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Published on: July 23, 2023, 1:59 p.m.
Sri Lanka calling
  • An aerial view of Jetwing Saman Villas, Bentota

By Arzoo Dina

Sri Lanka’s windswept beaches, rugged coastline, tea estates and lush landscapes have always been a draw for travellers to the exotic island country. Now that the economy is seeing a slow revival and tourists are back in droves, the destination has become a top pick for Indian travellers looking for getaways close to the country. With a slew of boutique hotels opening across the country coupled with the need for bespoke experiences, this segment is busy propelling tourism for Sri Lanka.

Case in point, the recently-released Indian TV series, The Night Manager (starring Anil Kapoor, Aditya Roy Kapoor, etc), which was filmed at the picturesque Jetwing Saman Villas, a boutique, all-villa property tucked away in the sleepy town of Bentota, on the country’s Southwest coast.  Having recently undergone a facelift and complete refurbishment, opening to guests earlier this year, it has piqued the interest of Indian travellers as a luxury getaway.

In fact, Jetwing Saman Villas was one of the country’s first boutique properties when it launched — an idyllic sea-facing paradise, fringed by coconut palms and a stretch of golden-sand beach. Sitting atop a craggy hillock, jutting out into the Indian Ocean, the hotel offers panoramic views all-round.

Here, it’s all about slow living. Whether it’s savouring a leisurely Sri Lankan-style breakfast, from string hoppers and piquant curries with appams, or breads paired with homemade coconut jam and curry leaf butter, to whiling away hours by the hotel’s infinity pool overlooking emerald-hued waters. The 27 villa suites are all ocean-facing, with some offering private lap pools to soak in the scenic views. Done up in muted tones and marine accents, the sprawling villas offer plenty of seclusion.

  • An exterior view of Jetwing Vil Uyana overlooking a lake

The resort’s only restaurant also lets you dine al fresco to make the most of the views, and offers a mix of Sri Lankan and Western fare, from the traditional kottu roti and curries to salads, pastas and more. Given its boutique positioning, the resort is happy to curate bespoke, intimate experiences.

So, you can choose to have high-tea served on the lawns as you watch the sun dip over the ocean, or a meal at the pavilion located at the edge of the infinity pool. Some of the other experiences that can be curated include a river safari along the Madu Ganga River, a cycling tour through charming local villages and rice paddies or a visit to the late architect Geoffrey Bawa’s scenic gardens.

A key market

According to Sri Lanka Tourism, the country is expecting two-million travellers from around the world, by the end of 2023. India is a top source market, clocking 46,432 visitors in the first three months of 2023. And the numbers are expected to rise.

Hashan Cooray, director, marketing and development, Jetwing Hotels, a family-run operation with over 30 properties across Sri Lanka, says they’re happy to see India become their biggest source market once again. “The Night Manager brought a lot of interest to Jetwing Saman Villas. The fact that it’s on this scenic promontory overlooking the Indian Ocean, and the fact that key Bollywood actors stayed here and enjoyed the resort – this has brought a lot of recognition for the destination.”

It’s not just the country’s picturesque coastline that is drawing tourists though. Other parts of Sri Lanka are opening up such as Jaffna in the north, which is relatively unexplored and even central Sri Lanka. Here, Jetwing Hotels’ eco-friendly resort, Jetwing Vil Uyana, located in Sigiriya, is set on a sprawling 28-acre man-made wetland. If you’re someone who enjoys the rustic attributes of wildlife, this might be for you.

  • The inifinity pool at Jetwing Saman Villas makes for a scenic setting

The property features spacious villa-like dwellings surrounded by marshland, paddy fields, forests and a lake. The local wildlife and ecology are a strong focus for the property, along with sustainability. So, don’t be surprised to find peacocks strutting about, a land monitor or two crossing through the property’s gardens and several species of birds.

If you wish, you can sign up for experiences such as a farm-to-table lunch set amidst fields and cooked by a local villager, a night walking trail with the resident naturalist to spot the elusive grey slender loris, that is native to this region, or even a wildlife safari to the nearby Wilpattu National Park.

Sigiriya is also home to the UNESCO World Heritage Site – Sigiriya Rock Fortress, a 200-metre-high ancient architectural marvel. Climbing to the top seem like an arduous task but once you’re there, it makes for magnificent viewing, with lush tree canopies and mist-covered hills. 

Cooray points out that there is now a changing perception that Sri Lanka is not just merely a cheap getaway, but a good value destination for luxury travellers as well. “Indian travellers are looking for a diverse mix of experiences, be it culinary, beach resorts, wildlife and tea estates, and Sri Lanka offers all of this within a short distance from each other.”

He goes on to add that there is a growing interest not only to visit traditional destinations, but also experience newer ones. “That’s our expectation from the Indian market going forward.” 

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