A peacock struts across a living roof of verdant local grasses and creepers, atop a stylish villa next to mine at Tri resort. Launched two months ago, the 11-suite lakeside property is the cutting edge of the new Sri Lankan hospitality, which is flourishing in a time of peace after the government vanquished the revolutionary Tamil Tigers in 2009, and after the 2004 tsunami.
There is a “hidden-ness” to chic retreats such as Tri, which is perched on a secluded, 3.5ha plot on the shores of Lake Koggala in southern Sri Lanka.
A dhoni – a small wooden vessel – gently transports our party of four over the country’s largest lake to the resort, where I spend two nights and experience it as a restful mini-destination, designed to mirror nature’s Golden Ratio spiral. This is seen in the whorls of nautilus shells, pine cones and galaxies.
Owner Robert Drummond, 49, an Oxford-schooled green warrior who cycles to the resort, welcomes us at lunch. Much like the resort, our lunch is contemporary with a Sri Lankan twist. Street food such as hoppers (crepes with crispy edges made from a batter of rice flour and coconut milk) are topped with beetroot curry or prawns netted from the lake. Sushi is elegantly served with Sri Lankan herbs or barbecued green jackfruit; the soya sauce is picked up with a paintbrush.
A cinnamon-clad Water Tower housing a water tank is the heart of the resort, and villas spiral out from it. Somehow, the aesthetics are subtly appealing as the spiral is so inherent in nature. We walk up the tower in bare feet, enjoying the textures under our feet, and cool down on the rooftop with sundowners. My favourite is cold cinnamon tea tinged with drops of lime and syrup.
Cocooned in another structure is a spa, glass-encased library and airy yoga studio, where Drummond’s German wife, Lara, teaches quantum yoga. I get a Thai massage here from young New Zealander Nik Robson, a wandering yoga instructor who was a semiprofessional footballer in Orlando – it is all a swirl of global currents at Tri..
The next morning, we take a 5.30am boat ride. At one point, we have the muted gold of the sunrise, double rainbows over our villas and a storm on the other side of the lake – everything is happening, yet it is tranquil. Another time, we visit Cinnamon Island on the lake. A farmer cuts a long branch from a century-old cinnamon tree on his family plot. He scrapes off the moist bark and says it will dry for three weeks. It can be made into an oil that is a folksy cure for headaches, or used for a scented bath that smells of Christmas.
Further afield, we drive into Galle, which reminds me of Malacca, but with Moorish elements. The kindly owner of Ibrahim Jewellers shows us fine sapphires in cornflower and all hues of blue. We do a walking tour with an insider, Shahira Ifthikar, 48, and step into the elitist, no-frills Galle Library. Set up by the British as Asia’s first lending library in 1832, the tiny institution ironically has a closed membership of 121 local luminaries including the governor.
Galle looks peaceful today and it is a little unreal when Ifthikar recounts the story of how she survived the 2004 tsunami. Her resilience is mirrored in the restored city, where the walls of the Galle Fort, built in 1588 by the Portuguese, stand strong. I love walking along the top of it, with its ocean view and air of liberation.
Back at the resort, on our last evening, we sample spicy martinis designed by a London food consultant – I also like a theatrical arak sour veiled in smoke. Drummond, a British photographer who has lived in Sri Lanka for 13 years, is a perfectionist who has not found “the right kettle” yet for his villas. In that moment, as talk turns to artistry and how Tri is changing the game, life feels sweet and the possibilities for creativity stretch before us.
Adapted from The Sunday Times: THREE LUXE RESORT DESTINATIONS IN SRI LANKA TO VISIT