I first visited Sri Lanka about five years ago when tourism only started to boom. A few years later and the country has seen and unstoppable increase in the number of visitors.
Today, even when booking three months in advance, some of the luxury boutique properties are full even for just a night, despite the nightly rates are above $500. Sri Lanka has perfectly mastered the focus on eco-friendly and boutique properties which are able to command a serious premium. Ulagalla Resort, in the ancient northern city of Anuradhapura, was one of these.
Part of the Uga Escapes boutique hotels in Sri Lanka, Ulagalla is a fabulous property hidden between a lake and rice paddies. Formerly a mansion house built 150 years ago, the hotel’s noble past is visible through the architecture and rich wooden carvings.
Arriving was like entering a friend’s summer holiday home. The manicured lawn, the frangipani trees and the giant blue pool were only topped by the smiley face of the staff greeting us. As soon as got off the car I knew we were going to be treated like royalty were at the peak of Anuradhapura’s splendor.
After the grand entrance we were directed to a large bell which we had to ring by pulling a string. Twice. So the entire resort knew new guests had arrived. We also lit two oil lamps and got a photo taken.
The main lobby area was where the restaurant and bar were. Check-in was quick and we enjoyed a beautiful drink as Francisco, the General Manager came to welcome us on one of the wide wooden sofas. He greets every guest arriving and departing. Like I said, like being at a friend’s house.
A buggy was quick to escort us to our room, one of the most romantic spots I have ever slept in.
The resort had 20 rooms all of which were scattered around the bright green rice paddies growing in the middle of the property. One of the rooms was double, for families, and came with a larger pool. Most of the rooms, including ours, had a plunge pool with jets.
Seclusion was the word at Ulagalla. The rooms were large, 850 sqf, and came with an outdoor area where the pool, sun loungers and a table with chairs were. Large tree branches cascaded over the sun loungers. There was also a verandah wrapping around the bedroom.
Inside, every part of it was simply perfect. The bedroom had glass windows on two of the corner walls but privacy was guaranteed by the thick foliage and the fact that the rooms were all facing away from each other. The feeling of walking into our luxury treehouse as the sun was setting was utterly romantic.
The four poster bed had draping to provide an added sense of being in a cocoon. There were candles in the bathroom and the views from the shower were the same as from the bedroom: the tropical jungle.
The living room was bigger than the bedroom with a U-shaped sofa and more glass walls. We were going to sleep under the watchful eye of the birds and the monkeys and it was going to be divine. How could we ever get out of bed in the morning? We texted our driver to leave two hours later the following morning. The perfection of Ulagalla had to be enjoyed.
As soon as we sat down for check in I spotted the tables being set up under the stars by the lit pool. I inquired with Francisco who was slightly alarmed at the short notice but promised to get back to us with the last minute request.
Unsurprisingly, he manage to organize a dinner under the stars, by the pool, also for us. An hour and one margarita later we were enjoying a bottle of Merlot under the clear Sri Lankan skies.
The resort can also organize private diners at other locations. The most beautiful one must be the raised platform called The observatory set to face the rice paddies and the setting sunset. The opportunity to share meal in the complete solitude of your partner’s conversation is not to be missed.
The main restaurant was located above the lobby area and had lovely views over the swimming pool. All meals were served there including the a la carte breakfast. Pre-orders of egg hoppers the night before should also go on the list of must try.
Thankfully, Ulagalla also offered king coconuts, the necessary accessory for a tropical getaway. The Half board package was good value.
The facilities and activities
The main pool was huge. It was almost as long as it was wide and it could easily fit all the guests, not that I would want to see that. There were sun loungers, a bright green lawn and the spa for a massage after a long day’s hike around Anuradhapura. The gardens had a swing and a hammock too.
The main lobby area was a great place to just be laze around with a drink. A mixture of old and new, colonial and modern, this was a building that could almost talk about tales of power and love. Under the main bar was the wine cellar, visible through the glass roof which was the bar’s floor. Monkeys chased each other as we relaxed.
There was archery on site, horses for riding and kayaks to paddle along the lake that adjacent to the resort. Each room was provided with bicycles to ride around the property although buggies were at hand to fetch guests around. And of course, the hotel organized tours of Anuradhapura and the surrounding ancient sites which is the main reason most guests come to the hotel.
It was hard to find any reason to leave the rooms, despite Anuradhapura’s greatness.
Francisco made the place feel smaller and even more personal than it already was but the entire staff were friendly and courteous. The room turn down service staff was so incredibly friendly that his smile was contagious with just a simple “I will come later”.
One has to come to Ulagalla without any impatience or rush, life must be enjoyed at the rhythm of a tropical country. Perhaps the breakfast eggs will take longer than one would wish for but it is all in good measure and part of the resort’s ploy to ensure everyone is relaxed and disconnected.
At the time of writing, TripAdvisor reviews revealed not a single Average, Poor or Terrible review, all of the 500 reviewers gave it a 4 or 5 star with Very Good or Excellent scores. Ulagalla exceeded expectations and was one of those places one wishes time stood still. Remember that photo we took upon check-in? We got it printed and in a branded frame upon our departure. Talk about attention to detail.
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