“The dream house and magical lakeside gardens of Sri Lanka's most famous architect, now a blissful hotel for those seeking peace and quiet”
Run by the non-profit-making Lunuganga Trust, you wouldn’t really call it a hotel. Discerning travellers have the chance to stay in one of 4 antique-filled suites or a two-room cottage, the latter set on the edge of a cinnamon plantation in a secluded corner of the gardens. With a full staff and catering service, this is a privileged opportunity to explore the genius of Asia’s best-known architect, famed for his monochrome motifs, exquisite compositions of light and shade and harmony of landscape and architecture.
- There are some 15 acres of tranquil gardens - from immaculate lawns of spreading frangipani to a dense jungle of palms and banyans - providing hours of idle wandering right on the doorstep
- The intimate plantation house can take a maximum of 9 guests, with a separate cottage for 4 (with butler service)
- The elegant suites are packed with quirky collections of art and antiques, especially the Gallery Room (it’s truly like spending the night in an art gallery)
- It’s an inspiring place to read, sketch or finish your novel
- Boat trips and bird-watching tours can be arranged
- Only the main Guest Suite has air conditioning
- No children under the age of 12 are accepted
- There’s no swimming pool, but it’s close to Bentota’s beaches and guests can use a nearby pool
- There’s a lack of comfortable outdoor seating. Sun beds, we’re told, are not in keeping with the Bawa spirit, but we longed for something to lounge on
- Some of the exterior paint and woodwork is a bit grubby, but maintaining the estate is a huge undertaking and weathering is part of its natural order
Best time to go
Our top tips
- Boutique Guesthouse
- 4 + 1 cottage
- Breakfast (+ other meals on request)
- Over 12s welcome
- Open all year
- Spa Treatments
- Pet Friendly
- Disabled Access
- Beach Nearby
- Off-street Parking
- Restaurants Nearby
- Air Conditioning
- Guest Lounge
- Daily Maid Service
- Towels & Bedlinen
- Concierge Service
Clustered at the top of the hill, with the gardens spread out below, are the old plantation houses. The rooms in 4 of them have been converted into double-bedded suites with private bathrooms. Left much as they were in Bawa’s lifetime, they’re furnished with antique Dutch furniture, sculpture and artworks from his collection. Each room has its own quirky style, but all are elegant, interesting and intensely personal. Consistent themes include white mosquito netting draped over big comfortable beds (some of them four-posters), low lighting and hints of Bawa’s distinctive monochrome décor (expressed through black-and-white paintwork, printed textiles and tiled floors).
The main Guest Suite is the only guest room in the main house, and the only one with air conditioning. It’s filled with Bawa’s paintings and objets d’art, even in the bathroom, which is furnished with a bath tub, an old-fashioned water heater and cranky plumbing. A tiny private courtyard guarantees peace and seclusion.
The Glass House, a bridge of glass spanning the entrance loggia, is a single room and full of sunlight, garden vistas and inspiration (the perfect artist’s retreat).
Alongside this is the Gallery, which the architect converted from a stable to house his private collection; international art and artefacts, vintage and modern, fill its large double bedroom, which has a dressing room and bathroom (with roll-top tub) overlooking the water garden. Below, a sitting room (or lower gallery) opens onto a terrace. This room is usually sold last, so that guests in other rooms can admire its treasures.
A short distance from the main house, next to the ha-ha in a dip between two hills, is the pavilion or Small House, which Bawa built to accommodate his architectural assistants. This split-level annexe, much of it decorated in Bawa monochrome, has the feel of a cottage and is now the only room with twin beds.
Further away, on the edge of a cinnamon plantation after which it’s named, is the Cinnamon Hill House, a 2-bedroom cottage. Its vistas roll across lawns, hardwood forests and the lake to rest on a distant Buddhist stupa. With two ensuite double rooms, inside and outside living areas and a private steward, it’s a regal and restful retreat for two couples or a family (extra beds are available) seeking perfection and privacy.
- Air conditioning
- Extra beds
- Internet access
Staff serve breakfast (and other meals, on request) in one of the many beautiful corners of the grounds, away from the daytime visitors. There is a dining room of sorts in the living room; its few tables are constantly moved in and out of the French windows, depending on the moods of the weather, and are usually dressed with flowers and black-and-white linen. You can also choose to eat in your suite or in an outdoor space close by.
For dinner, with the house and grounds all to yourselves, Bawa's kitchen produces simple but delicious curries and other local dishes. We dined by candelight on spicy coconut and prawn curry and traditional Sri Lankan string hopper noodles.
A lovely idea for lunch is a picnic on a boat in the lake, returning for afternoon tea (freshly baked cake or scones with jam) in the main house. Lunches and dinners usually require a little notice, but you can state your preferences over breakfast or on arrival.
The hotel doesn’t have a bar, but will serve chilled beers and drinks such as gin and tonic on request.
- Dinner by arrangement
- Lunch by arrangement
- Allow plenty of time for soaking up the gardens (a blissful patchwork of earth, foliage, water and light, with indigenous flowers, majestic banyans, canopied rubber trees and dense ferns) and browsing the artworks in the house. The grounds are open to the public between 9am and 5pm, though numbers are limited
- If you're particularly interested in gardens, those of Geoffrey Bawa's brother Bevis can be visited at Brief, a few miles away. Architectural tours can also be arranged for viewing Geoffrey Bawa's finest creations
- The bird watching in the area is hard to beat and nature trails can be arranged
- Head to one of the many long, sandy beaches around Bentota, where you can swim, dive, sail, surf, jet ski, ride horses or watch fishermen unload crayfish and squid
- Colombo and the Unesco World Heritage town of Galle are both about 60km (1-2 hours) away and are feasible as day trips by car or train
- Check out one of the nearby turtle hatcheries, where visitors are encouraged to help release baby turtles back into the sea
- Discover the art of mask making in Ambalangoda, which lies a short drive to the south
Activities on site or nearby include:
- Boat trips
- Historical sites
- Plantlife / flora
- Scuba diving
- Traditional cultures