A beach hotel that’s a work of art

Kerry Gallagher discovers the art and architecture of Cinnamon Bentota Beach, Sri Lanka

From the moment I arrived it was clear, there’s something special about Cinnamon Bentota Beach.

After being dropped off in the courtyard I was surrounded by the remains of an original fort, before walking up the staircase to be greeted by the most mesmerising ceiling I’ve ever seen. I know what you are thinking – what could be so special about a ceiling? Well, it’s a glorious feast for the eyes, 160 panels of batik printing bursting with colour and intrigue.

It’s the perfect welcome to what turns out to be a beach stay with a difference. Cinnamon Bentota Beach isn’t just a beach hotel – it’s a work of art.

Originally designed by one of Asia’s most influential architects, Geoffrey Bawa, the hotel has a heritage dating back to 1967, but has recently been painstakingly renovated from top to bottom by Channa Daswatta – a process taking great care to restore and conserve the building and its features. The result is a masterpiece, like a living museum to Bawa himself and many local artists and artworks.

Throughout the lounge (which incidentally has another bright and colourful ceiling) hang paintings of mythical birds – painted panels copied from the records kept by the artist of the original panels, Ismeth Raheem.

In the lounge’s back corner stands a magnificent peacock sculpture created by Laki Senanayake from welded copper and brass sheets.

Even the lift doors are impressive, showcasing brass panels on a copper backdrop designed by the architect Anura Ratnavibhushana. Everywhere you turn there is a story behind the interior, and the staff here are only too willing to share the details with enthusiasm.

It’s easy to spend time indoors admiring the art and architecture. If you opt to stay in one of the 16 suites they are equally admirable, bedecked with art commissioned from Sri Lankan artists and each boasting a unique theme. But, this is Sri Lanka after all, so outdoor adventures in the sunshine are not to be missed.

Cinnamon Bentota Beach is nestled in an enviable location with the warm waters of the Indian Ocean on one side and the Bentota River on the other.

This stretch of coastline is often referred to as Sri Lanka’s “Gold Coast” and is well-known for it watersports – which you can enjoy directly from the hotel.

Now, I’m usually more at home sunning myself by the beautiful pool, but after some convincing I found myself on the back of a jet-ski, which my instructor promised me was just “medium” speed – just enough for me! A peaceful kayak trip down the river was much more my cup of tea!

Just a short distance from the hotel lies Lunuganga, Geoffrey Bawa’s Country Estate which he purchased in 1948 and spent 40 years converting into a weekend retreat complete with a European Renaissance Garden.

It’s a serene location perched on the edge of Dedduwa Lake and after admiring the art and architecture of Cinnomon Bentota Beach I found it a personal insight into Bawa’s life and work.

Then a little further afield lies Galle, Sri Lanka’s third largest city and a comfortable day trip from the hotel.

I highly recommend making time to explore the city, its packed with history and tells a tale from the country’s past, so much so that it is a certified UNESCO World Heritage Site.

During the early 1500s the Portuguese occupied the city and buildings throughout the alleyways and streets reflect their unique style and architecture. But it was the Dutch conquered the city in 1640 and completed the Galle Fort which remains standing to this day.

I enjoyed a pleasant walk around the fort walls, stopping at the various bastions along the way to gaze out across the Indian Ocean. Within the city walls you’ll find an abundance of cobbled streets lined with some fantastic cafés and restaurants, and shops selling traditional ware and gifts. To appreciate some of the historic influences on display, take some time to seek out Galle Fort Lighthouse, The Old Gate (carved with a British coat of arms on one side and a Dutch emblem on the other) and some of the many churches within the city including St Mary’s Church, All Saints Anglican Church and the Dutch Reformed Church.

Sri Lanka offers the perfect balance between exploring and adventure, rest and relaxation. And when it comes to choosing a hotel, Cinnamon Bentota Beach is an experience in itself, the chance to stay in an idyllic beachside location but discover so much more about the history, culture and crafts of the country too.


Follow in our footsteps

We flew to Sri Lanka with SriLankan Airlines and stayed at Cinnamon Bentota Beach.

For more information on Cinnamon Bentota Beach and holidays to Sri Lanka, speak to our Silver Travel Advisors on 0800 412 5678.

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