It was while on an expedition commissioned by Chinese Emperor Kublai Khan to retrieve the tooth of the Buddha, that 13th century explorer Marco Polo first laid down his moorings on the isle of Ceylon. Enamoured by its ivory coastlines and emerald jungles, its port markets laden with fragrant spices bound for the trade routes of Asia and the resplendent abundance of its mineral heritage, he found fit to proclaim it “undoubtedly the finest island of all its size in the world.” He wasn’t wrong. Ceylon – or Sri Lanka as it became in 1972 – has captivated the hearts of explorers and bohemian wanderers for centuries; and today, countless more still come to the teardrop isle in search of a soul connection with the intangible.
Set upon the grounds of a former coconut plantation and hugging a stretch of island coastline not as yet overrun by tourism, Shangri-La’s Hambantota resort is a retreat towards rediscovering Sri Lanka’s wild heart.
Sprawling across almost 59 hectares it’s the country’s largest resort, with 300 rooms and 21 suites. With two main wings cascading away from the central reception lodge it has the lush, earthy feel of an eco-resort. 4,000 king coconut trees strong and resplendent with riotous tropical gardens, guest accommodation is situated along cooling breezeways with constant sight-lines to the ocean. Décor is earthen and tropical, with wooden floors, hand-woven rugs and cerulean splashes of blue that draw your eye outwards towards the horizon. Where possible, natural materials are used throughout the space married with Sri Lankan art and handicrafts.
The property also boasts the brand’s first CHI Ayurvedic Spa – a holistic retreat where treatments are tailored to each guest’s individual well-being requirements. Here, guests can indulge and rebalance with a signature herbal treatment in one of a dozen treatment rooms, before sipping a cup of Ayurvedic tea on an overwater relaxation terrace.
Committed to preserving the island’s rich cultural heritage, Kadamandiya (a traditional artisan village at Shangri-La’s Hambantota resort) offers a unique glimpse into the traditions of Sinhalese culture. Visitors can explore the studio huts that house painters, potters, weavers, sculptors and other artisans whose wares are available for purchase, while in the evening the space is transformed into a performance area for traditional dance, music and Angampora displays – a martial art indigenous to the island.
Marking the jewel in the property’s crown is its par-70 landscaped 18-hole golf course designed by Rodney Wright – the only one on the entire island. The course is laid out over a coconut palm plantation, taking players through water features and lush fairways complete with breathtaking views of the Indian Ocean. Unique in its attention to detail in the realms of biodiversity and protection of natural habitat, the course was crafted with sustainability in mind – repurposing an abandoned sapphire mine, restoring vegetation and re-introducing birdlife to the area.
Shangri-La’s Hambantota resort offers a tantalising array of dining options that hero the best of Sri Lankan culinary traditions. Enjoy alfresco dining at Bojunhala and indulge in a classic island breakfast of Sri Lankan hoppers, alongside an array of international delicacies. Head to Sera for dinner amid a hawker’s market of the most vibrant street-food from across Southeast Asia. Or, pull your caddy up off the green and make directly into Ulpatha, the resort’s signature clubhouse and bar, to quench your thirst on an unparalleled selection of malt whiskies.
For the resort’s best views, Gimanhala Lounge at golden hour is the place to be. With its sweeping vistas across the ocean and the resort’s garden terraces, it’s the perfect spot for a sundowner cocktail before dinner, or a Sri Lankan high tea experience, complete with a tutorial from the resident tea sommelier.
Sri Lanka continues to be a balm for the soul, and Shangri-La’s Hambantota Resort may just be its most opulent hospitality contender yet.