Sri Lanka’s hotels step things up

British Airways may be about to curtail flights to the country, but two new Sri Lanka hotels are giving Britons renewed impetus to visit

By Claire Wrathall

Gal Oya Lodge poolIt’s unfortunate timing that just as British Airways gives up on its Sri Lanka route – its last flight to Colombo, via Male in the Maldives, will take off on March 28 – two alluring new properties will have opened on the island.

This weekend (February 21) sees the launch of Uga Residence, the fourth property belonging to locally owned Uga Escape. Set amid gardens (with a handsome outdoor pool) and built as the home of Sheikh Salehboy Moosajee, the 11-suite mansion is decorated with abundant silks in striking colours, in a style that’s both in keeping with its 18th-century heritage and quite contemporary.

Its location, close to the lakeside temple of Gangarama, one of Colombo’s principal Buddhist shrines, makes it a good base from which to explore the city before you head to the coast or set off to explore the island. In which case its three sibling properties are worth knowing about. For a straightforward beach break the most obvious option is one of the 44 studios at Uga Bay at Passekudah, halfway down the east coast. But don’t rule out Ulagalla, a resort hotel close to the sacred city of Anuradhapura, ancient Sigiriya and Dambulla, site of the Golden Temple; found in the heart of the island, all of them are Unesco World Heritage Sites.

Not that Ulagalla isn’t a place to kick back too. A 150-year-old mansion, surrounded by 20 freestanding villas, the resort is located within 58 acres of luxuriant gardens populated by more than 100 species of bird – the hotel publishes its own book on the subject in fact. For those who want to explore the matter more, there are guided walks along the banks of the 2,000-year-old Wannemaduwa “tank” or reservoir, which is partly responsible for the an abundance of waterfowl.

Alternatively head northeast to Trincomalee, and on the coast just outside the town you will come to Jungle Beach, where thatched cabins face the Indian Ocean, a lagoon or, most romantically, stand almost hidden by verdure within the jungle, linked to the hotel’s central area by raised walkways of rope and teak.

Meanwhile Sangjay Choegyal, formerly of Four Seasons’ tented camp in Chiang Rai, Thailand, and latterly of Aman Resorts’ Amankora in Bhutan, has recently co-founded Gal Oya, a nine-bungalow safari lodge three and half hours by road east of Kandy. It stands on a 20-acre forested site on the shore of the Senanayake Samudraya Lake, Sri Lanka’s largest inland body of water – where the local elephant population comes to swim – right on the edge of the Gal Oya National Park, which is home to 32 species of mammal including langurs, toque macaques, leopards, sloth bears, wild boar, water buffalo and deer.

As to getting there, SriLanka Airlines still flies direct from London Heathrow to Colombo. And Emirates flies via Dubai.

Accommodation at Uga Escapes properties starts from about $150/£97 per night; rooms at Gal Oya cost from $155/£100.

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