Kalundewa Retreat

Dambulla Oya, Cultural Triangle, Sri Lanka Book from Book from £211 per night

A small collection of superbly designed modern chalets, stilted over a lake and surrounded by beautiful paddies, offering total seclusion
Leaving behind dusty Dambulla, the road winds its way through lush paddy fields flanked by majestic mountains, leading into a long avenue lined with pomegranate and mango trees. This is the entrance to architectural gem Kalundewa, hidden within a 100-acre retreat in Sri Lanka’s rural heart.

Reaching the reception area, a high-design structure with trees growing through the slanted roof, you begin to see how Kalundewa has created a unique harmony between modern architecture and the natural world. And a glimpse of the Bakmee Chalet between foliage exposes an almost incongruous sight: on a marshy lake, steel beams and vast glass panels glint in the dappled sunlight. Whether you approach it by raft across the water, or via a stroll through a tropical orchard, the impact is the same: a massive wow factor. The building soars high and an open split-level living area has a fabulous wraparound view.

The cosy Kambuk Chalet is also on stilts whilst the Damunu Chalet is surrounded by a sea of paddy fields. All are full of glorious mod-cons, cavernous glass-walled bathrooms, and sleek bedrooms of exposed brick, sliding wooden doors and chunky steel fittings. But despite the modern setting, it's nature that steals the show; this is a seriously peaceful place.

Highs

  • Modern design with an ecoluxe vibe, in a remote and peaceful setting far from the tourist groups
  • Great for honeymooners; at night the air twinkles with fireflies and we loved the special candle-lit dinners set up on the bridges over the river, on top of the water tower, or in the rice fields
  • A nature lover's paradise: birds flit past in dashes of colour, frogs burp contently, and the lake splashes as a water monitor cools off
  • Delicious food, much of it home-grown (rice, vegetables, fruit), and served whenever you want
  • Gorgeous walks and bicycle rides through agricultural scenery

Lows

  • Service is friendly but quite informal, and sometimes there are no staff on duty
  • Only 2 of the chalets have private plunge pools but there is a lovely spring-fed pool for all guests to enjoy
  • Meals are a little on the pricey side and there are no other restaurants nearby
  • This is a very peaceful place; not for party people

Best time to go

May to August are hot, dry months, ideal for a visit. February and March can be humid though are still generally nice. From April to June the wind picks up dramatically. You might want to avoid November to January, when the north-east monsoon brings rain to the area; however it is a good time to see migratory birds.

Our top tips

Bring binoculars to get a closer look at the unusual birds (and perhaps a bird-identifying book) plus lots of insect repellent as the mosquitoes seem to get everywhere, especially at dusk.

A few good reads are essential, as this is a perfect place to relax with a book, amongst the calls of nature. Those who like music should probably bring headphones, as Kalundewa is a quiet place.

Great for...

Eco
Foodie
Great Outdoors
Honeymoon
  • Eco-Boutique Retreat
  • 6
  • Breakfast (+ other meals on request)
  • 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
  • Bicycles Available
Room: Kumbuk Chalet

Rooms

The Bakmee Chalet, Damunu Chalet and Kumbuk Chalet are dotted around a lake, nestled between mangrove trees. We loved their glass window walls, making wonderful vistas from the beds. There are also shutters and blinds, but we chose to leave them unobstructed so we could wake up to misty mountain views.

The Bakmee Chalet has 2 large yet low-key bedrooms, focusing on wood, cement and brick textures. They’re pretty similar, but Upper Bakmee is slightly smaller and ground-floor Lower Bakmee has the added luxury of a private Jacuzzi.

Damunu Chalet houses the Nika and Ehela rooms plus the larger Damunu Suite. Booked together, they make a great option for groups or a family.

Honeymooners and romantics should opt for the secluded Kumbuk Chalet which has its own living and dining area, a balcony with a Jacuzzi plunge pool and panoramic views across the lake.

All bathrooms are gorgeous and spacious, with small dressing areas where you find fleece dressing gowns. In ours, a glass door led to twin sinks with a rain shower over stone tiles.

Features include:

  • Air conditioning
  • Bathrobes
  • Coffee tea making
  • Extra beds
  • Hairdryer
  • Ipod dock
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Phone
  • Plunge pool
  • Safe box
  • Terrace
  • Toiletries
  • WiFi

Eating

Meal times are scheduled entirely around your itinerary. You can dine wherever you like and we found it nice to vary our eating spots - romantic lantern-lit dinners over the lake, on the deck for lunch, breakfast overlooking the paddy fields. There is also a lovely summer hut with grass roofing, in the middle of a lush paddy.

The menu is a mix of Sri Lankan and Western, using ingredients freshly picked that day form the hotel’s own vegetable and fruit gardens. One night we had Caesar salad with the huge king prawns followed by succulent lamb chops served with creamy potatoes and crispy vegetables. The second night we had a succulent fish curry with red rice from the estate’s paddy fields. Small side dishes included dhal, fried gourd, beetroot curry and a melt-in-the-mouth pumpkin dish. For pudding we tucked into delicious homemade sorbets - the soursop was our favourite.

Breakfast can be either Sri Lankan or Western. The latter came with pineapple, freshly picked bananas and a papaya juice. Then came lots of tea, rounds of toast and eggs any style.

Features include:

  • Breakfast
  • Coffee tea making
  • Dinner by arrangement
  • Lunch by arrangement
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Room service
  • Vegetarian menu
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Explore the cave temples in Dambulla (8km); skip the Japanese golden temple on entrance, and climb up to see the beautiful interiors of 5 caves with over 150 images of Buddha
  • Put on sturdy walking shoes for the precarious climb to the top of Sigiriya Rock (45 minutes away), an awesome rock fortress, and a World Heritage site. You'll walk past ancient graffiti and frescoes up to a magnificent view
  • Have lunch at the late Geoffrey Bawa’s jungle hideaway hotel Kandalama, a huge modern structure covered in foliage. You can take a post-lunch dip in one of the 3 swimming pools
  • Back at Kalundewa, listen to the calls of nature whilst relaxing in the plunge pool jacuzzi or bicycle around the paddy fields and take a dip in the natural spring-pool
  • Walk through the fruit orchard, full of bananas, papayas and avocados, and examine the medicinal garden with over 500 Ayurvedic remedies
  • Spot birds from your deck including kingfishers, hornbills and egrets, and identify them using the coffee-table book
  • Take a local guide and climb the nearby peak Kalawallanda (featured on Kalundewa's logo), which takes a whole day. Bring plenty of water and fruit for snacks
  • Climb the observation deck at sunset to watch the colours change around you

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Birdwatching
  • Cycling
  • Hiking
  • Historical sites
  • Plantlife / flora
  • Swimming

Kids

Although children are welcome, it's not ideal; there's a lot of water around and the remote setting means older children might get bored.

Best for:

Children (4-12 years)

Family friendly accommodation:

Booking exclusive use of the Bakmee Chalet (2 double bedrooms) or Damunu Chalet (3 double bedrooms) is the best option for families as you get extra living space; it will also feel more relaxed as you won't be as worried about disturbing the peace for other guests.

If booking an individual room, all but Nika and Ehela have space for extra beds (no baby cots or highchairs are available).

Families Should Know:

Parents need to be very vigilant with small children given the open-plan nature of the building, which is surrounded by water.

Kid Friendly: Reception

Our guests' ratings...

Based on 4 independent reviews from i-escape guests

10/10
Rooms
7/10
Food
9/10
Service
9/10
Value
9/10
Overall

Kalundewa retreat was absolutely wonderful from the moment we arrived. <br>The beauty of the place and the kindness of the staff made our stay a memorable one. A magical few days.

9/10, , December 2016

Excellent location in the middle of wilderness with hornbills, monitor lizards, giant squirrels, peacocks and countless other birds. We paid for the smaller room, but since there wasn't anyone else staying they upgraded us to the entire house. It has a plunge pool and is surrounded by nature. What a treat. Food was so-so, but they try hard and not bad for being in the middle of the forest.

10/10, , March 2014

We had a wonderful time at the resort. Staff was present and ready to do everything to make us feel like home. The great Bio garden made our meals authentic and tasteful. I would recommend this place to everyone who wants to have quality time, who is sensible to architecture and who like to be close to nature. The rooms and salon are well arrange and piece full. Well done Kalundewa Retreat, you made our trio worthwhile. <br>Will be back...

10/10, , September 2014

It was a shame as it seemed management had just changed before our arrival. Reading reviews from the past it seemed we got unlucky, but it did feel like the retreat was extremely disorganised and were working it out as they went along.

6/10, , December 2013

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Rates for Kalundewa Retreat