunning infinity pool (yes, we did a lot of this), there are loads of activities including yoga, archery, cycling and a small gym, whilst the beautifully serene spa offers a good range of both Ayurvedic and Western treatments. But most importantly, grab a tuk-tuk early doors (6:45am) and get to Sigiriya Rock for when the ticket office opens at 7am. The challenging but manageable climb up to the top of the rock takes around 45 minutes but the views that run for miles in each direction are truly spectacular. Top tip – don’t try to eat a banana anywhere in the vicinity of a monkey…
The food is wonderful. Colourful platters of fresh exotic fruits for breakfast followed by our absolute favourite – hoppers (a sort of crispy pancake shaped like a bowl full of flavoursome curry) – just what you need after climbing the rock. A good mix of other cuisines too so easy to please.
BEST FOR: Absolute luxury set in the heart of Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle
Diyababula – Barberyn Art & Jungle Hideaway
From the wide open paddy fields to the seclusion of the jungle, next was Diyabubula. If Barberyn (our next stop – an Ayurvedic retreat) is designed to detox the body, then Diyabubula is a magical detox for the mind. It is a totally unique hotel made up of three ‘Water Villas’ (think a tree house on stilts perched above a pool of water) and two other wonderfully different residences ‘The Bamboo Grove’ and ‘The Tree House’.
Sitting within the grounds of eminent Sri Lankan architect and artist Laki Senanayake’s jungle hideaway, guests can discover his sculptures hidden away between the trees, bringing the hotel a distinctly different cultural twist.
The tranquillity here is startling. Nothing but jungle noises, and apparently sometimes Laki’s music, allows you to feel lost in the nature. We enjoyed tea on our Water Villa’s veranda, reading on the swing, and the slightly patchy wifi gives you a totally welcome break from your phone.
There is a daily set menu of wonderfully fresh dishes, from traditional Sri Lankan curries to grilled fish – following the Barberyn food philosophy of vegetables and fish, but no other meat. The amazing staff will discuss with you ahead of meals and can cater for any dietary requirements, safe in the knowledge that whatever comes out to you will be healthy and delicious.
BEST FOR: Total jungle seclusion and artful surroundings for peace, quiet and calm.
Barberyn Reef Ayurveda Resort
Barberyn Reef Ayurvedic Hotel was the first Ayurvedic resort in Sri Lanka to bring treatment plans together with beautiful residences. Set right on the beach, the sound of the sea permeates everywhere here. Whether in your room, relaxing by the pool, or in a treatment room, the insistent swell of the ocean is incredibly calming and meditative.
The Ayuvedic element is a serious affair. When you enter the treatment area of the hotel you definitely understand that it is a place for real healing, not just a ‘week off wine’ detox.
We met with the Ayurvedic doctor for an assessment; weight, pulse, blood pressure was checked, tongues were inspected and various questions posed about our health and lifestyle in order to determine our Dosha and therefore decide on the best treatments.
Barberyn recommend a minimum stay of two weeks in order to get the true benefits of cleansing, and healing the body to reset the system and restore good health. We were only there for a few days so had some of the more simple treatments of acupuncture, amazing full body massages, steam baths and herbal compresses in the beautiful herb garden.
The food is very healthy and designed around the Doshas; some nights a wide ranging buffet and others a set menu, tailored to each person as prescribed by the doctor. There are lots of wonderful vegetable curries and detoxing soups and it is clear that if you were here for a fortnight you would see wonderful benefits for the body.
We swam a lot and took part in the daily yoga classes, usually at 6am and 4pm, and definitely felt lighter and more relaxed by the time we checked out.
BEST FOR: The person who has already dipped their toe in the Ayurverdic waters and want to step up to a full retreat.
Soul and Surf
From the quiet and reflective peace of Barberyn, we headed along the coast to Ahangama, checking in to Soul and Surf. A haven for the active, this retreat is a great mix of heaps of surfing, yoga, paddle boarding, incredible treatments, and meeting really, really great people from all over the world.
Soul and Surf opened in 2010 in Kerala, India, with the Sri Lanka outpost opening a few years later, offering a more luxurious experience than your traditional surf camp. The beautiful guesthouse is nestled in the jungle (10 minute tuk tuk to the beach) and is a minimalism design-lovers dream.
Poured concrete, pastel colours and open outdoor spaces…relaxing in the villa and hanging out with your other retreaters is so welcome between the awesome twice daily surf sessions at sunrise and sunset. It is super social, lending itself brilliantly to people travelling alone, in couples or in groups.
Usually they encourage a week long stay but for Rory and I it was short three days of discovery. Rory a yoga newbie (first ever class a Barberyn) found his form in Vinyasa and Yin guided by the amazing Emma. As a competent surfer he got great advice from surf instructor Ellis and quickly honed his skills catching awesome green waves out back. I also found quick progress in the water, finally catching my first ever green wave later in the week making me feel sky high (and now desperate to get back on a surf board!).
All your food is included in the package and everything was absolutely delicious, healthy, satisfying – ‘sunshine food’ they call it and we see why. And be sure to order a coconut whilst you lie by the pool!
The treatments here are also something seriously special, designed to truly put you in touch with your breath, body and mind. The deeper experience is a must, not just to release surfing tensions, but also to connect with something deeper and leave you feel emotionally reset.
BEST FOR: The adventure junkie who wants action, fun and food in equal measures. Oh, and not wearing shoes AT ALL for an entire week.
Shangri-La Hambantota Golf Resort & Spa
Shangri-La Hambantota is a wonderful resort truly set up to cater for all. Whether you want to lie by the pool and drink cocktails all week, have a week full of active adventures or drop your kids off to be looked after whilst you relax with yoga and some reading, there is something here to please everyone.
Their favourite USP is their golf course (being the only resort with a full 18 hole golf course in Sri Lanka). My favourite USP is the artisan village, hosting local artists, wood carvers and batik crafts people. The running of the village is left totally up to them, with all proceeds kept within the artisan community. The beautiful original drawings of elephants found in each bedroom can be bought there for just 2000 LKR (just under £10 for an original sketch!).
The range of activities is staggering; a large gym, yoga classes, aquafit in the pool, trapeze, and what we loved the most; cycling tours around the local area. We took the 6km trail (there is a 20km option) which took us through the beautiful local village and out to the rugged coastline where we were able to watch the waves smashing in to the rocks.
Another highlight for us was the riverboat safari down the Walawe River, which the concierge can organise for you. The Shangri La group has a clear dedication to being environmentally responsible and have wonderfully passionate people working on the site to maintain a healthy coastline and protect the local wildlife.
BEST FOR: The resort lover who wants lots to do without having to travel far.
Breathtakingly beautiful, Tri is an intimate eco design resort with just 11 residences, perched on a hill overlooking Koggala Lake. Sustainability pervades everywhere here with all the materials being locally sourced, from the cinnamon branch clad villas, to the living walls, the peaceful treatment rooms and the wooden library suspended in the trees. It is astonishingly respectful of its environment, totally blending in to the surrounding jungle; the reason why you can see eagles close up and chipmunks on your balcony.
Arguably the most beautiful pool you’ve ever seen (and definitely the most Instagramable), the perched infinity edge seems to blend straight in to the lake that stretches out below. Interestingly the owners recognise the power of Instagram, and co-owner Robert Drummond told me that they have seen an increase in younger guests driven partly by this.
The yoga offering here is led by the other co-owner Lara Drummond. As well as co-founder of Tri, Lara is also the founder of Quantum Yoga, a physical and spiritual practice taught by herself and her trained teachers all over the world. Centred around Ayurdeva, each class is designed to stimulate different qualities. Our class was physical, challenging, sweaty and fun, and I was pushed to learn new arm stands and inversions.
The food here is incredible. Fresh and inventive, with a subtle health angle, each dish uses Sri Lankan influences and makes them sing in a modern way. The seven course set dinner menu is an amazing experience packed full of ingredients, flavours and combinations we had never tried.
Oh and be sure to enjoy a sun-downer cocktail (or mocktail!) at the top of the water tower for the most spectacular view of the sunset over the lake.
If you are interested in Quantum Yoga but can’t make it to Sri Lanka, we met the great Ro at Tri, pupil of Lara and teacher of Quantum Yoga around London. You can see more and book a class with her here.
BEST FOR: The eco-conscious yoga-lover, looking for breathtaking natural beauty.
Checking in to Cape Weligama and hopping on a golf buggy to our villa felt more like we had arrived in a beautiful secluded town than a resort. More than 30 villas stretch out across the property, arranged in groups of three to share a pool, yet each feeling secluded and peaceful.
Our huge Premier Ocean Villa was utter luxury. A big terrace with options for seating (perfect if you wanted to order room service and eat outside), a spacious bedroom with a bed you get lost in, and a remarkable bathroom with a marble freestanding bath, the double sink (bitterly disappointing coming back to our single sink London flat) and a steam room.
You can arrange to have treatments in your villa, or visit the Sanctuary Spa, where we enjoyed an absolutely blissful 90 minute full body couples massage, using traditional Sri Lankan scents and oils.
Activities, wellness and health are a major focus at Cape. As well as the gym (found underneath the stunning cliff top infinity moon pool), the activity centre on the East beach hosts surf lessons, body boarding and diving. The resort also offers Cape Escape Fitness Camps for a more intensive 3, 5 or 7 day retreat with a program of Quantum Yoga, TRX training, cliff-top boxing and more.
You are also close to many of the best surfing beaches in Sri Lanka. We went for a sunset surf on Weligama beach on our last night which was so memorable, and the perfect end to our adventure.
The food was brilliant, with two restaurants to choose from and an expansive menu that features dishes from all over the world. Make sure to order the traditional Sri Lankan breakfast and eat leisurely overlooking the stunning coastline.