Santani: Located high up in totally remote mountains around Werapitiya, Santani is around an hour’s drive from Kandy and so a good base for seeing this beautiful city and its impressive Temple of Tooth. The windey drive up to Sanatani is totally worth it and you won’t regret the detour.
Occupying 48 acres of tea plantations and lush vegetation, including every fruit tree imaginable (mango, avocado, guava and mandarin), this retreat and wellness hotel is centred on Ayuervedic living: if staying here on a wellness package, you’re given a doctor’s consultation to help determine your dosha. Depending on that, your diet and routine is tailored to suit your goals (weight loss, anti-aeging, joint pain etc). Yoga (included within all stays) is offered twice daily and the view from the open studio space is utterly beautiful. In keeping with the minimalist vibe of hotel, no music is played during the classes. Instead, yogis are encouraged to stretch back and tune into their surroundings and the natural sounds of the wildlife around them. Living in the wild in every sense.
On arrival, you’re greeted by the incredibly warm general manager Mahesh, formerly of Pearl Drop Hotel’s very impressive Ceylon Tea Trails and who happens to be from the nearby village. He welcomes you to Santani, shows you around, explains the vibe of the place and offers a naturally sweet welcome “belly” tea in the jaw-droppingly beautiful dining space. As soon as you walk into this area, you feel literally grounded (also helped by the no shoes policy and the slidey titanium floor!). The four external walls are made of glass and offer breath-taking views of the surrounding mountains and forest.
The food served at breakfast, lunch and dinner is equally special and will usually be included in your stay. There’s no menu– instead, each guest has customised choices, whether Western or Sri Lankan. Whichever you eat, the food is super fresh, healthy and based on seasonal produce sourced from the local farm. Even the Sri Lankan thali dishes (rice/hoppers, curry, daal and sambars) don’t feel heavy but are tasty, light and perfectly satisfying. If you’re lucky, you might also be treated to a desert of Sago Pudding, made with coconut milk, cardamom and jaggery, and served with toasted cashews and dates. Utter bliss. Cleansing herbal teas (fresh cinnamon and ginger) are also available throughout the day. Breakfast will make you spring out of bed: on my stay, I enjoyed vegan, rice flour pancakes served with Kithul treacle, chia pudding and a fruit platter, as well as a detox beetroot, ginger and apple juice. Pure heaven.
Onto the cabins, twenty architecturally edgy, plush villas slot seamlessly into the landscape and sit upon exposed steel pillars with naturally finished cement walls and timber flooring. The view from each is spectacular, with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the lush mountains. Inspired by Buddhist caves, it’s all incredibly minimalist and at times challenging: the light switches are difficult to work out, the phone in each room is an old Nokia and there’s no Wifi on the grounds except in each room. That said, it’s a luxurious though simple décor and you feel completely at one with nature, falling asleep to the sounds of the wildlife.
Also not to miss is a swim in the infinity pool overlooking the mountains (preferably at sunrise or sunset to enjoy the changing hues). Perched on the side of a hill, overlooking the forests, the pool has some of the best vistas in the hotel. Before or after, it’s very easy to while a way your time in the spa: as well as a plethora of massages available, there’s a thermal bath, a steam room and sauna to swap between and play musical chairs.
My experience at Santani was on speed: sadly it was for just a night, which was definitely a mistake. If not staying on a package retreat, any guest should definitely spend at least two nights here, if not a week, especially given the time taken to arrive at this secluded spot and to experience everything Santani has to offer. You won’t regret it.
Living Heritage: If looking for a hotel nearish Nuwara Eliya and Ella (to see Nine Arches) and besides the magnificent Diyaluma Falls (Sri Lanka’s second highest waterfall), consider Living Heritage. Whilst Satanti may be remote, Living Heritage is even more off-the-beaten-path – your driver is in for challenge but if you’re looking to switch off and live in the wild, you’re on the right track.
This 80-acre spot has been open since 2012 and is utterly secluded. There’s no Wifi in the hotel except in the main, outdoor dining and lounge area; the area is subject to frequent electricity cuts; if staying in a cabin/tree-top “hut”, those are on stilts, walled by drapes and a switch is required to operate hot water for the shower…You’re completely at one with nature – safari-style! I was even told that there’s an elephant on the site, which had come to the main breakfast area just a week before my stay. If you’d prefer something more plush, though, there are beautiful, large suites in front of the main area, complete with an indoor and outdoor shower, an central courtyard sitting area and a balcony for sitting. Very luxurious.
Wherever you’re staying, the staff make great efforts to accommodate any request: its Sri Lankan hospitality at its best. Upon arrival, the on-site manager, Careem, offers a tour of the main hotel area. The spot also seems to be popular with tourists and local Sri Lankans alike, with many couples from Colombo staying here for the weekend to celebrate Independence Day. Whilst the cabins are basic, they’re a beautiful space within which to fall asleep and wake-up. Though set high up in the mountains, it doesn’t feel cold in the summer months at all.
The food at Living Heritage offers something for everyone. The chef here is incredibly accommodating of dietary requests, in a creative and inventive way. On my visit, the breakfast spread was utterly bespoke and was probably the best I enjoyed in Sri Lanka. Everything was vegan and gluten-free and the choice astonishingly perfect: chickpea flour bread served with fresh jam and peanut butter; helapa sweetened with Kithul treacle; hoppers accompanied by all the sambars, sweet and savoury; karrakan flour bread; karrakan flour rotis, not to forget the fresh juice and fruit platter…these plates are the stuff of wake-up dreams.
In the evening, whilst Western options are available, it’s best to stick with what they do best: Sri Lankan foods – think eggplant moju, okra, spice coconut, red rice and a customised “goti-cauli” – a spin on the classic gotikola sambal, but with added raw, grated cauliflower. Before dinner, Carrim also gathers together all guests in the lovely cushioned open lounge to enjoy a Sri Lankan cocktail (likely featuring arrack!) and a small bite. It’s a perfectly relaxed setting to meet one another and exchange stories – you truly feel like you’re on vacation.
There’s a lot to explore whilst you’re here: two fountains are a good hike away through palm-lined wood-groves. Each offer a magical setting within which to swim, dip and simply listen to the sounds of the water rushing through your feet.
Living Heritage is a very special place: it’s restoring the land it occupies – indeed, its owner Lucy tells me that they see themselves as “caretakers of the land” – whilst treating tourists to the very best of Sri Lanka’s wild landscape. The jaw-droppingly beautiful view from their infinity pool, located up some steep steps, reminds you just how lush Sri Lanka is.