From Sigiriya, I journeyed south to Kandy, Sri Lanka’s second largest city with just over 100,000 residents, and the gateway to Sri Lanka’s hill country. I had the fortune to stay in a lovely property called the Clingendael, which I am compelled to describe by saying “wow!”
The Clingendael is one of those spectacular places that you stumble across without much guidance, hoping that it will be good, but not really knowing. Located about 20km outside of Kandy, the Clingendael sits on the grounds of the Victoria Golf and Country Resort, but it is by no means a golf property. It might sound trite, but stepping inside the five-room boutique property, guests are transported to a bygone colonial era – without all the unfortunate parts of colonialism.
Built in 2006, the Clingendael looks and feels like a Dutch/Sri Lankan colonial house down to the period furniture, colored glass transoms, and open air experience. It was originally intended as a private vacation home for the Dutch owner, but he decided to operate a boutique hotel instead. He hand selected many of the fixtures and furnishings from salvaged properties and antique dealers. Even the wood flooring in many parts of the hotel come from an old home on the southern coast of Sri Lanka.
You might think that the colonialism and formality would naturally be stuffy, but that’s far from the reality. Staff are warm, friendly, and encourage you to feel at home. There are more lounging areas around the hotel than could ever be used by guests staying in its five rooms, and panoramic views to leave you speechless.
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Next in my journey, I traveled east to one of Jetwing’s flagship properties, Vil Uyana in Sigiriya, Sri Lanka. Vil Uyana is made up of a series of thatch-roofed bungalows situated in different clusters around a property that Jetwing has turned into a farm and eco preserve. It’s a neat concept: everything is composted, reused, recycled, and some of the food is grown onsite. Wastewater is treated on the property and used for irrigation and agriculture. Electricity is conserved through LED lighting, passive solar design, and occupancy sensors.
The 40 odd bungalows are massive – all have private terraces and many have private plunge pools. The thatched huts are designed in a style of Gilligan’s Island meets Polynesia meets Sri Lanka and remind me a bit of my experience staying at some of the Six Senses hotels. I made used of my terrace (although really wish the vinyl cushions were not black) and even took a dip in my plunge pool, which is something I rarely do.
And the setting is spectacular – even though you are not far from a main road, the property gives the feeling that you are completely isolated. You can hear the sounds of nature from your bungalow and strolls around the property. The man made lake in the center of the resort was designed to be a wildlife refuge and completely blends into the blissfulness of the property. It attracts 80 species of birds, plus lots of butterflies, mammals, and amphibians. Some rooms are located in paddy fields connected by boardwalks, while others are in bamboo groves.
I didn’t have a treatment at the spa, but the rooms look divine. The spa is reached by a footbridge over the lake and stands isolated from the rest of the resort. Treatment rooms are quite striking with individual water features and views outward.
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I just received the most beautiful book in the mail that I found waiting for me upon my return from Southeast Asia. Notes and Sketches: The Travel Journals of William P. Rayner (Glitterati Incorporated) is a stunningly collected and presented set of sketches and vignettes on the world travels of William Rayner. Rayner, an extensive world traveler, was a writer for publications including Vogue and Vanity Fair. His watercolors and illustrations appeared in shows at London’s Royal Academy of Arts, among others.
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First off, the book is really two books, one covering North Africa and the Middle East, the second on India and Asia. Both come presented in a beautiful hardcover fabric sleeve embellished with Rayner’s watercolors. The books are a collection of snippets on the author’s world travels, illustrated by watercolors, drawings, personal photography, and keepsakes.
The set is very much a diary of Rayner’s travels. While the books are personal and perhaps not useful for any purpose other than his bibliography of exotic destinations, they are incredibly beautiful. As an avid traveler, I was delighted to explore Rayner’s recollections of his last forty years of destinations, particularly to compare his observations of places where I have traveled more recently and to realize how much they have changed.
In his introduction, Rayner comments “I sketch rather than take photographs to remember places and moments because I love the process. … One of the real pleasures of keeping a diary is that you never feel alone.” Perhaps it is his romanticized concept of travel that I relate to. Regardless, these books would make a beautiful gift for any lover of travel. I know that I will cherish them for some time.
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