Hotel rooms can be devoid of soul. In Sri Lanka, they are indistinguishable. From the mahogany dresser and matching bed to mass-produced art hung above the bedhead, hotel rooms have little character. Private villas – an emerging feature in the Sri Lankan leisure landscape – offer a break from the uniformity. Often, they are well located and owners imbue them with style and personality.
Sharing economy site Airbnb – where people can rent their homes to holiday markets – is the best way to discover these villas, especially those in the south of the country. However, there are still unknown villas, which are the preserve of a discerning few. Holidaying at these villas is attractive to someone seeking an uninhibited break, not having to dress up for dinner, to stay up late enjoying drinks or raiding the fridge in the middle of the night. Renting a villa or a home for a weekend holiday with extended family or friends offers not just an authentic experience, but can be more affordable than staying at a hotel with similar facilities. Villas are more affordable because they don’t offer facilities like room service, many serving staff or grand public facilities. We highlight three options for groups of families or friends seeking both privacy and charm over a weekend break in Southern Sri Lanka.
A few kilometers from the highway exit in Galle, off the main road, lies Amma Erna, a tranquil getaway found at the end of a narrow path between paddy fields. Amma Erna is built on and around a rock located at the edge of a paddy field, bordered on one side by leafy trees that provide shade to the villa’s pool.
Amma Erna’s rooms are aptly named Akka (elder sister), Madoe (middle sister) and Nangi (younger sister). The walls and windows in the rooms are made of net and face the direction of the beach, ensuring a brilliant evening sunset view. The villa’s elevated position also keeps the room cool without air-conditioning. The net windows, despite providing natural ventilation, can be a bane too. While nature lovers will appreciate waking up to birdcalls and the low chants from temples nearby, others may be kept awake by barking dogs in the night and the morning sunlight that shines on to their beds. So be warned.
Food at the villa is primarily organic and harvested from its garden. The contemporary design of the villa and the shady pool make Amma Erna the ideal destination for a quiet and serene holiday.
If you are ok with the occasional monkey watching you while you shower, this is the place for you. The villa’s managers claim the monkeys, however, don’t descend from the trees for closer examination.
Beyond Galle, between Unawatuna and Talpe, at the centre of the Mihiripenna village is Pittaniya Villa. Set in an acre of land, the simple but well-equipped villa is surrounded by a manicured lawn dotted with coconut, banana, papaya and mango trees. A 12 x 4m infinity pool completes the look. The airy rooms are designed in line with the open plan living concept, as are the open living area and front verandah. It’s almost like home with a few added luxuries.
One of Pittaniya Villa’s main selling points is perhaps its hosts Lisa and Eric. Originally from Ireland, they have made Sri Lanka and Pittaniya Villa their home. They are more than just the host; they are always available for a chat or to provide information on places to visit and things to do. If nothing else, breakfast at Pittaniya Villa will sell the place. From homemade granola with fresh fruits and yoghurt to poached eggs on a bed of spinach, the three-course breakfast will keep you coming back for more.
You won’t be able to find us on Google Maps” is the Gallus Hideaway host’s first warning to guests. It’s not because the villa is tiny. In fact, it is sprawling. It’s because Gallus Hideaway is completely surrounded by forest-like vegetation.
Just minutes away from Jetwing’s Lighthouse Hotel, Gallus Hideaway is an 18th century house that has been restored with an emphasis on luxury and a connection to nature. The location of the villa also offers a panoramic view of the surrounding mountains, jungles and paddy fields. The villa is expansive, but homely. Red brick walls and cement floors provide a minimalistic look. The two suites each have their own private plunge pool, in addition to state-of-the-art bathtubs. Located on the first floor, the rooms offer complete privacy, whether in the bedroom or the spacious balconies.
The hosts, Sumudu and Dinesh are friendly, and always available for a chat or to provide assistance. The Sunrise Suite, which faces east, is Dinesh’s favourite room, while Sumudu prefers the Village Suite, which faces the village. No matter which suite they choose, guests won’t be disappointed.