The Heritance Kandalama was designed by the renowned Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa, who we learned more about when staying in Columbo later on our trip. Whilst the nearest town is Dambulla, the hotel is located in an isolated spot and a 15-minute drive from the main road, down a sandy track.
Security, both Covid and general, was tight and each time we went in and out of the front lobby, we had temperatures checked and had to pass through an airport style security scanner.
Our welcome and orientation were completed over a choice of juice, passionfruit or wood apple, served from a welcome drinks trolley. Two handouts provided full details of the hotel and activities offered.
The design of the long hotel, said to blend effortlessly with the surrounding rock and jungle, has a minimalist approach. Whilst there were lots of rocks both within the hotel and around it, we found the design quite brutal, and rather like the Barbican with lots of concrete.
Our panoramic lake view room (512) was reasonably large with heavy duty wood furniture including sofa and coffee table. The room was well equipped with everything we needed: a safe at a good height, space for two suitcases, a wardrobe with robes, desk, tea and coffee making facilities and empty fridge. The floor was tiled, but with a ‘trip you up rug’. We had air conditioning, but a lack of plug points meant that when charging two phones overnight, the kettle had to be unplugged.
The bathroom was large with a single basin, although there was space for another on the counter, and a large oval shaped jacuzzi bath next to the window with views of the lake. The bath, big enough for two, filled pretty quickly, although we may have over done it with the bubbles. However, it was difficult to get in and out of as there was a step, and it was slippery (even without an overdose of foam). There was a shower over the bath which was totally impractical as we still had to negotiate the bath. Complimentary toiletries were provided in large environmentally friendly bottles.
During our stay, we found many towel animals in our room, including an elephant, monkey and turtle. Whilst flannels were used in the creation of the animals, they were not provided in the bathroom, so came in handy.
The balcony had a door that had to be kept closed as monkeys wandered along the struts and green vines hanging down outside. The wooden stools would have benefitted from cushions, but we had good views of the lake and Sigiriya, the 200m ancient rock fortress, in the distance.
A birthday was being celebrated during our holiday, although not during our stay, and we were presented with a bowl of fruit, box of eight chocolates, bags of cookies and cashew nuts.
There were three outlets for eating and drinking and, although the dress code on the information sheet for all restaurants was no shorts or singlets at any time of day, this was obviously not being applied.
Café Kanchana had a terrace overlooking one of the three pools and we used it for drinks which were served with complimentary warm nuts. It was here we started to realise their attention to detail and preciseness; we were asked if we wanted the Lion beer poured for us, and having said yes, whether we wanted it poured with foam or not. Likewise with a G&T, we were asked if we wanted ice, and then how many cubes.
On our first night, we ate in the la carte restaurant, Kaludiya on the 7th floor. The wine list was more expensive than other places we’d stayed, but half a litre of house Sauvignon Blanc at 2,850 Rupees or £10.50 was reasonable in price and taste. The international menu was relatively limited, but we enjoyed lamb kofte and what was described as ‘country beef pie’: this turned out to be shepherds’ pie with a selection of artistically arranged vegetables. Trying to get the bill at the end of the meal took 15 minutes despite the restaurant being quiet.
Breakfast was served in the Kanchana restaurant, with the tables for two down the side, having lake views. There was an extensive range of both hot and cold dishes, but because of Covid, we were not allowed to help ourselves. Trying to tell a masked girl who didn’t speak English, about how much muesli, yoghurt and fruit you wanted in your bowl wasn’t easy, particularly with a plastic screen in between. On finishing with toast and jam, the chef had to make the toast, and come round from behind his bakery display to serve the jam. Fruit was juiced on request, and tea was poured by attentive staff who pulled out our chair and refolded our napkin every time we got up from the table. It was all slightly overwhelming, particularly first thing in the morning, and we decided we couldn’t handle their buffet dinner.
Therefore, on our final two nights we ate at Café Kanchana, which had a light, casual menu. A selection from the bites section of chicken wantons with a chilli dip, a plate of wedges and cheese on toast was so filling that on the second night we simply shared a pizza.
The hotel had three swimming pools, but the infinity pool near our room was the most popular. The others were at the opposite end of the hotel and involved a long trek, and they looked rarely used.
A small shopping area had gift and gem shops and the helpful receptionists arranged PCR tests as we were travelling onwards to the Maldives.
I had a wonderfully relaxing Sri Lankan Herbal massage at $90 for 90 minutes which provided refreshing ginger tea before and after.
Whilst various in-house activities were shown, several involved the lake (bird watching by boat, boat ride, breakfast on the barge) which for some reason were unavailable. Likewise, walking to the lake wasn’t recommended due to wild elephants. However, we did visit their in-house Eco Park, just a walk down the long drive. Whilst the website promised a papermaking plant, where waste paper was recycled with elephant dung, sewage treatment plant, a plant nursery, herbal garden and beehives, it was all a little sad with little to see.
During our three-night stay, all the bills were in the local currency, but when I came to pay the final invoice, it was in dollars. The receptionist wafted a lengthy document in front of me, which apparently explained the situation. After much insistence on my part and a telephone call to someone higher up, I eventually won my case. Bearing in mind that shortly after our return, Sri Lanka suffered the worst economic crisis since 1948, which explained their desire for dollars.
This was probably the least favourite part of our stay in Sri Lanka and not somewhere I’d particularly recommend.