Just 43 kms away from Sri Lanka’s international airport in Colombo, wedged into the estuary of the river Kalu Ganga, is a glorious property that has gained substantial eminence as a leading luxury holiday destination of Sri Lanka.
The unique Anantara Kalutara resort, offering both a river front and a lagoon view was initially designed by Geoffrey Bawa who was commissioned by a former pioneer of Sri Lanka’s Tourism in the year1995.
A public road ran through the property which had Bawa connect the two sides of the built area by enclosing it within a three storied wall housing interconnecting corridors. This square formation allows one to reach any spot of the vast property from another in just under three minutes. The concept may be compared to the design of the gymnasium at Hadrian’s Villa, the archaeological complex in Tivoli in Italy.
Work stopped on the project in late 1995 with the escalation of the war in the north of Sri Lanka. The dream of another unique approach to hotel design made by Geoffrey Bawa lay dormant for several years, which was compounded by Bawa’s passing in the year 2003.
Channa Daswatte from MICD Associates, who previously worked for Bawa, was appointed to take over the project as a lead architect and whose main aim was to preserve the core ideas laid down by Bawa. The brief was to capitalise on the ocean and river views and in many ways the hotel conforms to the Bawa ideals of non air-conditioned spaces that open onto beautiful waterscapes, with only the essential spaces enclosed and tucked away out of necessity. It was Geoffrey Bawa who coined the term ‘Tropical Modernism’ which has now found a following not only in Asia but all over the globe.
It is possible to re-discover the joy of pure relaxation in unparalleled comfort and space at this resort housed in a surprisingly simple Dutch colonial style building with an impressive soaring gable roof clad with semi-circular terracotta clay tiles. An iconic design feature of the hotel, the high ceilings and free-flowing spaces allows breezes to circulate freely in the vast reception, which overlooks the lagoon of the Kalu Ganga estuary. This creates an expansive sense of openness within which guests may be both welcomed and bid goodbye, with authentic cultural fanfare.
The creative nod to Sri Lankan design, by MICD interior designer Roshan Rajapaksha, is depicted in the large Batik wall hangings behind the reception area which also incidentally set the tone for the colours in the various spaces. At first glance, the well nuanced architecture of the entire property triggers interest and then commands full attention constantly stimulating the mind.
For Bawa, every project he took up was special and he always believed in exploring architectural space both from an aesthetic and functional perspective. He believed in embedding every function with an aesthetic intent and of all his hotels this fact is best illustrated at Anantara Kalutara Resort.
Indulgence of all the senses and a complete erasure of every city-bred stress are possible here. Uniquely designed spaces skillfully combining local cultural inspirations offer yoga and meditation in a serene atmosphere. For the young and young-at-heart there are invigorating and thrilling water sports on offer. Kids’ and teens’ clubs keep youngsters creatively engaged. Distinguishing facilities include sunset cruises and romantic bespoke dining.
141 rooms, suites and pool villas blend authentic luxury and evocative Sri Lankan accents. Balconies and terraces draw the eye to lush nature, ocean waves or river beauty. Choose from interconnecting, disabled-friendly and poolside havens. Relish private pool intimacy or share holidays with friends or family in villas with interconnecting gardens.
The gigantic common pool lets you do your own thing. It’s perfectly alright to do some laps and compensate for all the scrumptious meals. Or then again it is so lovely to do absolutely nothing by its side.
Anantara Spa Kalutara is a double storey sanctuary of two pavilions, embraced by a lotus pond. 11 luxurious treatment rooms include six for individuals, four for couples and one dedicated to Ayurvedic therapies. Each room has its own unique fragrance, creating an aromatic journey for the senses.
Delve behind the scenes of the island’s culinary roots with a trip to local farms and markets. Return to the resort to refresh with a local arrack cocktail before taking part in the step-by-step cooking class offered by Spice Spoons, picking up secret chef tips along the way.
Olu – the international all-day dining venue is where the guests begin their day with the most energizing of breakfasts.
Acquolina means ‘mouthwatering’ and the restaurant named so, offers lunch and dinner menus featuring classic recipes crafted with passion and served with beautiful ocean views.
A riveting Tea Journey comprises a range of tea-infused cocktails, ice creams and dressing specialties, as well as tasting opportunities guided by the Tea Guru.
Asia’s most exciting cuisines grace the menu at the dinner-only restaurant Spice Traders. Asian inspired cocktails tantalise the palate while time-honoured recipes showcase the finest Thai, Indian and Chinese specialties.
Late afternoon and evening bar pleasures feel refreshingly classy at the Upper Deck. Comfortable leather chairs nestle against timber tables with a lush lagoon backdrop. Live sporting events can be watched while tucking into gourmet snacks.
The gentle gurgling of water, the serene breezes and the sight of the sea cum lagoon embellished with native vegetation, all come together to create peace which is not only to be experienced here but also carried back home to relish at call.
And so, when the last day of your stay at Anantara Kalutara rolls up, you find yourself wishing you didn’t have to leave just yet. The magical mix of tranquility, oodles of restfulness, oxygen-rich breezes, and matchless hospitality is hard to part from, but you manage somehow, though not without a firm promise to yourself – “I’ll be back!”
Text By Mala Bajaj
Photographs Courtesy Anantara Kalutara