Friday, February 15, 2013

A Great Escape--Sri Lanka in February

The View from our Hotel Room Terrazzo
There was snow on the ground in Santa Domenica T. for 2 days last week but we were not here to see it! We were absorbing the tropical warmth of Sri Lanka. February is usually the nastiest month of winter and we decided to take a holiday in a warm, and very different location. Instead of single digit temperatures, Sri Lanka was around 32C/90F each day.  

Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) is off the southern tip of India. This was our first time in Asia. The country just came out of 25 years of civil war, mostly in the north and east, and everyone is eager to get tourism rolling again.  We were looking for a place to return like swallows (or swifts) every February--we think we've found it.

The majority of hotels and resorts are on the southwestern part of the island. We traveled from Rome to Dubai, then on to Colombo. Nine hours flight time. We used Emirates Airline and were very impressed with the 360 passenger Boeing 777-300 planes, the comfort, the good media system and best – the great service including free good food, wine and beer. 

We are used to Italian passport control where bored officers often never look at your photo or stamp you in.  In Dubai, the guy saw the American passport and sent us along without touching the documents.  In Sri Lanka, however, they take things more seriously. Not only did they read our passports, they found a one digit error in our online self-serve visa for Di which held her up for 45 minutes. Leaving the country is similar with 3 separate x-ray security points.

Where We Stayed (if you don’t care where we stayed, scroll to the next post to find what we did when we managed to leave our idyllic spot on the beach).

Di discovered the Saman Villas Boutique Luxury Resort, a 2 hour drive south from the airport.  They have just 27 rooms of various quality levels and we chose the lowest to save.  The place is just incredible.  The owner built it in the 1990’s and he and his architect did an amazing job with all the buildings and the grounds. We learned that 85% of their customers are English.  We saw Germans, Middle Easterners and a French couple. 

Saman Villas sits at least 30 feet above the Indian Ocean, so avoided damage in the 2004 tsunami that killed 2000 people just to the south and damaged property along the nearby beaches.

Hotel from north beach

Reception area - obvious Buddhist designs

The infinity pool.  Smaller, private pools available for some rooms.

Most of the hotel guests just stayed by the pool day after day. We didn't really like swimming in the pool (too boring, too warm) so we sat on the lawn and walked to the beach to swim...or play in the waves, more between our Tuk Tuk trips (more on that next post down).

The staff at Saman Villas are all very friendly and have top customer service skills.  This includes the two head chefs who happily responded to Di’s requests for special diet measures. They visited the table several times. They also create some amazing food. We could have curry dishes 3 times a day, but they offer middle eastern, Asian and western dishes. The two Italian dishes, we chose to skip. 

We became acquainted with food server Thilani and pools attendant Indika.  Indika has worked there 14 years and supports a family with his earnings – the hotel holds on to good employees and treats them well.

Our room from the Beach 

Curried Lobster

Everything was so good we never ventured out to other restaurants. 

Indika and the scrawny old American

Bathroom the size of our kitchen. Notice open space to the outdoors above shower where Guido could watch joggers on the beach while washing.

Pescatore laying-out net
I spotted this fishing boat during breakfast one morning.  They laid-out nearly ¾ mile of hemp rope and net, then dragged it to shore pulling on two ends. A big effort by a lot of people, but their catch appeared meager to me – one little shark, a dozen 10-inch fish and maybe 60 kilo of very tiny fish smaller than sardines.

Two ends of net being pulled in

The net

Local women don't wear bikinis in the water

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