Why House

Galle & South Coast, Sri Lanka Book from US$219

Reviewed by Ben Reed
Bijou boutique hotel near Galle, with a pool, tropical gardens and a personal touch
Turning off the highway towards Why House, we were taken back in time to a genteel world of colonial elegance and laid-back village life. This tranquil hideaway near Galle in southern Sri Lanka is very special indeed. The rooms are surrounded by palm trees and acres of lush gardens, where ripe fruit and spices scent the air. The buildings’ graceful style is cool and calming, while the staff are warm and welcoming, greeting visitors with a glass of fresh juice and broad smiles. Because there are so few rooms, they are able to give excellent service (including an amazing welcome ceremony!) and make sure your visit is as relaxing as possible.

Staying here is easy: it's just a 15-minute walk to the beach, and tuk-tuks can take you to Galle and beyond. The food is excellent, and with a pool and grounds to explore, you don't even need to leave if you're feeling lazy. It's popular with families, and also attracts couples and honeymooners; all in all, a wonderfully peaceful base for a beach holiday on Sri Lanka's south coast.

Highs

  • The peaceful gardens, filled with butterflies, birdsong and snooze-inducing hammocks
  • Warm and friendly service from Henrietta and her team (including Nigella the sausage dog), who make you feel instantly at home
  • Spacious and restful rooms, all with high ceilings and antique furniture; we particularly liked the 2 suites in the main house, with their glass-roofed bathrooms, 4-poster beds and terraces
  • The stunning pools - the hotel pool is flanked by coconut palms and frangipani trees, and the villa pool overlooks the Indian Ocean
  • Simple Sri Lankan luxury throughout, with colourful murals and photographs of old Ceylon

Lows

  • Henrietta often has friends to visit and meals are served communally unless you request a separate table in advance
  • The main hotel isn't directly on the beach, but it's only a 15-minute walk away
  • No bathtubs in the rooms
  • Guests at the hotel may hear barking from local dogs at night
  • Strict cancellation policy

Best time to go

The best time to visit Sri Lanka is between November and April, when it's mainly dry on the south and west coasts (the main beach areas). May and June are the wettest months of the year; July and August are pleasant but the Indian Ocean is rough. September and October can be sunny, but heavy rain, humidity and high seas are typical.

Our top tips

Ask the hotel to arrange a couple of bespoke activities for you - perhaps a car and driver to explore nearby tea plantations, or a snake charmer with a friendly monkey to visit you by the pool!

Great for...

Beach
Family
Great Outdoors
Honeymoon
Wedding
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Boutique Hotel
  • 8 rooms + 1 villa
  • Restaurant + bar
  • 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
  • Daily Maid Service
  • Towels & Bedlinen
  • Concierge Service
Room: Suite

Rooms

Why House is spread across a number of buildings. The look is simple, traditional Sri Lankan luxury: white walls, polished dark-wood furniture, and ceiling fans to keep the heat down.

All rooms have private terraces, and sitting out in the evening listening to the tropical chorus as fireflies glow around you is a magical experience. They also come with air conditioning, walk-in wardrobes, Satellite TVs, DVD players (there's a film library to raid), WiFi and small fridges.

Our favourites are the 2 Suites, which sit off the colonnaded communal area in the sociable main house. Both have 4-poster beds, windows on 2 sides letting in plenty of light, and double doors leading to living areas with a desk and sofa (these can accommodate a couple of extra beds if needed). Their luxurious bathrooms are a highlight, with glass ceilings above the showers to make you feel like you're outdoors. The Double is similar in style but smaller, with space for 1 extra bed.

We stayed in one of the Cabanas, which are hidden in the gardens and work well for couples seeking a little more privacy. Each consists of 2 buildings linked by a covered walkway, one housing a bedroom and the other a huge shower bathroom.

The 3 Garden Doubles have smooth concrete floors, antique furniture and open-plan shower areas (there are separate toilets); one is slightly smaller than the others and has a mezzanine sleeping level. If you're coming as a group, the Garden Villa can be rented as a whole, sleeping 6 in total, or the entire hotel can be booked for 16.

Features include:

  • Air conditioning
  • Cots Available
  • Dvd player
  • Extra beds
  • Fan
  • Fridge
  • Hairdryer
  • Internet access
  • Phone
  • Radio
  • Safe box
  • Satellite tv
  • Terrace
  • Terrace
  • Toiletries
  • WiFi
  • Wifi internet

Eating

Meals at Why House are sociable affairs around communal tables in the dining pavilion, an open-sided building near the main house. It gives a weekend or house-party feel to staying at the hotel, which can be great fun - although if you’d prefer some privacy, you can dine à deux in various locations in the gardens and by the pool.

The food is a mix of Western and Sri Lankan. We tucked into a selection of local curries on one evening, and roast chicken on another; the seafood comes highly recommended by other guests, although we didn’t get the chance to sample it. Lunch options might include club sandwiches, crab salads or spicy Nasi Goreng.

Breakfast is a buffet of fresh fruit, cereal and toast (with Marmite, for Brits with a craving!), along with eggs cooked to order. String hoppers (a kind of Sri Lankan pancake) are often served, too.

If you get hungry between meals, the homemade cakes and bread are very good. There's also a small but selective bar, with jovial bar-tenders and the likes of local arrack, as well as wine. It's quite unusual in small Sri Lankan hotels to find such a good selection.

If you want a change of scene, staff can recommend nearby restaurants, including Kahanda Kanda, The Fortress and The Kingfisher. We headed to the Wijaya Beach Restaurant, which serves good, fresh food and sunset beers in an excellent location overlooking the ocean.

Features include:

  • Bar
  • Children meals
  • Communal dining
  • Cooking classes
  • Fridge
  • Organic produce
  • Restaurant
  • Room service
  • Tuk-tuk to restaurants (offsite)
  • Vegetarian menu
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Relax around the pool with a glass of fruit juice, or book an Ayurvedic treatment or massage with a visiting therapist
  • Wijaya beach is 5 minutes away by tuk-tuk or a gently paced 15-minute stroll from both the hotel and the villa. It has a selection of beach bars, and is pretty and sandy
  • Entertain the kids by asking staff to book a visiting magician or a cupcake-decorating course with the chef. They can also go kayaking or cycling through paddy fields
  • Or ask staff to arrange for a local temple elephant to visit the gardens (either at the hotel or the villa). Have a ride, feed it and wash it
  • Take a tuk-tuk to Unawatuna beach (4km away) for swimming, diving, snorkelling and temples
  • Go whale-watching, dolphin-spotting or deep-sea fishing - management can arrange local trips
  • Or go surfing at Weligama beach, one of Sri Lanka's most renowned spots
  • Take a day trip to Galle (15-20 minutes by tuk-tuk) to admire the UNESCO-listed Dutch fort, fortified town walls, lighthouse and cricket ground. It has some sensational interiors shops and lovely restaurants
  • The sandy beaches nearby attract egg-laying turtles around Full Moon. Otherwise there's a small turtle hatchery nearby where you can hold palm-sized turtles in your hand
  • Play pool rugby, volleyball or badminton at the hotel - the staff are trained to play and supervise!

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Cooking classes
  • Cycling
  • Elephant rides
  • Fishing
  • Historical sites
  • Kayaking
  • Museums / galleries
  • Pool rugby, badminton & volleyball
  • Private guided tours
  • Scuba diving
  • Shopping / markets
  • Snorkelling
  • Surfing
  • Swimming
  • Turtle hatchery
  • Well being
  • Whalewatching
  • Wildlife

Kids

Families are very welcome at Why House, whose big lawned walled gardens are great for tearing about and exploring. Most rooms can fit an extra bed. There are plenty of activities to entertain kids, the most exciting being the option to book an elephant to visit for the afternoon and give rides around the garden (children can feed and wash it, too!). There's also a snake charmer who can bring his python, Barbara, and monkey, Otto, for the afternoon. External family activities can be booked by the hotel.

Best for:

All ages

Family friendly accommodation:

The 2 main house Suites are the best for families, as each can fit 2 rollaway beds in an ante room or a mezzanine. There is a triple with a double and single bed too. Some other rooms can fit 1 extra bed or baby cot. Larger families can book the whole Garden Villa, sleeping up to 9 people in 3 double rooms (2 of which interconnect). Note that there are no bathtubs.

Babysitting:

Available by arrangement

Baby equipment:

  • Baby cot

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

Children's meals:

Kids menu available

Kids Activities on site:

  • Large pool
  • Visiting magician, elephant, face painter or snake charmer!
  • Plenty of games: badminton, pool rugby, volleyball, quoits, cricket and football, plus a selection of board games and cards
  • The chef can run cooking classes and cupcake-decorating sessions
  • Karaoke machine on request
  • All rooms have DVD players and there's a DVD library in the lounge with some family films

Kids Activities nearby:

  • Sandy beach a 15-minute walk away (or on your doorstep if you book the villa)
  • Paddy field cycling trips
  • Kayaking trips
  • Surfing at Weligama
  • Whale- / dolphin-watching boat trips
  • Turtle hatchery where you can hold tiny turtles

Distances:

  • Airport: 2 hours (Colombo)
  • Hospital: 2 hours (Colombo)
  • Nearest shop: 5 minutes
Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

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

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