Have you ever wanted to stay in a five-star luxury tree house? Now you can.
Did anyone actually have a tree house as a kid? The older I get, the more I think they were purely between the pages of Enid Blyton novels and the intros of coming-of-age 80s movies on TV. Deep down, I think everyone secretly wishes they had one though – a place to escape, looking down at the world below. So when I saw a picture of a hotel in Sri Lanka in a magazine, I knew I had to visit it. Heritance Kandalama is a tree house for grown-ups: an amazing architectural achievement built in the middle of nowhere in Dambulla, Central Province, Sri Lanka. It describes itself as “a hotel that doesn’t sit on the landscape but is part of it. Where monkeys climb your balcony pillars as if they were trees, swifts nest in the corners of corridors as if they were cliffs, granite crags erupt into the sinuous white walkways. Where you can float in the infinity pool while gazing across at the Sigiriya rock fortress, the eighth wonder of the world.” If that doesn’t make you want to visit, I don’t know what will.
I was given a last-minute opportunity to stay at Heritance Kandalama en route from Sigiriya down to Kandy. As soon as I arrived I was taken to an area beside the aforementioned infinity pool for check-in. A welcome drink and a few handshakes later and I was on my way to my room on the 3rd floor. This actually meant travelling two floors down as opposed to up. The hotel is built into the side of a mountain with the architects designing the entrance to be at the same height as the canopies. It also means that rooms below this level are completely surrounded by vines, trees and the nature that goes alongside it.
A Suite of Greenery
Sure enough, as I step inside my suite I’m initially struck by how the green the room is. Floor-to-ceiling windows frame the forest outside giving the impression that you are indeed living in a tree house. In the living room I’m offered a big desk to work at, flatscreen TV and seating area. In the bedroom: a huge bed, another TV and a control station by the bed for all the lights. A small but important touch in a room of this size as it means no more wandering about the suite wondering which light switch turns off which specific light. The greenery continues in the bathroom with more oversized windows framing the jacuzzi bath and shower area. (Blinds are included in case you don’t want monkeys spying on you when you are taking a bath. Jungle problems, eh?)
It’s not an exaggeration to say you are surrounded nature everywhere at this hotel. I purposely left all the curtains of my room open so that I would be awakened by natural light at 6am. The room is soundproofed, but enough thought has been given to allow the subtle sounds of birds singing to penetrate the room. And so, I woke alongside the animals of the forest, looking out my window to be greeted by the sight of mist rising off the canopies. Possibly the best alarm clock I’ve ever had. Even more amazing was that just 2ft from me on the other side of the glass a family of monkeys were sitting relaxing waiting for the day to start. A baby was playing on the vines while its mother (sporting an amazing hipster haircut) looked on. I left my bedroom and went round the the living area and sure enough, outside that window as well, monkeys were playing. My own private zoo. But fully natural. In fact, I was the one enclosed – not the animals. (One thing to note here is that there are signs on the door telling you not to leave your balcony door open. Now I see why!)
Food Food Food
My stay included half-board which meant breakfast and dinner was taken care of. Both meals were buffet style with the food of the quality you would expect from such a high-end hotel. The food at dinner was particularly impressive, and I can’t help but wonder how long the chefs must have spent preparing such a spread. The desert section was immaculate, with three of four different processes going into making some of the dishes. Outside at dinner two chefs were busy preparing okonomiaki to confused looking patrons who did not know what this dish was. Having lived in Japan for four years I smiled at the novelty. It was a nice touch for those who had never experienced it. Breakfast was served in a different location, the hotel opting to utilize the morning light as much as possible. The breakfast room was a cube with floor-to-ceiling windows on three-out-of-the-four sides, overlooking the vast plains below. As I sipped on black Sri Lankan tea I could see an elephant walking down into the lake and a herd of buffalo lazing about it the sun. Once again, chefs outside were busy preparing eggs to order as well as a selection of traditional Sri Lankan string hoppers. With the hotel being secluded, it’s a good job so much food is available to you.
Heritance Kandalama is a fine example in the art of seclusion. Yes there is a gym, a spa and a number of swimming pools, but the real draw of this place is the true sense of isolation you get by staying here. If you are planning a visit to Sri Lanka – and wanting to live out your own childhood tree-house fantasies – make sure you pay Heritance Kandalama a visit. Check out this short video of my stay.