Out of the city I start to notice things. Stars at night, the freshness of the air; the way coconut trees, tall and thin, slant left with the wind. I begin to notice silence broken only by sounds like the waves crashing against the shore as I drift into sleep. At least, this is the case at the serene Saman Villas.
The 27-suite resort lies in Benota, Sri Lanka, about an hour and a half south of Colombo near a small fishing village called Athuruwella. Hugging the southwest coastline, the entire property is oriented toward spectacular ocean views with near-deserted beaches on either side. The five-star Saman Villas, which opened in 1995 and has been continually upgrading since, pioneered the luxury boutique concept in Sri Lanka and serves as an indulgent couples retreat. The resort even offers a range of specially tailored wedding packages on the grounds and surrounding beaches.
I am staying in a Deluxe Suite with a small grass courtyard and private infinity pool that looks out onto the choppy waters. The suite is on the ground level of a two-storey villa; the top floor occupied by a separately booked Superior Suite that looks down onto the courtyard. If you’d prefer exclusivity, the Saman Villa Suite gives guests private access to a villa with two levels of luxury.
Deluxe Suite with a private pool | Katie Milton
Sunbeds by the pool, an outdoor terrace, tropical interiors and fresh frangipanis laid on the bed each morning and night combine to create the perfect island escape. But the real star of the suite is the open-air bathroom featuring a large white tub and lavish rainwater shower. Sunlight streaming directly onto my face, I indulge in a shower so long that my hands are pruned when I finally step out.
On my way to breakfast I walk through the outdoor reception and a woman in a traditional sari greets me. Hands together at her chest, she bows and says “Ayubowan”, a Sri Lankan greeting that wishes long life. The same greeting is given each time I pass. Saman Villas employs more than 100 staff and each of them is attentive, welcoming and skilled, and anticipate my every need.
Housed beneath a wooden roof on the headland, the restaurant lies at the heart of the property. The architecture has been modelled on Sri Lankan temples and the walls are retractable glass windows that, for the most part, remain entirely open. I’ve never been one for solo travel – it’s the eating alone that makes me most uncomfortable – but at Saman Villas, overlooking the showpiece infinity pool that spills into the ocean below, I am not fazed. Private dining locations perched cliffside or over the main pool and lit by a path of lanterns are also available on request.
After two days here I have started to look forward to the daily three-course breakfasts. I forgo muesli and waffles and instead decide on kola kenda, a green Sri Lankan herbal porridge served with a cube of palm sugar to nibble on after each sip. This is followed by traditional egg hoppers, wispy, crepe-like bowls made from fermented rice flour, coconut milk, coconut water and a little sugar that have been fried in a wok with an egg cooked in the base. Small bowls of fish curry, dahl, and tempered spicy onion are served alongside, all of which I spoon generously into the crepe casing. While the restaurant serves a variety of Eastern, Western and traditional Sri Lankan cuisine, it’s finest is definitely it’s native.
Egg hoppers with fish curry, dahl and tempered onion | Katie Milton
The onsite Sahana Spa is set at the end of a boardwalk suspended above a water garden. I remove my shoes before I enter and am greeted at the blue-washed shutter doors by my masseuse. The two-villa treatment spa is spread between gardens and little ponds, stone pavers leading the way across water from the treatment room to the outdoor jacuzzi and day bed. I undress and lay down on the outdoor treatment bed, the spare bed beside me a subtle reminder that I am alone at a couple’s retreat.
Touted to relieve pain, increase memory, improve circulation and promote a feeling of wellbeing, I emerge 85 minutes later, floating. The blue lotus oil that has been massaged through my hair is made by Kemara, a local producer of organic healing solutions, and seems to have worked its magic.
For guests who want to venture further than their lush villa and private pool, the team at Saman offers a variety of day tours and activities through the surrounding village and the UNESCO-listed heritage town Fort Galle. The stops on the tour are comprised of local tourist haunts like the Kosgoda Turtle Conservation Project and a moonstone mine garden. The cars are sourced from local transport providers. On a bike ride through the lush marshlands of Athuruwella my guide points out the local village school which Saman Villas has made numerous donations to, including English training programs, computer facilities and fabric for school uniforms.
Herein lies Saman Villas’ true beauty; its operational model, not entirely self-serving but rather based on a symbiotic relationship with the village community in which it resides.