It’s more than fair to expect tourists to visit Sri Lanka for its beaches. It’s an island after all. However, venture just a fraction further inland and not only can you avoid the crowds, but you’ll be rewarded with misty mountains, unchartered jungles and wildlife you’d only expect to see on television. Places to stay? Glad you asked. I recently checked out Palmstone Retreat in Kithulgala; a place you’ve possibly not heard of until now.
Kithulgala deserves more fame than it currently enjoys. It’s where the seven Academy Award winning epic war movie The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) was filmed. The said bridge was built over Kelani River which runs through Kithulgala. Take a boat ride anywhere along it and locals will proudly point out the exact location of the bridge before its explosion in the final scenes.
With a Hollywood-worthy backdrop, Palmstone Retreat sits in the heart of Kithulgala three hours away from Colombo. It’s enclosed by a cold stream, waterfalls and jungle. The road leading up to it is half built and we soon found ourselves on a rocky jungle path up a mountain. Arrive at the hotel and the heady heat, the treacherous road (or lack thereof) are soon forgotten. Palmstone Retreat in all its glory is an oasis of space, light and tranquility. Soaring jungle trees taller than buildings surround it. Tropical flowers around a neatly manicured lawn and bird calls and butterflies fill the air. The sprawling lobby leads straight out to the pool via a communal dining area; no secrets here.
Privacy is saved for the six astonishingly beautiful suites set within the hotel grounds in the jungle. In the evening pathways are lit to lead guests to their suites. Three Araliya Suites come complete with dark wooden floors, glass front view of the surroundings and your own Jacuzzi. The three Nelum Suites, also with beautiful wooden floors, offer a panoramic view of the stream that runs along the property. I have it on good authority that many repeat guests take the same suites each year and often barely leave the suite. Spend five minutes here and you’ll understand why.
The hotel is family owned and the service definitely reflects that. Staff are incredibly courteous and helpful. The swimming pool is inviting, and any number of snacks and drinks can be ordered poolside if you wish to spend your day by it. The restaurant serves a delicious à la carte menu of local and international cuisine and no request is too much. After dinner you can choose to retire upstairs to the private lounge with a full-size snooker table and seating area or take a walk around the grounds.
For the more adventurous amongst us the hotel has an array of activities to choose from. My favourite was a hike up to Belilena Cave where the earliest skeletal remains of a human in Sri Lanka, were found. The cave, although of immense historic importance, remains unprotected with staggering views over Kithulgala. Getting there and back through a jungle village, past curious children and villagers was priceless.
White water rafting along the Kelani River, retracing the steps of one of Hollwood’s great movie makers too is highly recommended. The river runs through little hamlets on either side connected by perilous looking foot bridges. Towards the end of the experience the raft simply floated along in the calm water and my companion and my guide both jumped into the water for a swim.
A second hike to a secret waterfall remains unforgettable. We trekked through the jungle over boulders and along streams to arrive there for an afternoon tea picnic. A steady stream of water plunged down over a series of vertical rocks and collected in a huge pool at the bottom. We spent an entire afternoon here swimming and marvelling at the rugged beauty of it all. I was awestruck when tiny brightly coloured fish swam up to my feet as I sat on the edge sipping my tea.
If trekking and rafting seem too taxing, Palmstone Retreat provides an excellent birdwatching experience which is decidedly popular with guests. Staff have over fifty species of endemic birds recorded around the hotel grounds. Guests are encouraged to add to their list. Pre-booking this experience is kindly suggested.
With high-end hospitality, intense privacy, fine dining, historic sites and extraordinary natural beauty, Palmstone Retreat is the perfect remedy for city living. It’s a side of Sri Lanka that I’m certain won’t remain unchartered for very long. I urge you to get here before everyone else does.
Palmstone Retreat, Koskanuwala Watta, Mahabage, Kithulgala, Sri Lanka.
Tel: + 94 76 799 3199 / +94 36 493 2111
The resort is located in the small town of Kitulgala in the south west of Sri Lanka and a two to three-hour drive by car from Colombo.
Type of Hotel: Small Luxury Hotel
Number of Rooms: 6 double suites
Price Band: Medium with double suites start from US$ 200 per night.
Insider Tip: Transfers to Palmstone can be pre booked with the hotel. The hotel is also excellent for honeymooners.
Reviewer’s Rating: 10/10
Demi Perera was born and raised for part of her life in Sri Lanka. She loves the open road, prefers the mountains over beaches and loves reading. Demi writes about two of her passions – food and wine.
Photographs courtesy of Palmstone Retreat