Aranwella, near Tangalle, Sri Lanka
Stylish small hotel wrapped in bird-filled gardens and picturesque paddy fields, just inland from Tangalle and its beaches
Many of Sri Lanka’s crumbling ancestral abodes have been
rescued by foreigners keen to revive these magnificent mansions.
But where others deviate little in their redesign, interior
designer Niki Fairchild, co-owner of Maya Villa, has broken free of
the mould by masterfully blending the old with the new. First, she
completely refurbished the original 19th-century manor house, then
she added a new wing and fused them together with an L-shaped
indigo swimming pool. The result is a refreshingly simple yet
striking take on colonial style, with 5 contemporary rooms
available individually or together as a staffed villa for
Enveloping the house is a magical 2-acre garden, home to melodious armies of exotic birds, and this setting entices families, couples and nature lovers alike. Unspoilt Aranwella immerses the hotel in tranquility; borrow bicycles to peddle around this sleepy little village, or take a tuk-tuk to the south coast’s beautiful beaches, 8km away. But Maya’s star attraction is the mesmerising sea of paddy fields rolling out beyond its emerald lawns. Their colours change chameleon-like according to the season, and provide a stunning backdrop to lazy alfresco meals - some of the tastiest we’ve come across in Tangalle.
Maya’s 5 spacious bedrooms are divided between the old house
and a new wing that faces it across the swimming pool. Soaring
ceilings, polished floors and eye-catching brass wall lamps are
features throughout, and every room comes with a kingsize bed, a
veranda with chairs, and an ensuite shower room finished in
plum-coloured terrazzo or polished concrete.
The beautifully restored old house cleverly blends contemporary furnishings with traditional features. Its 2 rooms are set either side of a central dining area and come with regal four-poster beds draped in mosquito netting. Kumbuk is the more private and overlooks the rear garden, whereas Thekka gazes out over the pool towards the paddy fields. The entrance veranda of the old house has been turned into a semi-open lounge, with delicate latticework shutters, a cushion-plumped sofa and shelves of attention-grabbing books.
The 3 rooms in the new wing flaunt private courtyards and doorless bathrooms (not to everyone’s taste, but very chic nonetheless). Amba and Ehela sit side by side and come with the largest courtyards; cute corner room Kohomba has a cobbled terrace and its own miniature palm-topped lawn. To the front of the new wing is an open-sided wooden pavilion with minimalist blue and white daybeds and a poolside dining table for 10.
All rooms come with sitting areas (colonial-style planters' chairs in the old house, boxy low-slung couches in the new wing), plus hairdryers, fans, cable TV, CD players, iPod docks, WiFi and air conditioning. Bathrooms have rain showers (no tubs) and toiletries made using organic herbs and spices.
Maya’s food is some of the best in Tangalle. Not only is this
down to the chef’s obvious talents in the kitchen, but also
because the rural paddy-side setting is so deliciously divine. You
can dine in the old house’s vaulted dining room, poolside in
the new wing pavilion, or in the privacy of your room or
Hearty breakfasts start with a choice of Sri Lankan apas (bowl-shaped rice flour pancakes) with seeni sambol (red onion chutney) or filling Full Englishes with all the trimmings. This is followed by tropical fruit, cereal, creamy buffalo curd and kithu (palm sugar) treacle - a wonderful local speciality. Fresh bread is made in-house.
Lunches are leisurely affairs served when and where you want; the staff took our order after breakfast so they could stock up on supplies. The fusion food mixes Asian influences with western dishes, so a typical buffet spread might include chicken lemongrass skewers, spicy pasta puttanesca, prawn tempura and fish curry with okra.
Dinners are more formal 3-course affairs with set menus that change daily. We enjoyed a delicious zesty crab salad with a zingy ginger dressing, followed by a Thai red prawn curry. Bananas fried in cane sugar and served with dollops of silky curd finished off our meal a treat. Vegetarian options are always available - just ask.
Maya is a 15-minute drive from the beaches of Tangalle, which is where you’ll find the best options for eating out (staff can arrange transport). Sleek hotel Amanwella, set on a gorgeous crescent-shaped swathe of sand, has 2 restaurants; its Beach Club with a Mediterranean-inspired menu was our favourite choice for relaxed seaside meals.
The hotel has solar power and uses CFL energy-saving bulbs.
Most staff members come from Aranwella. Guests can donate to the local temple, and funds raised already have provided a computer and kids’ English classes at the temple school.
December to April are the sunniest and driest months, with December to February proving particularly popular. May and June are the region’s wettest months, with October and November a close second. The paddy fields in front of the hotel change from season to season, but if you long for a lush pea-green scene, you’ll need to visit in December, January, June or July.
Twitchers can borrow binoculars and birding books to spot the amazing array of birdlife that visits the garden, but if catching it on film is important then bring a good telephoto lens. This will also come in handy for snapping wildlife at the safari parks in the area.
Although the hotel wasn’t designed with kids in mind, children of all ages are welcome and will adore having the run of the 2-acre garden. It’s big enough to kick a ball, and there are plenty of spots for playing hide and seek. The staff here are great at keeping kids engaged (they've even been known to enthrall them with kite-making classes!), and there are family-friendly films to borrow. For a bit of excitement there’s nothing like a tuk-tuk ride to the beach to go boogie boarding.
Maya Villa is 8km inland from the coastal town of Tangalle, in southern Sri Lanka. It’s set in the rural village of Aranwella, a 4-hour drive (or a 45-minute flight) from the capital Colombo.
Fly into Colombo Bandaranaike International (230km away). Click on the links below for a list of airlines serving this airport.
From the Airport
The hotel can arrange road transfers from Colombo (see Rates), or you can take the speedy Sri Lankan Airlines air taxi service to Dikwella Lagoon (15 minutes from Maya). Flights operate once or twice daily, and Maya staff can meet you at Dikwella.
You can catch a direct bus from Colombo to Tangalle (15 minutes from the hotel) or to Matara (an hour from the hotel). From there you can finish the rest of the journey by tuk-tuk, or arrange for staff to pick you up.
If you want to hire a driver and car for your whole holiday, enquire through our Tailormade Tour Operator; they can collect you at the airport when you land, drive you down to Maya, then drive you to your onward destination after your stay. The driver's meals and accommodation are provided for free at Maya.
Detailed directions will be sent to you when you book through i-escape.com.
More on getting to Sri Lanka and getting around
Conde Nast Traveller (UK), October 2012
"This Indian Ocean Island is quickly climbing to the top of every traveller's wish-list, and with gorgeous beaches, increasingly trendy hotels and excellent swells, it's no wonder why. This stylish boutique hotel in southern Sri Lanka is located in a quiet rural village eight kilometres inland from Tangalle, Maya Villa has just five contemporary suites spread over the grounds of a restored 19th-century manor house, and is surrounded by green paddy fields."
Travel + Leisure, January 2012
"Sri Lanka’s beach-lined southern coast is the country’s strongest draw... [and] a handful of designers have opened boutique hotels... Hong Kong decorator Niki Fairchild has turned a century-old house into the glamorous five-suite Maya."
Reviews are from people who have booked through us.
“We loved Maya. The manger looked after us exceptionally well as did
his staff. The room was beautifully decorated and had everything we
The massage is a must.
Food excellent and the neighbouring village a nice place to take a bike though or walk.We had 3 gorgeous days here.
All very peaceful, the beaches an easy excursion if you need it!”
“Lovely location. The room was excellent, the only annoyance was the
mosquito net above the bed which became tangled in the bedding over
night. The design at one of your other hotels was much better
having a frame the size of the bed to suspend the net from so it
didn't drape itself across the bed.
[A note]: we left some shoes outside the room at night to find them ripped up by the local dogs [in the morning].”