No Shoes Required - Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle Resort (Sri Lanka)

Set on Sri Lanka’s magnificent southern coast, Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle is a secluded slice of heaven on the edge of the Indian Ocean. Dawn Gibson discovers why this new resort is being talked about in all the right places.

In an era of ubiquitous social media, finding a place where a barefoot luxury traveller can truly get away from it all is becoming more and more difficult. Happily, there are some resorts where laidback eco-style and world class facilities are combined with genuine remoteness; where one can fully unplug, kick off the shoes of life and sink one’s toes into the rich golden sands of a sleepy, tropical beach. Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle is one such sanctuary, and its youth (the resort opened two years ago) and location on Sri Lanka’s quiet southern coast, mean that it is one of those places even your best-travelled friends may struggle to pinpoint on a map.

There are currently only a handful of quality resorts in the area. Anantara has secured a rather unique spot, tucked away on a rocky outcrop, fronting a picture-perfect stretch of beach, set amongst 21-acres of coconut palms. On the lush manicured grounds, peacocks strut their stuff and display their impressive tails for their lady friends, while guests are ferried from the 120 premier and deluxe rooms and 32 private villas in battery-powered, eco-friendly tuk tuks. Unsurprisingly, the resort has accumulated a string of accolades within the international hospitality and travel fields, a sure-fire guarantee that it will not remain ‘undiscovered’ for very long.

My three-night stay begins with a journey from Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, during which I quickly develop an appreciation for the beauty of this ancient island nation. Once we escape the city traffic, a diverse landscape unfolds: patchwork rice paddies, rubber trees stretching languorously towards the sky, and rows of bushes resplendent with the leaves of the country’s most famous export, tea. There may be a daily 40-minute seaplane flight between Colombo’s airport and Dickwella, 10 minutes from the resort, but I’m honestly glad to be on the road. My luxe tan leather-lined SUV ride, complete with lemongrass-infused cold towels, sets the tone for the whole experience: gently making me slow down to appreciate the surroundings: a veritable lesson in mindfulness, if you will.

I arrive at reception late in the afternoon, and cross a stone bridge which bisects a shallow pool, lined with azure tiles to amplify the soothing effect of the cool water, while a trio of traditional Sri Lankan singers perform. Instead of being asked to sign this and that immediately upon arrival, I am whisked by tuk tuk to my lodgings where I check in on an iPad. How civilised. Mere moments later, I have changed into a bikini and am immersed in my private plunge pool, set in a sprawling timber deck. Here I float (somewhat contentedly) looking out through coconut palms towards the enticing glimmer of the Indian Ocean, where waves break with a dull roar onto a sandy beach. I am not in the pool for long before I have a visitor: a peacock, which parades proudly on my roof, literally a few metres from where I’m bathing. It’s fascinating to watch him take flight and land in a nearby tree, where he is joined by three peahens. These are the first of many wild and semi-wild visitors. Before long I grow to look forward to visits by Indian palm squirrels, as well as a family of grey monkeys who dart down to drink from the pool.

My lodgings for the weekend are a generously proportioned ocean view pool villa – 64m2 to be precise – which appears larger courtesy to a floor-to-ceiling glass frontage. The nifty layout makes it possible to lie in the massive bed and look out on the spectacular vista of plantation and beachfront. I love the effect, and deliberately keep the shades open at night so I gradually awake with the rising sun each morning, safe in the knowledge that the surrounding greenery is protecting my privacy.

The villa is decorated in a natural colour palette and traditional Dutch colonial furnishings, made of plantation teak and created by local craftsmen, complemented by wall art from regional artisans. As well as the kind of facilities that have become luxury standards, there are some uncommon touches, such as a spacious wine fridge and a selection of bath crystals, in a choice of ylang ylang, lavender and lemon grass, set out enticingly next to the deep soaking tub.

As a villa guest, I am provided with the services of a butler, Kanishka. A genial and warm chap, who always manages to be available yet unobtrusive, I don’t tax him too much, but anything I do ask for – foreign currently, extra towels and the like – is provided efficiently and accompanied by a smile.

On my first evening, I venture to the outdoor terrace of the resort’s fine dining Il Mare restaurant, positioned on a cliff top to maximise the glorious ocean views. The setting is matched with a menu offering traditional Italian fare, from rich truffle risotto to classic pastas and locally caught seafood. Of the eight onsite dining venues, a meal of traditional Sri Lankan curries and Japanese Teppanyaki at Verele is also not to be missed, complete with theatrical performances by the resident chef. Slightly indulgent but utterly enjoyable, Anantara’s signature Dining by Design experience sees dedicated chefs prepare a menu of your choosing in the privacy of your villa or on an out-of-the-way stretch of beach.

In keeping with Anantara’s philosophy of ‘life is a journey’, the resort focuses on showcasing the area’s natural habitat and cultural traditions, so guests can visit the elephants at Udawalawe National Park; go whale watching between December and April; or visit the Mulkirigala Rock Temple, where painted murals and statues adorn ancient caves. However, I was content to simply relax and enjoy, my biggest decision of each day being whether to stay beside my private watery oasis, or wander over to the two-tiered central swimming pool. Apart from restaurant dinners, my shoes had been well and truly discarded, and were not put on again for the duration.

One endeavour worth getting off the lounger for is a visit to the spa. At Peace Haven Tangalle, the treatments are based on the 5,000 year old principles of Ayurveda, which centre on a belief that wellness depends on a proper balance between mind, body and spirit. I first have a consultation with resident Ayurvedic doctor Sampath Perawattha, who specialises in creating tailored programmes for guests, which include diet, meditation and yoga sessions to remedy a wide variety of issues. The good doctor deems me to be in satisfactory health, although is a tad concerned that I appear a little tired. During the subsequent 90-minute bespoke massage, so soothing were the expert hands of my therapist, that I fall asleep a one point, before being gently roused by rhythmic ministrations. The doctor wasn’t wrong.

It’s refreshing to see the wellness theme so enthusiastically embraced throughout the resort, not just in the spa. Chickens and ducks roam free. An organic vegetable garden and rice paddy were recently planted in the grounds, soon to provide fresh produce for the restaurants. And daily yoga classes and meditation sessions are complimentary.

Far too soon, it is time for me to leave. I mark the occasion with one final dip in my pool, gazing out to the horizon to fix the fabulous scene in my memory. On the tuk tuk ride to reception, a peacock is standing by the side of the path; his tail presented in all its blue and violet finery in what I like to believe to be a graceful show of farewell. I wave to him, and with reluctance, clamber into the SUV for the ride back to reality.