Ask the parent of teenagers what makes a good family holiday and they will more than likely tell you to choose a multi-faceted destination. A holiday based on a single activity, such as temple touring in Siem Reap, or a beach retreat on a remote island, may leave some teens bored rigid.
Enticing my 14-year-old away from his PlayStation was hard enough. I had to make sure that our family holiday would be packed with new experiences and plenty of fun. At the same time, I was personally longing for some true pampering and relaxation in serene surroundings.
Sri Lanka had long been on my radar; I knew that the island’s beautiful countryside, stunning beaches, wildlife, rich culture and vast choice of activities would check the right boxes for all of us. So off we went, with accommodation booked at the new Sri Sharavi Beach Villas & Spa on the southern coast near Mirissa, a luxury boutique property promising peace and tranquillity but with ample scope for exploring the coastal belt.
After a flight of only four hours we were met by Susil, the resort’s friendly driver who had been waiting patiently after a computer glitch at the airport caused delays at immigration. The drive to the resort was a breeze and took about two and a half hours, courtesy of the new Southern Expressway that has halved the time it used to take to reach Mirissa.
Sri Sharavi is a luxury boutique property with four exquisitely furnished three-bedroom beach villas and two separate garden suites. It’s located on a long stretch of secluded and picturesque beach. The spacious two-storey villas are separated from the sea by a 40-metre infinity pool that stretches across the front of the entire property, and a lush, grassy field with coconut palms.
On arrival we were met by the resort’s general manager, the lovely Marcy Vale, a Canadian, who gave us a tour of the grounds and of our villa. Each of the four villas is individually named and designed in a distinct colour scheme inspired by the colours of Sri Lanka’s precious gemstones: Topaz, Aquamarine, Amethyst and Peridot. Our villa, Topaz, came decorated in an appealing palette of soothing shades of champagne, orange and earthy browns. With warm lighting, polished concrete floors and raw contemporary teakwood furniture, the effect was subtly chic. The accent colours ran through the entire villa, popping up in the upholstery, cushions and rugs and on the walls. The design ethos even carries over into the bathrooms whose many appealing touches include handcrafted, polished concrete sinks stained in the respective colour scheme of the villa.
Each villa can sleep up to six adults and three children. The ground floor consists of a spacious living and dining area, an open-plan pantry and an ensuite bedroom with private garden terrace. Upstairs are two spacious suites with king size four-poster beds, a lounge area and walk-in closet.
The master bedroom suite was my favourite. Opening up to a huge private terrace complete with deck chairs and a sitting area offering uninterrupted 180-degree ocean views, this was a truly magical setting where you could watch both sunrise and sunset.
Looking around the amazing property, the thing that struck me most was the attention to detail that had gone into conceptualising a home away from home for resort guests. Dolores de Battista, the Maltese resident interior architect, teamed with Original’s Geri Murphy to design the interiors. Their great sense of colour and style and their overall vision for the project is reflected everywhere you look.
Most of the furniture comes from Originals, who opened a showroom in Sri Lanka two years ago. A carefully curated selection of their trademark Indian recycled furniture and contemporary teak pieces, combined with Vincent Sheppard chairs and sofas in bold colours, creates a clean sophisticated ambience. Colours, furniture and artwork work together beautifully. It made us feel instantly at home to find ourselves surrounded by some of the same furniture designs that we have in our Singapore house.
Marcy ensures that employees are trained thoroughly. Each villa is staffed with a “houseboy”, among them Sandun, a charmingly dedicated young gentleman who looked after us with great and discreet care, predicting our every need and making sure everything ran smoothly for our stay. In fact, he has now set the standard of perfect service for me: completely attentive and completely unobtrusive – almost impossible to achieve, yet he made it look easy.
I must admit I knew little about Sri Lankan cuisine, naively assuming it would be similar to that in India. The food prepared by the chef, Dilan, was simply delicious and artfully presented, whether it was served in the beautiful dining area of our villa or on the verandah. Anything we fancied, local or Western, could be provided, and Dilan would pop by the villa each day to check our preferences. On our first night he prepared a feast consisting of a large plate of rice and eight different curries in little bowls – meat, fruit and vegetable curries in a variety of flavours, and all delicious. My favourite meal was breakfast, walking down to our verandah each morning to find a lovingly decorated table complete with flowers, tropical fruit, juices and freshly baked bread.
It would be very easy to do absolutely nothing at the villa, but Sri Lanka’s south coast has so much on offer – and I had promised the kids five days of activities and exploring. Information about day-trip itineraries and where to shop and eat are all provided by the staff, and our resort driver, Susil, was available to take us to any place we wanted to visit.
On our first day this was Galle, the coastal city with gorgeous old colonial buildings and a charming historic Dutch fort that has been well preserved. We spent a couple of hours walking the ramparts and enjoying the views out to the sea, taking in the fresh air and soaking in the atmosphere.
On the way back to the resort we stopped at the Sea Turtle Farm and Hatchery at Habaradura. Despite being a tourist attraction, this place seems really genuine and the people running the farm explained how they were trying their best to save the turtles. The project protects the eggs until they hatch and then monitors the baby turtles until they’re strong enough to be reintroduced to nature. Injured and sick turtles are also cared for here.
The following day we took a 10-minute tuk-tuk ride from the resort to Mirissa, armed with layers of sunscreen, hats and sunshades. This is a laid-back little town with a local flavour, a beautiful palm-fringed beach and good surf – an excellent place to while away a few hours, and highly entertaining if you like big waves. The kids had a great time jumping the waves while I sipped a drink and soaked up the vibe of the place.
The big tourist draw in Mirissa is whale-watching, but unfortunately it wasn’t the right time of year to see them. With only a slim chance of making a sighting, we decided to give it a miss – a five-hour boat trip in choppy, whale-free waters didn’t seem all that appealing.
We felt a bit more adventurous the next day and took a trip to a snake farm in Thelijjavila, a village about 45 minutes away and a delightful drive through the countryside. The small farm, run by a family of traditional Ayurvedic snakebite physicians, was a fantastic experience – very basic and not commercial at all. The owner uses the snakes to produce anti-venom used in Ayurvedic medicine. He keeps around 15 to 20 snakes, in a room the size of a car garage. It was quite an eye-opener as he displayed the highly venomous cobras and vipers, right in front of us. We got to hold some non-poisonous ones, including a python and tree snake, and we learnt a lot about Sri Lanka’s indigenous snakes.
Another great experience is a trip to one of Sri Lanka’s national parks. If you’re interested in wildlife, this is a must. We visited Udawalawe National Park, rather than the better-known Yala National Park, which was closed because of drought. And what an experience it was. After a three-and-a-half-hour journey from the resort, we were ushered to a very comfortable private jeep for the three-hour safari. Within minutes the heavens opened and we were caught in a thunderstorm and torrential downpour. The guide hastily closed the jeep’s plastic blinds while the driver kept navigating through the difficult terrain, now a slippery morass. Needless to say, we couldn’t see a thing, and I had to keep reminding the kids (and myself!) that a safari is like a box of chocolate: you never know what you’re going to get.
Our luck turned, however, and after an hour or so of rain, we came across a giant elephant strutting across the path. More animal sightings soon followed: peacocks, several birds of prey, a fox, herds of deer, buffaloes soaking in mud puddles, and a group of cheeky monkeys. As the sun began to set, our driver made one last stop next to a watering hole where we saw a baby elephant being surrounded by the herd for protection – very sweet. Watching them behave in their natural setting was amazing, and my daughter couldn’t stop taking pictures.
Back at the resort, chef Dilan had prepared a fantastic dinner of local delights that we enjoyed on our verandah to the sound of waves crashing on the shore. It was a great way to round off an amazing trip to Sri Lanka that created unforgettable memories for the family.