Henrietta Cottam and Why House

An Englishwoman in Sri Lanka

Why House exterior pool “I used to think losing your job was the worst thing that could happen. In my case, it turned out to be the best.” Henrietta Cottam sits in the dining pavilion of the boutique hotel – Why House – that she runs near Galle in Sri Lanka and tickles the ear of Gelly (Nigella, actually), her dachshund.

After a career in events and running her own high-end catering company, Henrietta found herself parachuted from London and on to the lovely southern coast of Sri Lanka in 2010. Losing one of her main clients, feeling in need of a change of direction before she reached 50, it was her friends’ surprising idea that became the catalyst of her big change. 

Henrietta Cottam “They came out as soon as the war ended in 2009 and, in spite of navigating 17 road blocks between the airport and their hotel, had bought the villa that was to become Why House before they’d left. The next thing I knew, I’d been asked to manage it. So we all came back out, had a big Christmas party and in January, it became a hotel. We had a couple of big bookings – Bollywood stars, Amal with her family (before she became Mrs Clooney) – and that got us going.”

Why House is a classic boutique hotel, with just ten rooms situated around a lovely garden with a vast swimming pool at one end and a dining pavilion in the centre – all added during Henrietta’s time here. She has brought very high standards of service and trained up her Sri Lankan staff accordingly.

Why House bedroom veranda “Service was a bit of a new idea here. There were few tourists during and just after the war. Thailand and Bali were galloping ahead and Sri Lanka had a lot of catching up to do. It’s a can-do approach here and we have a very informal social atmosphere.”

Food is cosmopolitan, favouring local Sri Lankan hoppers (crispy rice flour bowls filled with dhal, curry or something sweet), seafood, Thai and, when it all becomes too much, roasted chicken, potatoes and bread sauce. Why House salon There’s a yoga shala and massage available, you can learn to cook Sri Lankan style and Henrietta has organised a weekly cultural show in the garden complete with music, dancers, tumblers and fire-breathers.

Any regrets? “No,” she says. “It’s a great way of life. You can stop and smell the roses. Sri Lankans are a lovely people, very gentle and funny. And I love the guests – they’re the real reason I’m here.”

Read about Sri Lanka
For holidays to Sri Lanka Silver Travel Advisor recommends Asia Inspirations by Wendy Wu Tours.
162 people found this helpful

Share Article:

Anna Selby

Travel writer & author

Leave a comment


Sign up to our newsletter to receive the latest travel tips on top destinations.

Join the club

Become a member to receive exclusive benefits

Our community is the heart of Silver Travel Advisor, we love nothing more than sharing ideas, inspiration, hints and tips between us.

Most Recent Articles

Geoff Moore joined events across the island to celebrate Liberation Day, one of the most important dates in Guernsey’s calendar…
The Royal Shakespeare Company offers far more than just live theatre as Gillian Thornton found out on a visit to…

Come feel the love on a Princess cruise. You’ll enjoy the MedallionClass experience others simply can’t, and it’s exclusively for everyone. Visit incredible destinations and be involved in the best experiences around each one of them.

Experience more with Princess and connect effortlessly with the world around you, spend time away with loved ones, take a moment for yourself, and fall in love with your holiday of a lifetime, every time.

With over 20 years of experience, Wendy Wu Tours has mastered the art of creating exceptional, fully inclusive tours which showcase the very best of each destination.

Each tour is led by a world-class guide, who will highlight the very best of their homeland, and includes authentic cultural experiences so you are not just seeing the sights, but truly immersing yourself in local life.

Say hello to ease at sea. Ambassador’s purpose is simple: they want to inspire every guest to experience authentic cruising, effortlessly and sustainably. Passionate about protecting our oceans and destinations, their ships comply with the highest industry emission standards and there is no single-use plastic on board.

On your voyage, you will receive the warmest of welcomes from the Ambassador community as you sail upon the friendliest ships afloat.

This is a global co-operative co-owned by local partners using real local experts and guides, which supports local communities, environments and wildlife. It offers travellers quirky places to stay, activity holidays and learning experiences. Not In The Guidebooks gets travellers off the beaten track into local culture with day experiences and longer, immersive adventures.

From wild wellness breaks in Wales to painting in Portugal, sustainable adventures in Mauritius to food safaris in Brazil, this is immersive, exciting travel.

Seabourn’s five intimate ships carry guests to the heart of great cities, exclusive yacht harbours and secluded coves around the world, while two new purpose-built expedition ships will combine exhilarating adventures in remote destinations with the sophisticated amenities of the world’s finest resorts at sea.

From the luxury of all suite accommodations to complimentary fine wines and spirits, and a no tipping policy, Seabourn exemplifies the definition of travelling well.