Illuketia

Galle & South Coast, Sri Lanka Book from US$242

Reviewed by Yasmin Boland
A magnificently restored estate house set amid swaying palms, fragrant frangipani trees and bamboo groves
Early British maps of this part of Sri Lanka reveal the days when the grand old dame Illuketia was just a blushing young girl. In the 1800s, it was a major plantation and local landmark, treasured by locals and foreigners alike for its peaceful surroundings. Set amid palm trees, fragrant frangipanis and lush bamboo groves, it remains beloved and has enjoyed several lifetimes already. From its graceful first heyday more than 100 years ago, it's been loved, lost and loved again, most recently being restored by publisher and photographer Hans Hoefer in 1992.

This magnificent estate house, with 6 double bedrooms, is set on a small hill in the centre of 10 acres of gardens. The hill is the only understated aspect of this residence's environs; tropical plants here grow to monstrous proportions, sending the visitor into a verdant fantasy world. At the end of the garden is a stunning 75ft pool with a shallow area at both ends – perfect for children.

Highs

  • The house has been meticulously restored, with sumptuous attention to detail and historic features such as carved temple doors in the hallway
  • The lush gardens are teaming with wildlife, including rainbow-coloured tropical birds, chattering monkeys and glowing fireflies
  • The estate provides a glimpse of Sri Lanka's lush interior without being too far from the coast
  • You can rent individual rooms or hire the entire villa – ideal for groups and family celebrations

Lows

  • Beach lovers may miss instant proximity to the coast, though the beach is only a short drive away and there is a large pool
  • This is not a purpose-built hotel and noise can travel from one room to another
  • The lush greenery means mosquitoes can be a problem – take plenty of repellent

Best time to go

September to April brings the best weather and the least rain in this part of Sri Lanka; the rest of the year is the monsoon season. Book well in advance for the busy Christmas period.

Our top tips

Make sure you have binoculars and plenty of camera batteries for spotting and snapping the huge variety of wildlife at Illuketia – at the last count there were more than 150 bird species, over 550 tropical plants and 20 mammals living within its grounds.

Great for...

Family
Great Outdoors
Honeymoon
Wedding
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Boutique Hotel & Villa
  • 6
  • Breakfast (+ other meals by arrangement)
  • All ages welcome
  • Open all year
  • Outdoor Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Daily Maid Service
  • Towels & Bedlinen
  • Snooker Table
  • Bicycles Available
  • Billiards
Room:

Rooms

Illuketia has 6 bedrooms styled as suites, which are spread across the main house and the separate Pond House. These can be rented individually or a group can take the whole villa. The feel throughout is airy and light, with white walls and tiled floors accentuated by splashes of colour from bright paintings and fabrics. All rooms have ensuite bathrooms, mosquito nets and intricately carved wooden doors and windows, but don't expect to find TVs or CD players – Illuketia is about relaxing to the sounds of the natural world outside.

The 4 suites in the main house are Hibiscus, Lotus, Citronella and Waterlily. Hibiscus, originally the house's master bedroom, has a private balcony overlooking padi fields and a huge bathroom decorated with Turkish tiles, while the similarly spacious Lotus Suite has a view of the tea plantations on the hills beyond. The 2 other suites are smaller – though Citronella has a private garden terrace – and Waterlily in particular is most suited to single occupants. The main house also has a billiard and library room, a vast drawing room, shaded verandas and a central atrium with a pretty pond.

Set away from the main building and overlooking a spring-fed lily pond, the Pond House offers 2 emaculate, air-conditioned suites, both with open-air bathrooms. The Ginger Suite has an enormous double bed set on a raised platform and the Jasmine Suite has a large gilded balinese wedding bed and a double outdoor bathtub, making it a popular honeymoon suite. The house's open central area can be used as a living and dining area, although guests can eat in the Main House if they wish.

Features include:

  • Air conditioning
  • Cots Available
  • Extra beds
  • Fan
  • Hairdryer
  • Internet access
  • Mosquito net

Eating

Illuketia has a permanent, English-speaking staff who pride themselves on the gourmet delights they create – outside guests often come for dinner to sample the delicious cuisine. Shopping expeditions for drinks and food are taken care of by the housekeeper, though guests are welcome to phone in special requests or even go along to the market with the staff.

The food on offer is international with a Sri Lankan influence. Dinner, served on the veranda to the call of cicadas or in one of the dining rooms, uses seasonal vegetables cooked with spices and coconuts plucked from the estate. Fresh squid, shrimp and lobster are also on offer. We particularly enjoyed the desserts – buffalo milk curd served in earthen pots with treacle from palm trees is a specialty of the house.

Breakfast, eaten whenever and wherever you want, consists of fresh fruit, eggs, sausages, bacon and pancakes, together with chilled juices and locally grown coffee. Lunches of salads and tasty sandwiches and afternoon teas are also available.

Features include:

  • Breakfast
  • Children meals
  • Dinner by arrangement
  • In house cook
  • Lunch by arrangement
  • Organic produce
  • Room service
  • Vegetarian menu
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Explore the gardens and surrounding hills to take in the vast array of flora and fauna. The owner, Hans Hoefer, has mapped out the area for self-guided walks through rice fields, tea plantations and villages
  • If you prefer wheels to walking, bikes are available for guests to use
  • Visit the nearby coastal town of Galle – one of Sri Lanka's most historic – and soak up the atmosphere of its maze of streets and 17th century Dutch fort
  • Head to Illuketia's stylish sister property Apa Villas (just 10 minutes away) to spend the day lazing on its beach
  • Hire a jeep and explore the area; you can see the interior of Sri Lanka withough straying too far from the coast
  • Take an all-day boat cruise to explore the nearby coast – picnic lunches to enjoy onboard can be prepared by staff
  • Visit the Hummanya blowhole (most active in June during the monsoon) – the second largest in the world
  • Visit Weherahena, an unusual underground temple
  • Take a day trip to Kottawa rainforest, where you might spot lizards, frogs, butterflies and giant squirrels

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Billiards
  • Birdwatching
  • Boat trips
  • Cycling
  • Hiking
  • Historical sites
  • Plantlife / flora
  • Shopping / markets
  • Snorkelling
  • Traditional cultures
  • Trekking
  • Wildlife

Kids

Children are very welcome. There is no charge for those under 11 sharing their parents' room and cots with mosquito nets are available.

There are no dedicated children's activities on site, but the pool has shallow areas at each end and kids will enjoy spotting the many species of wildlife which live in the grounds.

Best for:

All ages

Family friendly accommodation:

Cots Available, Extra Beds Available

Babysitting:

Babysitting can be arranged on request.

Children's meals:

There is no set children's menu, but the staff are happy to prepare child-friendly meals.

Families Should Know:

There are several ponds in the garden which parents should be aware of.

Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

9/
Rooms
10/
Food
10/
Service
9/
Value
10/
Overall

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