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‘A hotel of pure delight’ Reef, Sri Lanka

| 17 Nov 2010

Philip Hamilton-Grierson, Cox & Kings’ Marketing Director,  writes from a boutique hotel in Sri Lanka.

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“As an occasional writer of travel brochure copy, the image of the sandy beach, lapped by azure waters and fringed by swaying palms on a tropical island is such a well-worn cliché that the genuine beauty of such places can be diminished by the tired old descriptions. The tropical island I am writing from is Sri Lanka, possibly the spiritual home of such images, however Reef, the hotel in which my wife and I are staying, set on a stretch of beach near Wadduwa, just an hour and a half south of Colombo, has set a new benchmark for the luxury Indian Ocean boutique retreat and provided plenty more to write about.

This is a hotel of pure delight, where the palms, sand and ocean are just an idyllic backdrop to the pleasures within. Here, the joy is in the detail. There are just seven suites set in and around the central villa, and they are huge in every dimension, with high ceilings and a wonderful sense of space. The furnishings, almost all sourced from Sri Lanka and India, include many exquisite hardwood antiques – including the mahogany and rosewood four-poster beds, which date from about 1850 and were built during the British Raj era in India. And above the bed hang huge punkha fans for those wishing to cool themselves by something more traditional than a/c. In a hotel of such spaciousness it would be easy for the walls and rooms to feel vast and sparse, but here they are adorned with old carved doorways and windows and other decorative pieces, whilst on the floors sit some mighty antique chests, many beautifully carved, wardrobes, and old reclining chairs. The bathrooms are equally lavish in terms of both space and fixings – the tubs are deep and marble, there are separate showers (outside in the ground floor suites) and the mirrors from India are large and opulently framed. Even Reef’s tiny shop is stocked with a treasure trove of original ornaments and objects.

Outside, the gardens have been densely layered with a jungle of broad-leaved tropical plants, beneath which are several stepping-stoned pools and ponds full of darting fish. Overhead enormous fruit bats flap amongst the palms and on the lawns we were greeted by a mighty iguana sauntering in search of breakfast.

Reef is beautiful in every detail and every detail reflects the creative eye and exquisite taste of its creators – an Irish couple, Brendan O’Donnell and Bernadette Barker who designed the whole lot, inside and out. For them the creation of this boutique property has been a real labour of love, started in about 2003, but not completed until over five years later partly due to the disruption caused to the island by the tsunami in 2004 – but it has been completely worth the sweat and, one imagines, tears.

Of course all the aesthetic pleasures would be much diluted were the service not of a similar standard. But here Brendan and Bernadette have trained up a small team of the friendliest and most helpful staff imaginable. The small capacity at the hotel means that it is unlikely that those staff will ever feel overrun with demanding guests and, as a result, the attention that they are able to give to their guests is just the right balance of unhurried attentiveness and well-judged discretion. In the spa, the masseur is exceptional and expert, whilst the kitchen prepares delicious dishes, often created specifically to meet the guests’ particular predilections for spiciness or mildness; fruit or vegetable; fish or white meat; local dishes or international.

We are visiting the hotel because it features in Cox & Kings’ new Relax & Explore programme.  Its credentials as a place to relax are out of the top drawer, but for those who would like to weave some less sedate experiences into their holiday there are also plenty of places of interest for exploration within day-trip range, including the Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage and the historic fort at Galle. The hotel itself has a tennis court, table tennis table and badminton net strung between two palms.

Sadly, our own stay at Reef is all too brief, but as a place to unwind completely in idyllic surroundings it is hard to imagine anywhere to beat it.”

View Cox & Kings’  luxury tours to Sri Lanka.

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