An idyllic island encircled by the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea, Sri Lanka is exciting, exotic and extremely beautiful.
Step off the plane and enter a world where spaghetti-style cables link up towns and villages, and monkeys, wild dogs and tropical birds make up the population in the most remote countryside locations.
You can go here for the surf, for the food, for an escape or for endless exploring.
It’s a vast country and some of the chaotic, winding roads make for slightly challenging travel arrangements – but that’s all part of the fun, right?
We’ve had our eyes on the beautiful, cross-country rail routes of Sri Lanka for some time, but this trip is all about hitting the roads – cruising through the quaint villages to get from one unique destination to the other.
Wilde & Co. are the brains behind our Sri Lankan super break. And as the name suggests, it’s all about getting to grips with the wild side. Their ethos is based on heritage, wildlife and wellness – and the three properties in our itinerary each reflect those values.
The first stop on our Sri Lankan escapade is Rukgala Retreat – ‘The Shelter on a Rock’. Sitting in a serene spot on the shores of the Victoria Lake near Kandy – a quaint and colourful city set on a plateau surrounded by beautiful mountains – Rukgala is a place that puts you first.
A yoga retreat, a wellness break, and an escape from routine. Guests can go here for some of the best yoga you’ll find on the island, the most spectacular rolling countryside, the finest traditional Sri Lankan cooking mixed with contemporary veggie and vegan ideas, and general feel-good living.
The scenery doesn’t get much better than this. The house sits on a hill in a pretty undisturbed part of the country. Natural beauty is at the heart of everything at Rukgala. It’s an escape in the hills and you’re sure to get that feel-good glow after spending some time here.
Whether you’re a thrill-seeker or a down-timer, there’s plenty to keep you going. Relax on the terrace and get lost in a novel, paddleboard your way around the Victoria Lake, or stretch it out with the lovely Emma in the outdoor yoga studio, hidden within the trees by the pool.
Rukgala was born out of an idea to transform an old house into the ultimate sanctuary in the mountains. It offers eight guest bedrooms with perfectly peaceful views out over the trees and lake.
It’s definitely an escape from the everyday – and a must for anyone looking for good-for-the-soul downtime in a good-for- the-soul environment.
Feeling fully refreshed after our healthy yoga retreat at Rukgala, we’re heading up and over the mountains towards the glorious Gal Oya National Park.
In the arms of nature, Gal Oya Lodge opens up the wonders of the untouched national park to the east of the island.
Cast away in the jungle, hidden beneath Monkey Mountain, you’ll find this African- inspired retreat – worlds away from anything we have ever experienced before.
It’s a place to immerse oneself in the solace of nature. A digital detox with absolutely no compromise on luxury living and home comforts.
Yes, you might find yourself on creature watch as you’re guided from the main lodge to your jungle abode, but the on-site wildlife experts are on hand at all times to ensure your stay is a relaxing and enjoyable one – albeit educational and intriguing (they’re the first to share animal or reptile sightings with you, if you wish).
An overgrown track brings you to Gal Oya’s unassuming entrance, a wooden sculpture, where you’re greeted by smiling faces.
A lantern-lit pathway leads you to the lodge – boasting the most breathtaking backdrop we’ve seen. A peaceful swimming pool sitting at the foot of a spectacular mountain; we’re certain this spot has been taken straight out of a film set.
On this occasion, we’re lucky enough to be sharing our eco lodge with no other humans, but plenty of other creatures. There are eyes on you at all times – whether it’s the very attentive staff, Whisky and Arrack the resident pooches on constant guard, or the many animals living in their natural habitats amongst us.
Surrounded by lush greenery, rice fields and a handful of humble abodes (some housing the last remaining communities of the Veddha people – the forest-dwelling, indigenous people of Sri Lanka), you really are at one with nature here. And there’s no place quite like it.
Our jungle hideaway under the trees is tranquil and tastefully designed, with eco-friendly materials aplenty. Dark wooden decor, a thatched roof, four-poster bed and your very own safari-style terrace out front.
You don’t have to go far to get to grips with the Sri Lankan wildlife. You’re living with it.
A personal favourite is our alfresco bathroom. Luxurious, no-nasties toiletries, a bamboo shoot sink we’re dreaming of adding to our not-so-eco bathroom back home, and the sun beating down on you as you freshen up for the day ahead. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t do a full bathroom scan before entering – especially during the night – but that’s all part of the wilderness fun. And by day two, we’re well and truly at home here. What creatures?
There are all kinds of on-site and off-site activities available from the lodge, and the team are more than happy to guide you on your way – or even join you for the day on your wildlife adventures.
Home to the Jim Edwards Wildlife Research Centre, the guys are constantly collecting new information for the Sri Lankan Wildlife Trust.
Our personal guide, teacher, friend and inspiring companion, Achintha, is an absolute joy to listen to. He tells us of his education, his childhood in buzzy Colombo, and the research being carried out from the on-site wildlife centre.
There are sightings of elephants aplenty here – as well as crocodiles, reptiles, deer and some of the most interesting birds of prey. Leopards are rare, but can be found in the Gal Oya National Park. Achintha shows us footage of recent sightings in the mountains.
A local wildlife walk to the nearby lake is an absolute must – led by the lodge’s experts, and most importantly, our canine guide – Arrack. Those looking for a truly unique wildlife experience must organise the boat safari trip in the Gal Oya National Park. Early risers depart from the lodge in a safari jeep, stopping off as nature awakes along the way.
A 30-minute journey brings us to the lake – the biggest in Sri Lanka. Hop on board a safari boat on the lake’s edge and you’re taken on a journey of discovery.
Crocs dock up on the banks, eyes peering out at us as we pass by; elephants bathe between islands; and rare birds glide through the treetops.
A real highlight is our picnic breakfast on a rock, as we watch elephants bathe within a stone’s throw. Fresh fruit, yoghurt, sandwiches and tea – all provided by our chums at Gal Oya Lodge – enjoyed in the most spectacular setting.
Definitely living on the wild side. The third leg of our journey takes us back towards Kandy and into the foothills of the Knuckles Mountains, for a traditional Sri Lankan ‘teatox’ at Ashburnham Estate – an authentic escape in the heart of Sri Lanka’s ‘Cultural Triangle’.
Helter-skelter-style roads will bring you to this quintessential estate oozing with British charm. Set within a working tea plantation, beautiful waterfalls and hazy, far-reaching views across the mountains, you’re in the perfect place to get lost in a book and sip copious amounts of tea.
It’s a little cooler in the hills, so we’re found dining on the terrace in blankets, sipping G&T by the crackling fire in the lounge, and chasing waterfalls after sunrise.
Life is simple here.
A Sri Lankan hopper breakfast (a full English wrapped neatly in a crisp, egg nest) sets us up nicely for a morning exploring the cascades, plunge pools and waterfalls – all within easy reach of the house.
You have these natural beauties to yourself when staying at Ash, and we just can’t get enough of them. A dip in the plunge pool, followed by a cascade picnic and a wander to the waterfall. Perfect. Finish with a hike back up to the top, through the glorious green tea fields, where afternoon tea is served on a hilltop. You may even spot some monkeys swinging in the trees along the way.
Dinner is served out on the terrace. A mix of traditional Sri Lankan dishes and British favourites. The Sri Lankan curries seal the deal for us. Oh-so vibrant and full of flavour.
Our hosts, Vish and Nadan, know the estate like the back of their hands, and they’ll look after you with big grins from start to finish – arranging picnics, off-the-grid adventures, cooking classes and as much tea as you can consume!
Our final day trip takes us on a tea tour with estate manager, Mr Das – learning everything there is to know about the island’s best-loved crop. Here you’ll hear all about the crop-to-cup journey the delicious hot tipples you’ve been sipping on the estate have been on. We meet with the local tea pickers, have a go ourselves and enjoy a proper tea-tasting experience in the ‘Tea Hut’.
From yogi detox and wildlife beneath the rocks, to a traditional Sri Lankan ‘teatox’, Wilde & Co.’s property portfolio is sure to send you on your way to a wild and wonderful stay in the most spectacular country.
Sri Lanka is a place best-loved for its crashing waves, rolling beaches, sweeping palm trees and oodles of elephants; but step off the beaten track a little and you’ll find some of the finest culture and countryside in South Asia.