Luxury in the heart of nature at Heritance Kandalama, Dambulla (Sri Lanka)
Those of you know me are aware that when I travel, I don’t tend to stay in luxurious acommodation very much. However, what I love to do is to intersperse basic accommodation with a couple of nights in more comfortable surroundings, as it makes me appreciate the comfort a lot more. So on my recent trip to Sri Lanka, when I was invited to spend a night and day at one of the Heritance hotels, specifically the Kandalama in Dambulla, it presented the perfect occasion to do just that!
Dambulla is one of the three locations that make up the so-called ‘cultural triangle’ (Dambulla, Sigiriya, Anuradhapura). The Heritance Kandalama is a 20-25 minute tuk tuk ride from the centre of town, and was the perfect spot for relaxation and recuperation after some intense sightseeing (Dambulla and Anuradhapura are full of beautiful temples) as well as a 4am hike up Piduranga and Lion Rock for sunrise!
Architecture and facilities
The Heritance Kandalama was constructed by the famous architect Geoffrey Bawa, who also built various beautiful buildings in Colombo (including the Gallery Cafe and the Seema Malakaya Meditation Centre). Nestled amidst the rolling green of Dambulla, it emerges from its surroundings like an alpine lodge, only on a much larger scale. With a huge focus on sustainability, the hotel has been built right into the adjacent rock, without disturbing the foundations. This way, water is still able to flow down the hills into the Kandalama Wewa (the lake), and so the order of nature hasn’t been disrupted. The sides are covered in vines, and the entire building is open to the elements, so you really feel as though you are actually in the forest.
The hotel itself is the pinnacle of luxury. The size is immense (1km from the east to the west wing), and it boasts three pools (infinity, natural, and sport) as well as three restaurants (more on those in a separate post), a gym, a spa, a library, and even a shopping area. Despite all this, it felt incredibly spacious (apart from when we were at dinner, when all the guests congregated to satisfy their appetites)!
We stayed in the deluxe room (the middle of the range), which, in addition to a beautiful balcony overlooking Lion Rock and Piduranga, also included a jacuzzi with a view of the same!
I loved the wood clad panelling in the room, and overall it was minimalist, yet tasteful. I sometimes find that upmarket hotels can be devoid of personality, but this definitely wasn’t the case here, as we felt at home immediately in the rustic, log cabin-like decor. One small flaw was that there were no spare power plugs, so we had to unplug the lamps when we wanted to charge our phones, but this wasn’t much of an annoyance at all.
We also indulged in a short massage at the spa, which was a calm, inviting, and elegant space. The entire experience was meticulously thought through from beginning to end, as we received a ginger/cinnamon drink to start, were taken to the room for the excellent massage, and then received a light snack of refreshing coconut pieces and a cool drink of water at the end. The masseuses were highly skilled, the area was beautifully calm (think rock pools and atmospheric lighting) and if we’d stayed longer, we definitely would have taken advantage of some of their other offerings (everything from facials to body scrubs and a variety of massages).
Normally, when you check into a hotel, you queue up at reception, hand over your documents, and then make your way to your room. Not so at the Kandalama. We arrived in a sputtering tuk tuk, sweaty and dusty, and were immediately given flowers and taken straight to their terrace. A fresh, scented flannel was provided to wipe away the accumulated dust, as well as a choice of fresh juices, and we enjoyed the view, breeze and birdsong before gently being brought the bill and confirmation. After our 4am start, this was exactly the type of welcome we needed, and it set the scene for things to come.
Those things included fulfilling our every need, whether it was clean towels whilst lounging by the pool, a constant supply of the aforementioned flannels, or an unexpected fruit basket delivery midway through the afternoon.
Wildlife and surroundings
I cannot talk about the Kandalama without mentioning the copious wildlife, which was inextricably intertwined with our stay. On our way there, we caught a glimpse of a small Indian mongoose crossing the road in front of our tuk tuk, and when sitting on the terrace, we observed cheeky chipmunks and lazy lizards. We also spotted a monitor lizard creeping around the gardens, and the morning we left, there was even a snake basking by the pool.
Monkeys abound in their hundreds, and though they are fun to observe, you definitely need to watch out, as they will try and steal things off your balcony! We were lucky we’d brought our clothes in as a particularly daring fellow jumped at the window, hoping to get hold of my dress…
The hotel and the wildlife co-exist peacefully most of the time, apart from when a bat flew into one of the fans! We got quite worried, but luckily, one of the staff gently took it back outside and it flew away, seemingly unharmed.
We had breakfast, lunch, and dinner (plus various cocktails) during our stay, but more on this in a separate post …
So, what’s the verdict?
If you’re looking for a luxurious stay when you’re in Sri Lanka, the Heritance Kandalama definitely delivers that and more. I was incredibly impressed with the service and facilities, but the thing that struck me most was its surroundings. When you stay in an upmarket hotel chain, it often doesn’t matter what city or country you’re in – they all seem the same. The Heritance Kandalama, in contrast, is a product of its environment, and the way it integrates into the countryside, plus the second to none view of the lake, Lion Rock, and the surrounding countryside is what made our stay so special. I’d return again without hesitation, and next time, I’ll definitely stay more than one night!
Read more about the rest of my trip to Sri Lanka here.
Rooms at the Heritance Kandalama start from around $120 a night, depending on the room type and dates. We were very lucky guests at the hotel, and received a complimentary overnight stay with half board. We paid for our extra drinks and food, and as always, all opinions are firmly my own.