December and January are the perfect months to visit Sri Lanka. The seas are calm and waters are crystal clear, the sun is shining, and if you are looking to escape the winter in Europe, the untouched island of Sri Lanka could be the perfect getaway. The island was cocooned by decades of civil unrest, and has only in recent years started to attract tourists and investments again. It is the right time to visit before Sri Lanka becomes it becomes too commercial.
In Sri Lanka, our family had only previously stayed at beach villas and hotels, and we wanted to experience the beautiful and tranquil lakes, one of island’s best kept secrets for now. We chose a villa on Koggala Lake in a superb location in the South of Sri Lanka close to Mirissa (where you can observe blue whales all year round) and Galle on the coast line. The house itself is located in the sleepy village of Kathaluwe, and it is a 5-minute tuk tuk ride to the beach, and next to some 5-star resorts and spas so accessing their spa facilities is very convenient.
Mandalay – Lakeside Villa
Mandalay, named after one of the largest cities in Burma, takes you back in time when you enter the property. The property’s design has been influenced by Geoffrey Bawa, one of Sri Lanka’s leading architects. The name of the property also reminded me of the book, The Road to Mandalay, by B M Croker. It felt timeless. Winding through a narrow road you arrive at the gates of the villa to a colonial time gone by, with a spacious 3-bedroom villa to the side of the grounds, and what catches your breath has to be the lake view that stretches the entire front of the property. There is a railway track, far enough, not to be disturbed by the noise but in the far distance you can hear the faint sounds of old-school railway trains pass by adding to the atmosphere and feel of the property.
The two-storey property is purposely built for outdoor living with the master bedroom taking the entire upstairs, giving you a room with a magnificent view of the lake as well as overlooking the large swimming pool and pool house. Baby cots can also be arranged next to the master bed under the same mosquito canopy making it easy to take the infant in and out of the cot during the night Do note that there is no master bedroom door so if toddlers are crawling, the room leads directly downstairs. However, we are sure appropriate measures like temporary stair gates can be arranged as the Eden Villa Management is always very helpful. The downstairs has a small twin room, perfect for children and another separate en-suite double bedroom that has a separate entrance from the house (if you intend on putting young children in this room, it would be practical to also have an adult in the room too as the room has an external entrance and an outdoor bathroom). We think this villa would be ideal if you are travelling with grandparents and children.
In front of the villa, rests a large swimming pool in the middle of the grounds with full exposure to the glorious sun and the sky. The dining area is located within the pool house so it is logistically fabulous as the children are jumping back into the pool after meal times. The front of the property is protected by tall coconut trees and greenery that give a tropical rustle in the breeze but gives privacy from the few passing boats . There is also a large wooden dock which can be set up for breakfasts and teas and can be arranged upon request.
Surrounding areas – things to do
The location of the property is unique as it is surrounded by well-known and established restaurants, and most are often a 10 – 15 minute tuk tuk ride from the villa giving you freedom to decide meals at pleasure but we do advise booking especially during busy season. The property is also only a 20-minute car-ride to Galle Forte, one of the most beautiful historical sites. The Forte has kept much of its features and certain streets have now converted into trendy shops and cafes. Take a stroll down Peddler Street, have lunch at the Dutch Hospital, and make sure you have high tea at the Aman Hotel (the old British Governor’s private residence that has since been converted).
Surrounding the villa are other amazing attractions including the turtle sanctuary and the Hadunugoda Tea Estate. The turtle sanctuary is a 10-minute tuk tuk ride from the house, and it is a small sanctuary that houses injured turtles, and protects eggs from poachers. The baby turtles, after they are hatched, are reportedly released into the ocean again. My 6-year old daughter was so inspired she now wants to own her own turtle sanctuary when she is older.
Hadunugoda Tea Estate is also a must visit. It is know for its virgin white tea which is created from the shoots of the tea plants. The plucking of these shoots are cut by the women harvesters who have never touched the tea with their barehands.
Adventures on the lake
From the dock of the villa, we went out for the afternoon with our fisherman guide in his mini-speed boat with tin roof which the children loved. The kind local fisherman took us to see the famous Cinnamon island, and on our travels there we saw the beautiful bird island. If you pass it at sunset, you will see flocks of birds circling the island as they head home for the evening.
Cinnamon Island is highly recommended. Owned by three brothers, they each own a portion of the island only growing cinnamon trees, black pepper plants and a few other crops. From the trees, they create cinnamon from the bark of the branches. The dried sticks have such an intense aroma, and they also create oils and curry powders that can be purchased on the spot.
Our children also did a morning of fishing with the local fisherman, and caught our dinner which was grilled by the villa chef. Our children are obsessed with fishing and waking them up at dawn was surprisingly easy as they enthusiastically jumped out of bed at 6am and went fishing in their pyjamas.
#Ideal for two couples and maximum 2 children and an infant. We took two cots for our 4-year old and 2-year old boys for the Master bedroom and our older two children slept in the twin room.
#Bring some mosquito repellent as you would for any tropical holidays.
#We always bring some dried pasta and sauce from home just in case the kids needs something quick and easy as you do need to order in advance with the chef.
#Worth packing some jam and marmite for breakfast to add for fussy eaters. It certainly helped my children, whilst the chef cooked some eggs in the morning.
#Do bring cash as you will need to pay the chef after each meal at the property.
#Do bring some wine from duty free otherwise Eden Villas have a large wine book to order in advance which will be sent to the villa upon arrival.
#Only breakfast is included so it is lovely to try lunch in Galle Fort and to try dinner at the numerous surrounding restaurants.
#There are no bathroom amenities so do pack shampoos/conditioners/soaps
#Laundry service will come at an additional charge.
#Bring books – nothing more relaxing than seating by the pool watching the children swim whilst catching up on some reading.
#Other local activities include whale watching, trip to Galle Forte, elephant safaris at Udawalawe and Leopard Safaris at Yala National Park. All activities can be arranged directly with Eden Villas Management and worth organising some in advance of your stay like the safaris.
#Peak season for Sri Lanka travel December and January.
The villa rates are extremely affordable at USD450 per night. For more information and advice on villa rentals please visit www.evinsl.com
Eden Villas is a British-owned villa management company established in Sri Lanka since 1999.