The River House

Balapitya, Bentota, Sri Lanka Book from US$250

Reviewed by Emma Taylor
An exclusive riverside hotel set in 7 acres of tropical gardens, with just 5 suites and access to a near-private beach
Sri Lankan fashion designer Taru certainly had a knack for choosing the best waterside location when she created The River House. Set on the banks of the broad Madhu Ganga river, this slick and stylish hotel lies amidst 7 acres of tropical gardens, which are alive with colourful birds and chattering monkeys. With beautiful views and space to breathe, it's stunningly secluded.

The 5 huge suites are uber-generous and mix contemporary style with Sri Lankan touches. Forget shabby-chic, this is grown-up design on a grand scale; you'll find individual slate plunge pools, vaulted ceilings, enormous bathrooms with polished concrete floors and kingsize beds covered with intricate Indian bedspreads. This is more like a luxury private villa than a hotel, and it's as peaceful as it gets.

Highs

  • The tropical gardens are teeming with birdlife
  • You can take an early morning boat trip on the Madhu Ganga and spot water monitors, monkeys and kingfishers
  • There are stunning river views and private plunge pools in 3 of the suites
  • You'll find fabulous food in a tranquil setting

Lows

  • On our last visit we felt standards had slipped slightly (old robes, broken TV channels), but the manager assures us these issues have now been fixed
  • The service can be over-attentive, but this is common in Sri Lanka
  • Food is pricey and you would have to get a taxi some distance to eat anywhere else
  • With just 5 rooms, the atmosphere could be a little too peaceful for some

Best time to go

November to April are the best months for sunshine and dry weather. June to October is the monsoon season, although temperatures average 25-29C all year. Book well ahead for the busy Christmas period.

Our top tips

Order an iced cocktail and head up the foliage-covered hill in the hotel garden to watch the sun set over the river.

Great for...

Beach
Foodie
Spa
Wedding
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Boutique Hotel
  • 5
  • 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
Room: Jacuzzi Suite - Gin

Rooms

All 5 suites are very spacious, with kingsize double beds, and are rather fittingly named after the great rivers of Sri Lanka. The sleek white décor is brightened by splashes of bold colour on the walls or sofas and a few interesting pieces of Sri Lankan and Indian art are placed throughout.

One of the Jacuzzi Suites (Gin), on the ground floor next to the lounge and dining area, has an outdoor shower and Jacuzzi, a semi-private garden with tropical flowers and beautiful river views. For those of you wanting even more seclusion, the second Jacuzzi Suite (Walawe) is set about 60ft from the rest of the hotel, closer to the river. Again it has a Jacuzzi, terrace and great views.

The Plunge Pool Suite Menik, arguably the best room, lies above Gin, with a large balcony and plunge pool giving sublime views over the gardens and the Madhu Ganga.

The 2 slightly cheaper Garden Suites are the interconnecting Kirinda and Kala. They have a private garden and entrance, but no plunge pool or river view. However they are beautifully decorated and have large bathrooms, and would work well for a family.

Besides their beautiful decoration, all suites have air conditioning, ceiling fans, a stereo, DVD player and TV, tea and coffee making facilities, a fridge, a lounge area and a large bathroom with shower (no tubs).

Features include:

  • Air conditioning
  • Cd player
  • Coffee tea making
  • Cots Available
  • Dvd player
  • Extra beds
  • Fan
  • Internet access
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Phone
  • Plunge pool
  • Radio
  • Safe box
  • Terrace
  • Tv

Eating

The delightful staff make sure you eat exactly when and where you fancy. From the cup of tea delivered to your room as a wake-up call to the choice of venue for meals (open-plan dining area, lounge, poolside or your own room), it's a wonderfully friendly and indulgent service.

There's a good choice of breakfast options, amusingly labelled as "Not so healthy" (eggs, bacon, mushrooms, beans), "Healthy" (homemade muesli, yoghurt, syrup, fresh fruit) and "Healthiest" (fruit platter). All include tea or coffee, a choice of fresh juice, toast and jams. You can also have a traditional Sri Lankan breakfast – requested, as is usual, the night before – of curry and 'hoppers' (pancakes or noodles).

Lunch is a very reasonably priced selection of fantastic salads, sandwiches and pasta (great if you've been eating Sri Lankan fare for a while), which taste even better by the pool.

At night, the dining area is transformed by low lighting and chilled music. Pure white by day, the sofas turn black, as if by magic, at night, as do the smart outfits of the staff. Dinner here is an experience to savour: a collection of Thai, Indian and Sri Lankan dishes such as prawn and lychee curry, crab noodles or ginger chicken. You can also try the traditional Sri Lankan curry dinner, which consists of about nine dishes – it was the best we'd had in Sri Lanka and provided plenty for two people.

Features include:

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

Activities

  • A boat trip on the Madhu Ganga is a must and can be arranged by the hotel (there's a private boathouse). Expect to see water monitors, kingfishers, eagles and monkeys, as well as the Sri Lankans who live on some of the sixty-four islets going about their daily business. You also visit a working Buddhist temple and a small cinnamon garden (a little touristy, but interesting if you haven't seen it cultivated before)
  • Take a kayak on to the river and explore on your own
  • Explore the seven acre garden with a bird-watching book - many colourful species are prolific here and you could forego a trip to the rainforests!
  • Nearby Ambalangoda is great for antique-hunting, and you can visit a workshop to see skilled craftspeople creating masks. There is also a centre for Sri Lankan dancing
  • Spend the day on the lovely beach at Bentota, where you can swim, surf or sunbathe
  • If you prefer more secluded sands, head to the hotel's near-private beach in a small nearby cove
  • Have a soothing Ayurvedic massage in your suite
  • Relax by the beautiful pool, or in the shade of the pagoda

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Birdwatching
  • Boat trips
  • Kayaking
  • Plantlife / flora
  • Swimming
  • Traditional cultures
  • Wildlife

Kids

This isn't the ideal place for children to really let go, as the emphasis is on exclusive luxury. However, children of all ages are welcome and cots and extra beds area available on request.

There is no official babysitting service but the friendly staff will look after children.

Family friendly accommodation:

The two interconnecting suites (Kala and Kirinda) would work well for families with older children. The Gin Suite has a daybed which is perfect for children to sleep on. The Gin, Menik and Walawe Suites can also accommodate extra beds or cots.

Baby equipment:

Baby cots available on request

Remember  baby and child equipment may be limited or need pre-booking

Families Should Know:

The pool is large but has no shallow end.

Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

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

{{ review.firstName }}{{ review.countryName ? ', '+ review.countryName : '' }},
Feedback is only from guests who have booked and stayed through i-escape

Rates for The River House