The Frangipani Tree

Near Galle, Galle & South Coast, Sri Lanka Book from US$275

Reviewed by Kate Parsons
Inspired by architect Geoffrey Bawa, a modern minimalist hotel that lets the oceanside setting speak for itself
Once upon a time, hippies came to Sri Lanka to tune in and drop out on its gorgeous golden shores. The beaches are as much of a draw as ever, but these days, hosts of hotels vie for attention with smart flatscreens and all sorts of fancy accoutrements. Not so here; at The Frangipani Tree you won't even find a TV in your room. The magic of this hotel is simply its setting - the raging waves of the Indian Ocean crash just meters from the Hawksbill, Leatherback and Olive Ridley suites - named after the turtles who head back to this beach every year to lay their eggs.

The keen young team urge you to switch off your phone, kick off your shoes and pick up a book to lounge by the pool. If you need more activity you can do some laps or play a game of tennis, but basically, it's all about downtime. Add to this casual but tasty dining and beautifully spare interiors courtesy of Bawa protegé Channa Daswatte, and it's no surprise that tuning in and dropping out is fashionable once again.

Highs

  • The clean, minimalist lines and polished concrete show Geoffrey Bawa's influence, and make a refreshing change from Galle's heritage hotels
  • You can see the world famous stilt fishermen from the beach and spot sea turtles bobbing up and down in the sea
  • The perfect place to escape and relax - beautiful bathrooms and minimal tech
  • A long, thin pool; great for those who actually want to swim on holiday
  • Throughout our stay, the friendly service from all the staff was excellent

Lows

  • Some may find it a little pricey given the lack of mod cons, but for others, that's the attraction
  • The management have introduced high speed WiFi (but you don't have to use it)
  • No in-room fridges, but a cold drink will arrive rapidly if you order one
  • You'll need to take a tuk-tuk if you want to dine out

Best time to go

Peak season is November - March and this is when Sri Lanka is traditionally buzzing. We stayed in October and it was very quiet - the off season is alarmingly quiet across the country. However, rates are lower and you'll get the full attention of the staff, although the weather can be hit or miss.

Our top tips

At dusk, the local swifts swarm and nest in the palms. Grab a lounger on the grassy bank at 6pm and watch as thousands gather in the warm night air. By 6.30pm every single one has settled in the palms along the beachfront. Extraordinary!

Great for...

Beach
Family
Honeymoon
Spa
Wedding
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Boutique Hotel
  • 9
  • Restaurant (open daily)
  • 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
  • Tennis Court
  • Yoga
Room:

Rooms

The 9 lovely suites are spread across 3 villas, and you can fall asleep to the sound of the ocean in each. They're named after types of sea turtle and you may even see the species bobbing about in the waves, just steps from your front door.

Picture this: high ceilings, smooth polished concrete and white gauzy nets fluttering around the bed. Minimal furniture draws focus to the big bed and the cushioned lounge area covered in nautical stripes. Tech is limited to WiFi and iPod docks, so it’s easy to unplug completely if you wish. All suites have air-conditioning and are fitted with ceiling fan in case the Sri Lankan heat gets too much.

Most have open-air bathrooms which are great fun; the only exceptions are Olive Ridley 3 / 4 / 5. They compensate with the spacious rooms and incredible sea views - you can watch the world-famous stilt fishermen from your window. In contrast, Olive Ridley 1 / 2 are set back from the ocean and lack those ocean vistas.

The 2 Hawksbill suites have large four-poster beds, panoramic ocean views and outdoor living spaces with dining tables in their own gardens.

Our Leatherback suite’s open-air bathroom had a lovely egg-shaped tub sitting under a fragrant frangipani tree (what else?). Just mind out for those concrete floors though - slippery when wet.

Features include:

  • Air conditioning
  • Cots Available
  • Fan
  • Hairdryer
  • Local mobile phone
  • Mosquito net
  • Safe box
  • Terrace
  • Toiletries
  • WiFi
  • WiFi (on request)

Eating

Lunch and dinner include lots of fish and seafood, as well as traditional Sri Lankan curries, light salads and sandwiches. We feasted on delicious grilled calamari, fresh yellowfin tuna and a magnificent lobster curry. Those with a sweet tooth will find tempting desserts, such as a flourless chocolate cake served with real vanilla ice cream.

A simple breakfast can be served on your terrace at a time of your choosing. We were served tea and coffee, fresh fruit juices, a fruit platter and homemade bread with eggs cooked to order. Frittatas, pancakes drizzled in honey and Sri Lankan hoppers are also on offer.

A short and simple wine list is available but don't expect a huge choice - wine can be tricky to come by in Sri Lanka. Cold beers are plentiful and cheap though.

For larger groups, there is a big outdoor communal table, next to the pretty row of frangipani trees and decorative ponds.

If you fancy a change of scene, there are a number of good local eateries a short tuk-tuk ride away in Galle Fort.

Features include:

  • Bar
  • Cooking classes
  • Organic produce
  • Restaurant
  • Room service
  • Vegetarian menu
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Walk along the beautiful beach (15 minutes) or grab a tuk-tuk (5 minutes) to Vijaya Beach Club where you can swim in the lagoon, snorkel in the protected reef, and have a delicious fresh fish lunch
  • Kick back by the 35m pool with a good book and a cold drink, or do some laps (towels are provided)
  • Ask the team to arrange a massage or yoga class. The hotel also has its own hard tennis court, just ask if you fancy a game
  • The beach in front of the hotel is quite rough for swimming but you can watch the stilt fishermen or go surfing; alternatively head to Weligama, Ahangama or Hikkaduwa beach for even better breaks
  • Arrange a visit to the nearby turtle hatchery to find out more about protecting Sri Lanka's turtle population
  • Take a tuk-tuk into Galle: explore the historic fort and check out the unique shops selling everything from local fabrics and furniture to contemporary jewellery
  • Longer trips can be arranged to the Uda Walluwa or Yala National Parks for a bit of elephant and leopard spotting

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Birdwatching
  • Cooking classes
  • Fishing
  • Hiking
  • Hot air ballooning
  • Museums / galleries
  • Plantlife / flora
  • Safaris
  • Scuba diving
  • Shopping / markets
  • Surfing
  • Swimming
  • Tennis
  • Wildlife
  • Yoga

Kids

Children are welcome though it is more of a couples' hideaway. The freshwater pool is a godsend in the heat, the tennis will keep older kids happy on cooler days.

Best for:

Children (4-12 years), Teens (over 12)

Family friendly accommodation:

Families wanting interconnecting rooms should request Hawksbill 1 and 2, or Olive Ridley 3 and 4. Olive Ridley 3 / 4 / 5 can hold the most extra beds. Do bear in mind that some of the rooms allocated to families do not have the best sea views.

Babysitting:

Babysitting can be arranged with prior notice.

Families Should Know:

The sea here is quite rough so keep an eye on children of all ages.

Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

9/
Rooms
8/
Food
9/
Service
9/
Value
9/
Overall

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