Ulpotha

Near Embogama, Cultural Triangle, Sri Lanka Book from US$210

Reviewed by Moyra Bremner
Paradise village offering tranquility, beauty and luxurious simplicity, as well as 2-week yoga courses
‘Paradise’ is the word guests most often use to describe this unique, mountain-ringed village in the very heart of Sri Lanka, about 2 hours north west of Kandy. At Ulpotha you live close to nature in simple but comfortable one-bedroom adobe hut dotted among the flowers and fruit trees of this beautiful 22-acre organic farm. You swim in a lake half-smothered in tiny water lilies and lounge on cushions like a Roman Emperor to eat delicious home-grown organic curries and sambals.

Open to visitors about 20 weeks a year, Ulpotha is run as a warm, easy-going house party, combining both friends and 12-15 paying guests, and attracts an interesting mix of people in the arts, media and professions, many of whom come alone. Most come for the yoga courses, but you can also come for a peaceful retreat (though the daily rate is the same). It's just as inviting for those who don't practice and the village is well placed for walking and visiting historic sights, though its profound sense of calm invites you to just relax and luxuriate in its gentle beauty.

Highs

  • You'll find tranquility, beauty and luxurious simplicity
  • Outstanding yoga and Ayurvedic programmes
  • Living so close to nature is a very calming experience
  • The village combines a friendly, house-party atmosphere with opportunities for solitude
  • You can forget about money during your stay – everything within Ulpotha is included in the price and tipping isn’t allowed

Lows

  • There's only one electric socket and hot water is only available at the Ayurvedic centre
  • Solo guests share huts with other lone travellers, but it's a sociable kind of place and firm friendships are often forged
  • Sounds travel between huts (snorers and noisy lovers, be warned)
  • For contact with the outside world, mobile phone reception is rather patchy across the property
  • Open June-August and November-March; the rest of the time it's closed to allow the village time to revert to its natural state

Best time to go

Ulpotha only takes guests from June to August and from November to March. The weather varies little and groups are timed to coincide with the end of the rainy season, although the summer months are slightly wetter. More of the owners’ friends come at Christmas, so it’s extra lively but perhaps less restful than usual. You'll need to book well ahead for Christmas as it’s very popular.

Our top tips

Bring very little with you as storage is limited. Yoga equipment and towels are provided, as are sarongs for wearing around the village, but you'll need to bring your own toiletries and plenty of insect repellent. A torch, spare batteries and binoculars for spotting wildlife are also useful.

Great for...

Eco
Great Outdoors
Spa
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Yoga Retreat
  • 9 huts
  • All inclusive
  • Over 2s welcome
  • Closed: 27 Mar 2016 - 11 Jun 2016...
  • Pool
  • Spa
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Bicycles Available
Room:

Rooms

The 9 adobe huts are dotted about the farm, often among fruit trees or natural woodland. Each has one bedroom – and these are bedrooms with a difference. Having no electricity, Ulpotha enlists the wind as air-conditioning and the only wall is behind the bed. The other three sides get their privacy from drop-down bamboo blinds and the low sweep of the woven palm-leaf roof, but are otherwise open to nature. There is nothing quite like falling asleep to the sounds of the tropical night, or the delight of waking in a comfortable bed to see hibiscus flowers, butterflies and brilliant green paddy fields almost close enough to touch.

Solo travellers share rooms but are carefully paired and people usually enjoy the company. Furnishings are stylishly simple and thoughtful, with built-in cupboards in the one wall and hanging antique baskets to act as containers for small items. Designer sheets and mosquito nets cover the beds and a curvaceous terracotta pot, topped with a coconut cup, provides pure spring water to drink. Piles of colourful floor cushions invite lounging beside a low table and joss sticks and an exquisite bowl of floating flowers add the finishing touches. At night, the houses are lit by glowing oil lamps.

Open-air cold showers are hidden behind palm-frond screens and are welcome in Sri Lanka’s heat. Toilet facilities are shared by groups of rooms but are immaculate, perfumed with joss sticks and too numerous to cause queues.

Guests are also encouraged to experience a night alone in one of the tree-houses, in the house on the lake or the summer house overlooking it, and to wake to sunrise on the water or amid the tree tops.

Features include:

  • Internet access
  • Mosquito net

Eating

At the heart of the village is a beautifully restored manor house with an open pavilion, reached by a long avenue. There you eat like a Roman Emperor, lounging on a wide bench, cushioned in jewel colours. Meals are a focus of activity and form the only fixed times at Ulpotha, with lunch served at about 1pm and dinner at around 7.30pm.

At meal times a huge mat of woven palm leaves is rolled out to cover the polished wooden floor. On this, four large palm leaf trays are placed, with twelve to eighteen simple but beautifully presented dishes. Guests pick up a traditional terracotta plate and help themselves, coming back for more as often as they like.

Ulpotha grows all its own food and all meals are vegetarian. The dishes are usually less spicy than most Sri Lankan food and a typical meal might include full-flavoured red rice, a curry of green mangoes in coconut milk, crisply fried poppadoms, daal (lentils) and a mixed salad, followed by fresh pineapple and buffalo milk yoghurt with kitul syrup – rather like maple syrup but from the flowers of the kitul palm.

You can rise as late as you like for breakfast, which includes local bananas, tea, scrumptious Sri Lankan nibbles and a tasty local soup, oddly called porridge. Snacks of fresh coconut and fruit are available throughout the day.

Features include:

  • All meals included
  • Organic produce
  • Vegetarian menu
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • The 2-week yoga courses cover different disciplines and include daily classes in the open-sided pavilion or under the shade of the banyan tree in the garden
  • Indulge in the steam baths, massages and hot oil treatments offered in the Ayurvedic centre. Full Ayurvedic programmes varying in length from one to four weeks are also available
  • Head into the nearby mountains for walking, bird watching and climbing
  • Borrow one of Ulpotha’s bikes and cycle to the nearest village, which has the bare necessities and a public phone
  • Swim or paddle in the lake, read in a hammock in one of the summer houses or head to the main building to chat with other guests
  • At certain times of the year guests can watch the rituals of traditional farming, such as the nights when rice is threshed by candlelight under the hooves of buffalo, as it has been for thousands of years
  • If the mood is right Giles Scott, the charming business partner who runs Ulpotha most of the time, may suddenly suggest a party, with rugs and cushions laid out on the flat rocks by the lake ready for dancing in the moonlight to the music of the village band
  • If you want to venture beyond the village for sightseeing, head to the Golden Temple of Dambulla – the largest and best preserved cave temple in Sri Lanka, with 157 statues and stunning murals
  • Explore Yapahuwa – the hilltop remains of a 13th century kingdom with views across the countryside
  • Visit Arankale – a mysterious 2000 year old Buddhist hermitage with architectural remains spanning many periods, surrounded by enormous trees festooned with eerie parasitic vines
  • You could also head to Kandy, with its Temple of the Tooth and elephant orphanage, but it’s a long drive

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Ayurvedic treatments
  • Birdwatching
  • Cycling
  • Hiking
  • Historical sites
  • Plantlife / flora
  • Shopping / markets
  • Swimming
  • Traditional cultures
  • Well being
  • Yoga

Kids

Children are welcome, however there are no special facilities. Kids are charged the full price for their own bed, but they can stay for free if they share a bed with an adult.

Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

9/
Rooms
10/
Food
10/
Service
8/
Value
9/
Overall

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