Apr 20, 2022
RICKETY TUK TUKS DODGE local dogs sleeping in the road while barefoot surfers casually stroll by holding their boards. Coconuts half full of arrack dot the honey-colored beaches where kids squeal in the waves. This is life on Sri Lanka’s South Coast, and it moves at a delightful snail’s pace. A reprieve for remote workers and surfers, it’s also become a boutique hotel heaven.
Tropical brutalism, a touch of Bawa and industrial-chic properties carve themselves into the coconut tree-clad landscape—steps or a motorbike ride from the beach. Here are some of the best boutique hotels on the South Coast of Sri Lanka.
Harding Boutique Hotels
Paul Harding has Sri Lankan hospitality in his blood—literally. His great uncle Gem opened the first-ever Geoffrey Bawa-designed hotel, the Blue Lagoon, Negombo. More than 55 years later, this Melbourne-born boy has opened Harding Boutique Hotels in the cruisey seaside town of Ahangama.
Designed by Dubai-based anarchitect.com, its six suites are an ode to the tropical modernism pioneered by Bawa with clean lines made of local hardwood and polished concrete throughout. The best part? Spacious balconies with views of the Indian Ocean and palm trees towering around you. At night, their Mr. M Rooftop (named after Harding’s late grandfather) is the spot for a sunset espresso martini and an Asian-inspired feast.
If you’re wondering where the cool kids hang out on Sri Lanka’s South Coast, it’s here. PALM has six minimalist matte black A-frame cabanas and two deluxe suites designed for families, a CrossFit gym, pool and kitchen whipping up an ever-changing menu.
Made of repurposed shipping containers and steel, the open-air common space, including the pool, dining area and locally supplied boutique, is the center of PALM and a nod to the owner’s time in London’s warehouses. It’s common to find locals, expats and guests working on their laptops, doing cannonballs in the pool and devouring what may be the best bagel in Sri Lanka.
The Fort Printers
Galle Fort, a famed UNESCO World Heritage Site, is off the charts when it comes to character. And this must-visit jewel jutting off the South Coast of Sri Lanka is packed with gems, from local shops and quaint cafes to boutique hotels like The Fort Printers. Over the centuries, The Fort Printers building has been a college and a printing company, and today it’s a hotel. After undergoing a total redesign, the boutique hotel, consisting of five rooms and 11 suites, reopened in November with a sleek new look.
Go for the rooms, which each have a different name, like The Headmaster’s, evoking their distinct characters. Hardwood floors, a four-poster bed with mosquito nettings, antique exposed beams and rattan furniture give it a rich, historical feeling. Their 39 Bistro & Wine Bar and Writer’s Lounge is decidedly more contemporary with velvet seating, marble counters and lobster tacos on the menu.
On a former coconut plantation site 30 minutes from Galle, Kaju Green is surrounded by lush, tropical nature. Located next to a bird and wildlife sanctuary, it’s supremely private with kaju (the Sinhalese word for cashew) trees providing shade from the sweltering Sri Lankan sun.
Minimalist decor reigns supreme in their seven bungalows with thatched palm roofs and open-air living that emphasizes light and air. Kaju Green also has an Ayurvedic spa, a saltwater swimming pool and a rooftop yoga platform primed for practicing your sun salutations.
Courtesy of Mond (3)
Meaning “moon” in German, Mond is a four-room tropical brutalist space perched on the craggy cliffs between Dikwella and Hiriketiya beaches. Made entirely of concrete, its vibe is anything but cold. The strategically placed flora, pops of yellow and local teak wood accents add to the calm aesthetic blown in from the ocean breeze.
One of the few places in the area with super-fast WiFi, their courtyard cafe makes for a great workspace with homemade lemonades, cold-pressed juices, coffees and an eclectic multi-cultural food menu. At night, their rooftop slings fantastic cocktails like a Coolcumber, and on occasion, they’ll host a restaurant pop-up with a crew from Colombo and a live DJ.
Surrounded by avocado, coconut and banana trees, The Kip was once a residential home, and it’s now a four-room boutique hotel just a few minutes walk from some of the best waves in Sri Lanka. Each room is unique, with terracotta tile floors against an entirely white backdrop decorated with hand-woven light shades, hanging Edison bulbs, wooden furniture, plants and concrete.
The cafe out front is, like the abode, sustainable, relaxed and poised for Instagram. With ingredients taken from The Kip’s garden and local purveyors, it’s one of the best places for all-day brunch on the South Coast. Be sure to stop by their shop; it has some of the coolest locally made clothes and bags around.
Courtesy of BomBora (2)
The sound of waves and joyful screams of beginners surfers from Hiriketiya Bay permeate BomBora. This bohemian minimalist hideaway with five rooms is mere steps up the road from the area’s best surf beach—Hiriketiya.
Here you’ll find a common thread in the Sri Lanka boutique hotels world: concrete floors combined with locally made wood furniture, plus the hanging Edison pendant lights decorating a modest space. One of the most affordable deals in the area, BomBora also has a rooftop bar and pizza oven with unbeatable views of the waves rolling into “Hiri.”
Malabar Hill looks like a palace in its heyday, perched on top of a hill overlooking its lush, jungle kingdom. Outside Weligama, a lively surf town where you’ll still find the iconic stilt fishermen of so many Sri Lanka photos, this newly opened boutique hotel is from the team behind uber-sustainable-way-before-it-was-cool Mango Bay Phu Quoc, in Vietnam. Made up of 14 rooms, each with a terrace and infinity pool, it adds a new level of luxury to the area’s boutique resort scene.
It took 10 years to design Malabar Hill, and when you enter, you’ll understand why. Handmade terracotta roof and floor tiles, reclaimed wood doors, locally-made furniture and stunning Sri Lankan design adorn every inch of this exciting new boutique retreat.