As we peel open our eyes and peer over our toes, the first rays of the morning sun are peeping over the horizon and setting the tranquil waters of Koggala Lake a glimmer. With the stunning sunrise, the warm morning light spreads across our large, soft bed. Good morning, Tri Lanka. This luxury resort is in the south of Sri Lanka, about a 25-minute drive from the city of Galle, and we’re in the Tri villa, one of the resort’s eight beautifully designed villas. Each of these private oases of calm comes complete with high ceilings, solar-powered hot water and as many sustainable materials as possible, including local granite and recycled wood.
The villas offer views across the rich greens and deep blues of Sri Lanka’s largest lake and some of its 11 islands. Among them is Cinnamon Island, to which Douglas, the resort’s boatman, will ferry you to visit the cinnamon growers and sample the oils, sticks and ground spice they produce. Better yet, taste their products from the menu at Tri—cinnamon iced tea is served poolside, accompanied by cinnamon egg tarts if you’re lucky enough to time it right.
But first, throw open the sliding doors on either side of the villa and, despite the temperature being in the mid-30s, enjoy the breeze as it flows through, cooling the bedroom and lounge area—and dispelling any need to switch on the air-conditioning. Out on the decking on the side of the villa lies a private plunge pool, perfect for a quick dip after an early-morning yoga session with resident yogi Judith Daniel. Judith works closely with Lara, the wife of Tri Lanka owner Rob Drummond; Lara is the founder of Quantum Yoga, a dynamic flowing practice that adopts Ayurvedic principles and which is offered to guests in the form of complimentary group classes.
The session is uplifting and takes place in the breezy yoga room on the top floor of a three-storey building, where you will also find the resort’s spa and steam room, as well as a light and airy library filled with books on everything from the island’s wildlife to its star architect, Geoffrey Bawa, and from fiction by Sri Lankan-born novelist Michael Ondaatje (of The English Patient fame) to cookbooks detailing how you can reproduce some of the country’s culinary delights at home.
Tri’s cuisine is second to none compared to what we experience elsewhere on the island. Executive consultant chef Neil Wager, who also created the menus at Song Saa in Cambodia and Nihiwatu in Indonesia, has joined forces with the kitchen’s two Cambodian chefs and one Sri Lankan chef to come up with a menu that surprises and delights. With its unusual combinations of Western and Sri Lankan ingredients and techniques, and its twists on local specialities, it certainly doesn’t leave you wanting for more.
For breakfast we enjoy curd—the smooth, creamy buffalo yoghurt found throughout Sri Lanka—accompanied by tropical fruit and Lake homemade granola. Freshly baked croissants and bread arrive with a range of jams and spreads, and there’s a small cup of kurakkan porridge. We choose a main dish from a list that includes Sri Lankan egg hoppers (bowl-shaped pancakes with an egg in the centre) and more familiar dishes such as eggs Benedict, here served with smoked mahimahi. One morning there’s even smoked duck for a delicious, albeit rich, start to the day.
Dinner is a six-course affair that should be preceded by an aperitif in the Living Room, a bright and breezy spot above the dining room. The signature spiced beetroot martini with red chilli, ginger, cinnamon and lime is a must before heading down to dinner. One evening we enjoy patha madiya (zebra sole) ceviche, jackfruit nut curry, warm mullet tartare and roasted local pork belly, rounded off with a watalappan panna cotta with watalappan ice cream—a distinctly European take on the popular Sri Lankan coconut custard pudding.
On another night, dinner is Sri Lanka’s signature curry and rice, though it’s so much more than the name suggests. We start with pol roti (coconut flatbread) with cashew butter, followed by red rice and pappadams served with so many accompanying dishes they barely squeeze onto the table. There’s black chicken curry; a mixed vegetable curry with coconut milk; yellow dhal with Sri Lankan cinnamon; and a selection of sambals (raw condiments) and salad.
Meals can be arranged and enjoyed in a variety of locations in the resort: on the jetty to the sounds of the lapping lake water, under the statuesque banyan tree at the heart of the resort, or in the water tower, which is particularly visually striking for the cinnamon branches that cover it. The functioning tower houses an additional three accommodation rooms, above which is a viewing deck with an honesty bar, an excellent spot from which to watch the sun rise or set with a beer or two.
It’s easy to while away the hours in the peaceful resort, but if you tire of the stunning infinity pool—or if you need to work off those delicious meals—you can take a kayak out on the lake, or cycle around nearby villages and beaches. Enjoy a light lunch on your return—there’s an excellent Sri Lankanstyle sushi platter that, like every dish, is presented as if it were a work of art.
No detail has been overlooked at Tri Lanka, from a layout based on the spiral of the Fibonacci sequence, which elicits feelings of harmony and calm, to the commitment to sustainability and the incorporation of local elements that celebrate the resort’s surroundings—and the culture of Sri Lanka.
(Text by Rachel Duffell)