Rejuvenating the soul at a luxury Sri Lanka villa near Kandy
Tucked away in the quiet countryside just 40 minutes from the Sacred City of Kandy, Villa Aqua Dunhinda is a bit of an insider tip. It’s a private rural retreat with it’s own infinity pool, offering total seclusion whilst remaining in easy reach of many famous tourist sights. The location of this luxury Sri Lanka villa is nothing short of fabulous, with the building perched high up on a hillside overlooking the Kothmale Forest and the country’s longest river, the Mahaweli, down below.
Beautiful views they may have been, but we were greedily looking for something more. We needed a bit of looking after, some restorative home cooking, and gentle reassurance that it was okay to wind down and just enjoy what was right in front of us for once.
It hadn’t been the best of weeks. Yes, we were travelling around Sri Lanka, which was every bit as beautiful as the pictures had promised, but it had been a difficult trip. Storms and ensuing flight delays had meant a missed connection in Qatar, over 24 hours stranded at Doha airport, and the subsequent loss of the first 2 days of our holiday. Add in 60 hours without sleep, intense humidity and a lot of rushing around between locations, and we were feeling pretty low. By the time we reached our luxury Sri Lanka villa at the end of the trip, we were in desperate need of something special. Something to rejuvenate the soul as well as the body.
And most importantly, somewhere we could just ‘be’.
Villa Aqua Dunhinda is the perfect retreat for couples looking for a romantic hideaway; families wanting to enjoy time together in the countryside; nature enthusiasts and those seeking spiritual seclusion, or just somewhere immersive to practise a spot of yoga or meditation.
Dunhinda is the Sri Lankan word for ‘misty river’, a fitting name for a magical villa sitting proudly but unobtrusively on the edge of the world. When owner Prashan built Villa Aqua Dunhinda a couple of years ago, he had a vision of creating a haven where guests could connect with nature, indulge in traditional Sri Lankan recipes, and rejuvenate their senses through climate, landscape and culture. Leafing through the visitors book it’s clear that people come here from far and wide, and it’s wonderful to discover a place in the world today where everyone is so welcome, irrespective of cultural or geographical background.
We had taken the train from Hatton to Gampola, and were picked up by Sujith, the villa manager, in his splendid green tuk tuk. Impressively he managed to fit all our luggage, and us, into the back and off we trundled through the town (where we didn’t see any other tourists!), and up the long winding dirt track to the villa. The last uphill section is just about do-able by car if you’re self driving, but it’s a lot easier to get picked up. You are on holiday after all!
We were welcomed by the young and friendly team with flower garlands (I’ve been waiting years for my first flower garland welome!), cool face cloths and freshly squeezed papaya juice, straight from the villa gardens. We were home!
The living areas
The villa interior had a cool, minimalist theme, letting the nature outside do all the hard work. Bowls of floating flowers brought a fragrant prettiness to the rooms, as well as a certain harmony. A blending of man and nature. The local wooden furnishings were elegant yet comfy, and thoughtfully arranged Sri Lankan antiques and candles made the space very welcoming.
The building is a single story with vast vaulted ceilings giving the impression of space, which the villa has in abundance. I think this height helps a little with the heat too, which can be very intense during the afternoons.
One of our favourite features was the wrap around veranda, with views out across the valley. In fact all of the villa rooms have a balcony or terrace, so guests can enjoy being immersed in nature no matter where they are.
The upper terrace observatory deck boasts a table and chairs, as well as a telescope, and we found ourselves sitting here in the mornings, watching the world around us wake up, and lazily contemplating the day ahead. I’d love to say we also saw the sun rising over the distant peaks, but we were still fast asleep at that time, enjoying the best kip we’d had in some while.
Meals were served at the impressively long wooden dining table up on the mezzanine, and we felt rather regal having it all to ourselves.
There were views out across the valley, and of the infinity pool from the table, so there was no squabbling over where to sit.
For those who want to cook, there is a small well equipped kitchen, and a big fridge for keeping those all-important drinks chilled. We rarely cook when we’re travelling (we do enough of that at home), and enjoyed the luxury of being catered for. Yet it would be fun to try our hand at some local dishes, using fresh ingredients from the garden and with a little help from the staff! Maybe next time.
There is a small TV snug too, but we didn’t even contemplate spending time in front of the box. Villa Aqua Dunhinda is a place for switching off, unwinding and leaving every day life behind. It would have felt wrong to watch TV, and our stay was all the more refreshing for it. There is Wi-Fi for those who need it (okay, we’ll admit to indulging in that!), and it was actually pretty decent speed-wise, and available all over the house.
There are 3 bedrooms – two doubles and a triple, all with modern ensuite bathrooms complete with rain spa showers and even hair conditioner! We loved the tropical splashes of colour against the white interiors, and the floor to ceiling picture windows and doors which once again brought the outside, in!
We chose the room overlooking the pool as it felt the most private, and we could sit in bed each morning, contemplating a swim before breakfast.
All the bedrooms have air conditioning (thankfully!) which meant we slept really well despite the heat.
Let’s be honest. It doesn’t matter how beautiful the surroundings are, because the first thing any prospective hotel or villa guest does whilst deciding whether or not to stay is check out the swimming pool. Which is precisely what we did when looking for our luxury Sri Lanka villa.
The decision to stay was made rather easily…
We spent the hot afternoons swimming a few lengths (to prepare for the glorious evening feasts cooked up for us by the staff!), and admiring the views. We had to keep pinching ourselves to realise we weren’t dreaming. Throwing all clichés aside, we have no shame in declaring we really were in Sri Lankan paradise.
There were even a few jet streams creating a mini jacuzzi like experience at the shallow end. Perfect for a treat after all that relaxing!
Surrounding the villa and the pool were the gardens, a labour of love and passion by Prashan and his delightful mother Ianthe, who we were fortunate to meet during our stay. Lots of secret little paths wind their way through the tea gardens, revealing indigenous plants, fruit trees, organic vegetables, pepper vines, and even bee hives. Bees are Prashan’s latest venture, and we visited at just the right time to sample his first crop of honey. Deliciously smooth and tasting of the garden flowers we’d been admiring. It went perfectly with buffalo curd (which is like yogurt and rather tasty!).
We’re pretty down to earth people, yet we couldn’t help but feel something spiritual happening to us at Villa Aqua Dunhinda. It wasn’t anything that was forced upon guests, or indeed even mentioned during our stay. It was simply there for us to discover and embrace by ourselves. I’m the last person to consider that my soul needs nurturing, but hidden away here at our luxury Sri Lanka villa, I realised that perhaps inner peace is actually a ‘thing’. The horticultural therapy of the gardens and the meditative natural surroundings were precisely the sort of medicine we needed after our stressful week.
Given a few more days I’m sure we’d have been having conversations with frogs!
You don’t have to stray far to get to know the local wildlife. Besides the little geckos who cling so easily to the villa walls (they’re the good guys, they feast on the flies!), there are also deer, buffalo, frogs, porcupines, boar and monkeys. The latter cheekily steal from the gardens and give the staff a tough time, but being naive tourists, we secretly still found them kinda cute! There were also lots of exotic looking lizards, many of whom scuttled over inquisitively for a staring match whilst we were in the pool. We didn’t win!
There were even tadpoles in the miniature lily ponds on the front porch. Always something to discover if you look close enough! One evening we were thrilled to spot some eagles and a Brahminy Kite soaring on the thermals above the river, as well as several emerald green parakeets chattering in the trees. There’s a bird book in the villa, and a telescope on the veranda, so even if you’re not an avid birdwatcher there’s no excuse!
We’re never going to be foodie bloggers. Hubbie loves eating everything in sight without standing on ceremony, whilst I tend to skip breakfast (I hate eating in the morning) and view food as fuel rather than an experience. Yet we do appreciate good cuisine, and were so pleased to discover that our last meals in Sri Lanka were going to be the best we’d had all trip.
Most of the produce comes from the organic garden, and what can’t be grown in the grounds, is sourced locally. We love our vegetables, but struggle at home to present them inventively. The ingrained British institution of boiling peas and carrots to death is a tradition that is hard to shake. At Villa Aqua Dunhinda vegetables take pride of place on the dinner table, and we enjoyed tucking into all sorts of tasty dishes that were simple yet flavoursome and colourful. Fresh lightly pickled beetroot. Saffron rice with caramelised onions and sultanas. Fish curry. Roasted chicken legs. Spiced pineapple pieces. Lentil dahl. Crispy cabbage. Breaded fishcake balls. Vegetable soups. Fried vermicelli noodles. Even chipped potatoes!
I immediately made a mental note of how to reproduce them at home, knowing full well that in reality I’d never actually get around to it. Sometimes it’s nice to dream.
For breakfast we had a choice of continental or local, and as the first meal of the day is Hubbie’s domain, I let him choose. Each morning we had plates heaped with fresh fruits, sausages, mini omelettes, breads and jams. The perfect way to start a day.
Want to see more of the villa? Come and take a look around inside…
The joy of a stay at Villa Aqua Dunhinda is that you can do as much, or as little, as you like. We opted for a day trip to Kandy (which I’ll be writing about shortly), but for the rest of our visit we were content to explore closer to home, and just enjoy the superb hospitality.
Walking down to the river was something we didn’t want to miss. We set off with CV the barefooted gardener leading the way with his machete, us in the middle, each with a big stick, and overdressed carrying bags bulging with water, sunscreen and scarves, and Sujith bringing up the rear. Spot the tourists! We weren’t quite sure if the sticks were for fighting off the local wildlife or steadying ourselves on the path, but either way, it was quite a novel experience, and we felt armed and ready for anything.
Although Hubbie was a bit envious of CV’s machete.
The hillside is quite steep, but actually only took about 15 minutes to reach the bottom. There are little pathways cut into the earth, so it wasn’t as difficult as we feared (I’d had visions of ending up on my bum, but thankfully managed it with my pride in tact). It does get really hot during the afternoons, so the walk it best done in the morning or early evening to avoid being sizzled.
We noticed several buffalo prints on the pathways, and were suddenly thankful for the sticks. Although our last buffalo encounter was quite an amicable one, when we learned how to plough rice paddies in Laos. Down at the bottom we had fun clambering about on the rocks, and Hubbie braved a paddle for a better vantage point (it’s too dangerous to actually swim in the river).
It’s a superb place for a spot of yoga, with the soothing babble of the river and the wind in the trees creating the perfect environment in which to relax.
If we had to pin point the one element that really made our stay so special, it wouldn’t be the food, the views, or even that infinity pool. It was the staff, who have been nothing short of wonderful.
It must be difficult trying to predict the needs of guests, but Sujith, Sanjeeva and Rukshan do it with practised ease. I know Hubbie and I are probably quite difficult customers. We’re not especially forthcoming with our demands, and although there was a bell to summon staff when required, we didn’t feel brave enough to ever ring it, not that we needed anything we didn’t already have. I guess it’s the reserved Britishness talking. Or maybe we’re just so used to doing things ourselves. Anyhow, I don’t doubt we weren’t the easiest guests to look after. Yet with some sort of sixth sense, they did it perfectly.
Our meals, expertly and creatively cooked by Rukshan, would appear exactly the moment we decided we were hungry, fresh towels were laid out in anticipation of a swim, and when we returned from our sweaty walk down to the river, the staff were waiting for us with cool face clothes even before we stepped through the door.
This is what top notch service is all about. And after we’d relaxed and allowed ourselves to be looked after, we found we rather enjoyed it!
What we loved
We’ve never stayed at a serviced villa before, and were a little concerned that there might be a lack of privacy with staff around. I guess we wanted the best of both worlds. Having our meals provided and the villa looked after, whilst still maintaining our independence and solitude. Not an easy balance. Yet unsurprisingly the folks at Villa Aqua Dunhinda have it spot on. Sanjeeva would materialise quietly from the staff entrance to serve our meals and then discreetly disappear again, leaving us alone to enjoy our food. Somehow he timed his reemergence perfectly to clear away our dishes and present us with desert. Knowing the staff were there if we needed them, whilst remaining unobtrusive was instrumental in us enjoying our stay as much as we did.
It goes without saying that we loved the location.
And that pool!
What wasn’t so great
Being used to the freezing winters and dubious summers of the UK, we found the humidity in Sri Lanka rather stifling. Even after a week we hadn’t really acclimatised, so having air conditioning in the bedrooms was a blessing. Whilst we don’t for a moment think that air conditioning should be installed in the main living area, a couple of ceiling fans would have been appreciated. The large veranda doors are closed at night to keep out the bugs, and with no air movement on our first evening, the heat was overbearing. We sat melting for a while before retreating to the glorious cool haven of the bedroom. Maybe we just need to toughen up.
I can count on one hand the number of places we’ve left with a slight lump in our throats, yet having stayed at Villa Aqua Dunhinda for just a few days, I think I’m going to have to break out the other hand. We came looking for tranquillity and relaxation, with healthy yet hearty grub and a bit of pool time thrown in. Whilst we found these in abundance, we left with something much more precious. Some might call it ‘inner peace’, others would stick their noses in the air and label it ‘enlightenment’. But for us everyday folk, it’s the comfort that comes from knowing there is a special place out there that we can return to. Somewhere we’ll always be welcomed, and somewhere we can retreat when the going gets tough.
In a fast paced world where life passes us by so quickly we barely have time to hang on, Villa Aqua Dunhinda has offered us a rare and precious chance to do something we should all make the effort to do more often.
It’s given us room to breathe.
Thanks to the wonderful folks at Sri Lanka Villa and Villa Aqua Dunhinda for hosting us during our stay. As always opinions are own own, and we only accept complimentary stays at places we would have been prepared to pay for ourselves.
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