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Trailing Amanwella – The State of Nirvana in Tangalle, Sri Lanka

This luxurious tropical, minimal retreat greets you with the blissful views of bowing palms, endless beach and blue ocean. What follows after is indescribable…

LF Says: ★★★★★

Amanwella Tangalle Sri Lanka

During the deadliest natural disaster in recorded history, the 2004 tsunami swept off the entire southernmost town of Sri Lanka – Tangalle. Two decades later, the beach haven has rebuilt itself into a serene spot as a paradise for laid back travellers. Tangalle is less visited than the cliched tourist areas and does have its own charm. The sleepy fishing port and its dwellers live a slow, unhurried life. And now, the picturesque town is kicking it up a notch, with the arrival of big-name luxury beach resorts to its seductive, palm-tree-lined shores.

Just before when the country reached its turmoil state of economic crisis in mid-March, I reached Colombo, the capital. The weather was similar to India’s capital, warm but fresh at the same time as tall coconut trees around the airport swayed, bringing in a cool breeze. A two-hour drive from there, I reached paradise. My first sight on entering the idyllic town of Tangalle was a pristine beach with clear deep blue waves of the ocean hitting a coastline of coconut groves, soaring cliffs and sandy shores – a sight that will stay with me for many years to come.

My destination was Amanwella, a necessary fixture that needs to be on everyone’s travel bucket list – tucked away by a short 10-minute drive away from the main town. This Aman destination has a privileged topography – access to a serenely private beach on the Indian Ocean, a secluded address away from all kinds of hustle – raised right above the beach for the suites and villas to imbibe the beach-side tranquility and watch the waves in resplendent seclusion. The country is often touted as a reincarnation destination of the 90s Goa, but I believe it has an unbeatable, distinctive charm of its very own – one that I haven’t witnessed in my years of travel.

A Whole Different World

Amanwella Tangalle Sri Lanka

From the main road of Tangalle, Amanwella greets you at the end of a gravel road. The first glimpse of this hideaway resort is a pebbled courtyard and a terracotta roof tiled house surrounded by swaying coconut palms. Welcomed by a refreshing drink, I was led to an entrance pavilion and, a high-ceilinged colonnade that seamlessly moulds the outdoors into the indoors. It is surrounded by immaculately manicured grass lawns dotted with frangipani trees that take you to a light-flooded bar and restaurant. The balmy space channels a serene simplicity with half-open floor-to-ceiling windows that lead you to a large terrace with a majestic swimming pool.

The courtyard gazes directly at the ocean, offering sublime views of verdantly green jungle and the dazzling bay beyond. Even as I write about this standout setting, words fail to really justify this wonderful sight. The views here were even better at sundown time. The grassy lawn also houses a beautifully conceived library, reception and a gift shop.

A walk around the property gives you clear evidence of its minimalist influences. Amanwella takes its inspiration from the works of the late influential architect, Geoffrey Bawa – who now is credited as the principal force behind what is today known globally as ‘tropical modernism’. The calming aesthetic of this ultra-luxe resort seamlessly integrates nature and the manmade together. The space is airy with spartan, calming aesthetics.

The country is often touted as a reincarnation destination of the 90s Goa, but I believe it has an unbeatable, distinctive charm of its very own – one that I haven’t witnessed in my years of travel. 

Amanwella pool Tangalle Sri Lanka

Amanwella’s gorgeous suites are perched on a hilltop and enjoy a secluded jungle setting from the main area. Although it’s a short stroll from the lobby, depending on where your suite is located, they arrange for a quick tuk-tuk ride. The suites offer a spectacular sight of Sri Lanka’s southern-most coast where the waves of the Indian Ocean hit against a coconut grove.

The Suite Style & Life

My lavish Ocean Pool Suite had the most gorgeous oceanfront landscape. The 1,076 squared feet suite was a laidback, swanky one. As I opened the gate to my humble abode, the plunge pool in my private front courtyard with a lounging space was refreshing. Although they were ringed by walls all around – the pool offers a great escape to view the clear night sky and the stars while swimming.

Amanwella suite courtyard and pool Tangalle Sri Lanka

The private pool & courtyard at Amanwella’s Ocean Pool Suite

The spacious suite has a taupe colour scheme and dark kithul (palm tree) wood furnishings. A pair of floor-to-ceiling sliding doors – one glass and one lattice panel – takes you to the interiors of your villa. A comforting king-sized bed, an armchair with a kithul wood table and a complimentary minibar with on-house soft drinks provide ample space to retreat. Wooden sliding doors partition the living area from the elegant bathroom that comes both with a freestanding bathtub and a separate monsoon shower room. There were also twin basin sets and thoughtful amenities like beach mats, rattan bags, mosquito repellents, candles and sun hats.

The suite’s balcony overlooks the swaying palm trees and beach. Drift off to sleep to the calming sound of the shore on the two cushioned sun loungers or watch a glorious sunset in tandem with the lapping of the waves. For a moonlit in-suite dining experience, their intimate outdoor candle-lit dining space can make up for a cosy, romantic date. The pleasant interiors set in rustic, minimal tones made me feel exclusive and inviting throughout my stay.

While the private vibe of the suites appeals the most, your special requests or extra amenities are brought in due time too – given the fact the main lobby is a 10-min downhill drive. My tropical luxury hideaway experience at Amanwella was looked after by two young lads – Sanindu and RJC Kasige. Like most Sri Lankans, they were overwhelmingly friendly and made sure my stay was pleasant, including organising my local sightseeing trips. While I wanted to soak in the sand-and-teak tones of my abode and dance on the cool terrazzo floor barefoot a little more, it was time for my evening tea at the lounge bar – set at the majestic golden hour – and that is something you shouldn’t miss at Amanwella.

Drift off to sleep to the calming sound of the shore on the two cushioned sun loungers or watch a glorious sunset in tandem with the lapping of the waves.

Amanwella suite bedroom Tangalle Sri Lanka

During my downhill journey to the lobby, I decided to take a walk and avoid calling the tuk-tuk shuttle. You are often greeted by a lot of their workers on the way – who make sure to pass a courteous smile and ask about your day. I sipped on my strong cup of red tea at the lounge bar while nature put on its grandest show – allowing me to witness a majestic sundown moment. The Sun played out its marvellous colour palette of orange, peach, violet, and blue that was mirrored on the infinity pool while the dense forest of hundreds of towering palm trees offered a picturesque sight that looked like a painting!

From Tropical Complex to Colonial Cocoon 

Next morning, I set off on another adventure trip to the oldest surviving hotel in Sri Lanka – Amangalla. Before that, a sumptuous breakfast awaited at the pool terrace restaurant that hosts all-day dining for everyone. I went for a table overlooking my favourite spot – the infinity pool against the towering coconut palms while I listened to the calm morning waves hitting the shore – definitely a therapeutic indulgence. The classic English breakfast included hashbrown bread served with poached eggs, roasted potatoes, mushrooms and chicken sausages. I wouldn’t describe the breakfast to be outstanding but it was the bay-view panoramas that hit the satisfactory level for my appetite.

Just two-three hours away from Amanwella is Amangalla, housed within the ramparts of Sri Lanka’s 17th-century Galle Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The road taking you to Galle is a wide national highway that offers endless scenic views of jungles, shorelines and villages. The driver enlightened me on the country’s fragile economic and political situation at that time during the road trip.

Amanwella suite bathroom Tangalle Sri Lanka

As we reached the vicinity of Galle – on one side, it offered views of the Fort and a serene harbour, and on the other side, I witnessed a very long queue of people – quite a contrasting sight! The driver explained how these people had been waiting since sunrise or some, since the previous night for mere cooking gas at their homes. During my 6-day visit in Sri Lanka, I saw how the prices of mere household goods like milk, rice reach an insane height. A country filled with the kindest people and spectacular nature escapades – Sri Lanka really didn’t deserve this.

I reached Amangalla which wasn’t anything like its sister Amanwella. The former is a historic residence, a grand dame of Galle Fort, standing still since the golden age of steam travel and colonial rule. The place comes with a fascinating heap of history. Before it became Amangalla, it was an inn called ‘New Oriental Hotel’, owned by Nesta Ephramus Bohier – a Dutch lady who ran this historic hotel till the 20th century. Now owned and modernised by Aman Resorts, it is a heritage hotel sparkling with bygone stories and history. The hotel’s colonial make is very evident in its nooks and corners.

Despite the recent influx of new resorts in the southern part of Sri Lanka, Amanwella still enjoys a very serene, secluded position – favoured by most slow travellers.

The streets around Galle Fort are lined with Dutch and British colonial heritage houses and shops under those terracotta-tiled roofs. As I walked the cobbled streets that are home to art galleries, little boutique shops, cafes and hotels – it led me to a widened road to greet the colossal Dondra Head lighthouse at Galle Fort surrounded by the majestic blue ocean. Afternoons in Sri Lanka can be quite blazing. On returning to the hotel, I was greeted with some refreshing cold towels.

For lunch, I dined at Zaal, which is their Great Hall, under chandeliers surrounded by antiques all around. I went for a global palate and ordered fish and chips and a thin crust classic Margherita pizza. The fish and chips were tender and delicious in a thin and crisp batter. Given the price of the pizza, I was expecting a smaller one but was happy to be surprised with the large size.  Although not the best I have ever had, but certainly worth the starvation after the long walk around the town.

From there, I headed off to laze at the vista of oceanside luxury that Amanwella is.

Savoury Delights

Amanwella restaurant Tangalle Sri Lanka

Restaurant at Amanwella

The main all-day dining by the pool in Amanwella serves a combination of Sri Lankan and Western dishes. And dining by the overlooking pool and the beach is a true pleasure there. At night – the restaurant turns into a sublime romantic experience with a poolside candle-light dinner.

My dinner course started with a Mezze Plate – a Mediterranean platter with tossed pita bread, hummus, falafel and babaganoush. The plate was a fulfilling one in itself and oh-so-delicious that I kept mopping up the creamy, velvety dip with yet another billowy pita bread. For the main course, trying Sri Lankan delicacies made sense. I went for a small portion of ‘Chicken Pepper Stew’ served with the local red rice (it has a higher protein rate than white rice and is more filling). The plate also comes with seasonal vegetable curries and a spicy carrot sambol packed with rich flavours. The stew marks Lankan flavours – an explosion of fiery-hot savoury spices and textures – something that Indians would be delighted to have their palates graced with.

Amanwella Tangalle Sri Lanka Yellowfin tuna curry

The delectable Yellowfin Tuna Curry

Next, I went for another small portion of red yellowfin tuna curry served with white rice and coconut sambol (a shredded spicy side dish). The meaty fish has a rich, creamy flavour and is juicy in texture – as they make sure to serve the ones caught fresh every day. The authentic Sri Lankan menu satiates that palate for spice-laden curries. I concluded my fantastic dinner with a delightful creamy creme brulee.

The food was excellent, and I came to the realisation that the resort excels in preparing authentic Sri Lankan dishes more than Western recipes.

The Verdict

Despite the recent influx of new resorts in the southern part of Sri Lanka, Amanwella still enjoys a very serene, secluded position – favoured by most slow travellers. Staying true to the Aman ethos, both the luxury retreats offer a unique sojourn of life. Amanwella is like a state of nirvana in Tangalle that deserves a necessary pitstop for every tourist visiting this beautiful country.

And just like actors Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie – I came back becoming the newest member of ‘Aman Junkie’ – as the loyal patrons of the resort group like to call themselves.

LF Says: ★★★★★

Coordinates: Amanwella, Bodhi Mawatha, Wella Wathura, Godellawela, Sri Lanka