Ever since the southern coast of Sri Lanka has appeared on the radar of the luxury traveller, it is being touted by industry insiders as the most stylish luxury travel destination in the region. Given the emergence of numerous trendy cafes and bars within Galle’s heritage Dutch fort, or the string of boutique hotels, surf schools and beach clubs mushrooming along the coast, it comes as no surprise that the southern coastal area of Sri Lanka is now all set to welcome the world’s well-heeled, discerning travellers. However, lately, all eyes have been glaring in the direction of Hambantota, in the far south of the island nation. Shangri-La’s Hambantota Resort & Spa, an opulent, design-heavy haven of luxury has recently opened up to rave reviews just outside the coastal town of Hambantota. The launch of this massive 300-room luxury project corresponds to the opening up of Hambantota has Sri Lanka’s major international port and an upcoming luxury destination. Be that as it may, the Shangri-La in Hambantota has beautifully integrated its offering into the Sri Lankan context, from its design to its sustainability efforts and even its cuisine.
Where is it?
Luxury travellers seeking isolation and remote spaces might have just found and answer in Shangri-La’s Hambantota resort, as it is located, or shall we say, tucked away in a breathtakingly isolated part of the country, which has been relatively undiscovered by tourists. While Hambantota is emerging as a swanky new port city in Sri Lanka, it has always enjoyed historic importance dating back to the days of the spice route. Following a four-hour drive from Colombo, speeding down the Colombo-Matara expressway, and then meandering through the coastal heartland till you reach the palm fringed coast of Hambantota, you drive through the massive gates of the resort. The resort is located close to two of the country’s best national parks – Bundala National Park and Yala National Park, in the elephant and leopard belt of Sri Lanka.
I get a first taste of the exclusive factor with a made-to-measure meal, served at a beautifully dressed table, under the night sky, at a far corner of the resort. Dine By Design, is a fabulous on-demand meal concept, for guests seeking a meal in complete privacy, under the night sky. By day, the resort comes alive It is located on a coconut grove – which probably explains the abundance of coconut palms standing all around with almost geometric precision – and is spread across 53 acres of lush greenery, fringed by a breathtaking, virgin beach. As you move around, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the natural beauty that surrounds you, a blend of greenery, white sands and azure waters. You will even be greeted by the resident peacocks and harmless monitor lizards patrolling the resort grounds. Each of the resorts 300 rooms – and 21 suites – bear the leitmotif of the elephant, which has been subtly incorporated into the muted, understated décor. Indigenous elements like coconuts and wood have been cleverly integrated into the design of the rooms, thus giving a sense of contrast. The room views range from ocean and swimming pool to lagoons and golf course. There are three swimming pools to choose from, one for families with kids, one for adults and the third, the lagoon pool, perfect for couples and overlooking the sunset point.
The resort has gorgeous food and beverage outlets that dot every little corner – from the all-day dining Bojunhala to the Gimanhala gallery for afternoon tea, or even Sera, which serves up Asian street food favourites for dinner.
With wellness being a very important part of the Shangri-La’s global offering, this resort’s Chi spa is largely inspired by Ayurvedic wellness traditions, that have thrived in this region for centuries. The spa itself is quite spectacularly designed with a relaxation lounge surrounded by a pond, leading to the outdoor treatment rooms.
In an attempt to promote local artisans and encourage sustainability, the Shangri-La has even set up an artisan village at one end of the resort. Each artisan is given a village-style cottage, where they can work to showcase their crafts, which could range from sculpture and painting to weaves and pottery, making for a unique travel experience.
From a golf buggy, driving across rolling landscapes, I discover Sri Lanka’s first 18-hole resort golf course. Wonderfully situated, framed by palm trees, sandy beaches, the ocean and green sprawls, this par-70 course has been designed by Rodney Wright. The course is visually breathtaking and is divided into three landscaped zones – coconut pavilion, the dune area with fabulous views of the Indian Ocean and the Sapphire Mine with its water bodies. Amateur guests can opt for a quick golf discovery lesson, while pros can play at leisure. With this, Shangri-La’s Hambantota Resort & Spa is well on its way to establishing southern Sri Lanka as a serious golf destination.
Shangri-La’s Hambantota Resort & Spa, Ambalantota, Sri Lanka
Getting There: Four-hours drive from Colombo. Alternately, Cinnamon Air offers scheduled flights between Colombo and Hambantota airport, which is half an hour away from the resort.
Day Trip: Be sure to visit the Elephant Transit Home in Udawalawe National Park, a rehabilitation centre for orphaned elephants. A safari through the national park is a must do, to spot exotic birds and elephants.