Sri Lanka is a place where dreams are the stuff of daily life. All those pristine, white powder beaches, boat outings on the Indian Ocean for spying Free Willy, plus 15km hikes in misty tea-plantation land, drinking fresh coconuts at the side of the road with locals, and visiting temples with live elephants at the entrance. My list could go on. But after all that – not to mention the hustle and bustle of the nearby villages – it’s time for some downtime and R&R.
Hidden away at the southernmost tip of the island and at the end of a long driveway is Anantara Peace Haven Tangelle Resort. Is this where we’re going to find peace and a haven?
We (that’s me and my mum) are greeted by a smiling man sporting a colourful traditional costume, yellow hat and beard. We enter the resort across a moat-like pond (they’ve put a stone path to walk across it). Then we’re greeted by women – in traditional Sinhalese dress – banging drums and singing. As if that’s not welcome enough, we’re given a dee-licious chilled coconut juice fresh off the tree. YUM! That’s some welcome. (Do you get how much I like coconut water?)
The next thing I notice is that the resort boasts two huge pools (a mere 25 metres, I find out later) the one stepping down to the other. And it overlooks rocks and a stretch of white sandy beach. We’re driven to our villa in a golf buggy. Even these days at the age of 22, whizzing around pretending to be Mario Kart (a video game in which players compete in go-kart racing) is still a highpoint of any holiday, and always has been.
The resort has three types of room, or for those of you (like us) looking for your own little pad with all the amenities a top hotel has to offer, there are villas, including our Garden Pool Villa. A perfect little hideaway. Think home away from home. Actually, the TV has a better selection of movies, TV shows and radio stations than our Sky HD box at home.
I paddle around in our own private (rather large) plunge pool in between sunbathing sessions, then sit back and relax at the pool’s edge, then have a delicious bath overlooking the garden. I say ‘delicious’ because you should see the number of ingredients they offer for the best ever bath: oils, mega tub, view of aforementioned palm filled garden at the end of which there’s a small stream. Frankly I’m not the sort to say this kind of thing but, well, the sound of chirping birds, and the odd monkey scampering past make this all ever so picturesque.
We also have a private butler who is always at our villa within nanoseconds of being called, ready to spoil us like the travelling princesses that we are, be it help with the TV, another order of yummy macaroons, or a ride to dinner. It turns out that the staff really make our holiday. They’re charming and go more than out of their way to ensure we’re enjoying our stay. And then there’s Ross, the general manager for whom nothing is too much trouble.
There is also a guy who pops up in our villa garden every morning or afternoon. He is topless and wears a simple sarong around his waist. He walks about carrying a rope and a big knife. He’s not a psycho on the prowl. He’s the resort’s resident Coconut Man. A hotel with a man whose sole job role it is to climb up the trees, get me a fresh coconut and deliver it to me within a couple of minutes? You’ve got to agree that that’s good customer service! The absolute dream! (Umm, we’re back on coconut juice, aren’t we?)
Reluctantly we leave – let me rephrase that, reluctantly I leave – the tip-top villa to set off around the property. But I’ve soon forgotten the villa in a blaze of excitement. After all, it turns out that there are sun beds in the shallow part of the resort pool – can you imagine anything better? Too hot and sweaty? Splash some water over yourself. Skin drying out in the sun? Splash some water over yourself. And most of all you avoid that awkward jumping around like a jack-in-the-box routine: at least it’s what I do when legging it to my sun bed from the pool whilst burning my soles on the piping hot tiles! There are also swings hanging off trees over the resort’s own little river, a prime Instagram spot for us millennials. I mean if you didn’t snap it did it ever happen?
Next comes an outing with Edi the resort’s nature whizz who knows more about wildlife and nature than Willy Wonka does about chocolate. Edi shows us everything from different types of orchids to a zillion other natural wonders and those tiny plants with leaves that close up when you touch them. At my grand old age of two decades plus two years, I’m still fascinated by this magic trick just as much as when I was 10 years old. After an hour’s nature trail without even leaving the grounds of the resort, we wander over to the seashore with Edi. We sit under a palm tree and notice these little shells (that turn out to be BIG shells) popping up above the water every few minutes. “Turtles!” cries Edi, just as excited as we are.
After our nature tour with Edi, we opt for an active life. (Even though there’s a golf buggy and chauffeur, well, butler at our disposal.) If walking multiple steps every day around the resort is not enough, the well-kitted-out gym is open 24 hours a day. That’s for after a surfing lesson, of course. Actually, I’m just joking. In reality I go for the R&R approach to resort living. I go everywhere by chauffer-driven buggy. And after a tiring day of sunbathing, I pop into their spa for an informative consultation with their resident Ayurvedic doctor. They also offer everything from a massage (great to help beat the ghastly jet lag) to an invigorating scrub or a facial.
What else? The resort boasts three restaurants, which is a wonderful surprise for me after having eaten curry three times a day for the past four weeks. The Italian restaurant, Il Mare, serves the freshest bread, pizzas with perfectly thin crusts, homemade pasta and heaps more. I am all for sticking to local cuisine when travelling, but not when there’s a restaurant with an Italian chef like theirs.
Our mouths nearly hit the floor at breakfast. Journeys – another of their restaurants – has a buffet that goes on for miles. There’s an array of the usual continental choices, and local dishes like Hoppers (imagine a rice pancake in the shape of a bowl served with shredded coconut and a fried egg), plus every type of tropical fruit you can imagine and more, fresh waffles and a pastry section that would give any leading London patisserie a run for its money. Afterwards if we crave Teppanyaki with a Sri Lankan twist, Verala, is the place to go. This Telletubby-style (architecturally speaking) restaurant is next to the resort’s river, overlooks the ocean, and is the perfect spot for a light lunch. That is, if ever we fancy dragging ourselves away from those sun beds in the pool.
Sadly, like all holidays, this one comes to an end. But after checking out, we’re suddenly greeted by the three women who welcomed us upon arrival. They put out their hands and as they begin to chant, we’re told that we need to place our hands on theirs. It is a traditional way of saying goodbye, to wish the traveller a safe journey. You know what? It works. And does the resort live up to its name? Yes, it’s a haven. And yes, it offers peace. I cannot wait until our next visit.
Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle Resort, Goyambokka Estate, Tangalle 82200, Sri Lanka
Tel: +94 34 722 6060
The easiest way to get to the resort is by private car transfer from Colombo Airport. A one-way transfer from/to airport is USD 250/GBP £178 and the rather scenic journey takes about 3 ¼ hours. You can also reach the resort by seaplane on Cinnamon Air to Dikwella.
Type of Hotel: 5-Star Resort Hotel
Number of Rooms: 152 rooms and pool villas (including accommodation for differently abled guests), plus complimentary Wi-Fi and 3 restaurants – Italian, International and Teppanyaki with a Sri Lankan Flair.
Price Band: Medium to high, starting from USD 306/GBP £218 per room per night inclusive of taxes including breakfast for 2 people for the lead in (Premier Beach Access) in low season. Starting from USD 562/GBP £400 per room per night inclusive of taxes including breakfast for 2 people for the premium category (Garden Pool Villa) in low season. Click here for special offers.
Insider Tip: Try to bag a villa with a plunge pool and go on a nature trail with Edi.
Reviewer’s Rating: 9/10
London-based Anya Braimer Jones writes about travel, interned at MailOnline and has been published in publications from The Telegraph and Family Traveller to the Luxury Channel. She’s a whizz at social media and has also dabbled in Public Relations.
Photographs courtesy of Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle Resort