As I packed my bags for my initiatory visit to Sri Lanka, in May, I promised myself that I would relax. It was four days after a hectic trip across Uttarakhand and between heaps of work. What I didn’t realise is that AVANI Kalutara Resort—where I would be staying—had a switch ready to turn my brain off.

Even before the sun rose, we (accompanied by a friend) napped our way to AVANI Kalutara’s property. At that time, I had no sense of orientation or an idea of how beautifully the property was located.

After sunrise, I saw the Indian Ocean rise and fall under Lanka’s grey low-hanging clouds. On the other side lay a calm Black River (or Kalu River, from which the area gets its name). And amidst the waters was AVANI Kalutara, nestled quietly at the peninsular.

Swimming pool at dusk in AVANI Kalutara Resort.

Traditional Sri Lankan breakfast with string hoppers.

Of spaces and escapes

On our first afternoon, we headed out to explore the quiet town of Kalutara. This town is surrounded by touristy places like Bentota, Galle and of course, Colombo. However, disregarding the touristic trail, we drove with Dinesh (our driver for the holiday) to Richmond Castle.

The palatial house was built in 1910 by the wealthy landowner—wait for it— Nanayakkara Rajawasala Appuhamilage Don Arthur de Silva Wijesinghe Siriwardena. The colonial colours and architectural styles are prominent in the mansion. We bought our entry tickets which included a tour around the mansion and admired its 99 doors, 34 windows (most of the glasses had Scottish Jacobitism patterns and Italian stain-glass work on them), grand wooden staircase and textured iron spiral staircase, which overlooks the antique hall.

The mansion is now owned by Public Trustee of Sri Lanka and homes in-need young boys.

kalutara sri lanka avani © Amrita Das
Richmond Castle.
kalutara sri lanka avani © Amrita Das
The grounds of Richmond Castle.
The main shrine in Kalutara Bodhiya.

Thereafter, we returned to town centre to see the Kalutara Bodhiya, which is probably the only hollow Buddhist stupa in the world. First we explored the Bodhi tree, which is believed to be one of the 32 saplings of the original Jaya Sri Mahabodhi planted in Anuradhapura, in central Sri Lanka.

We took the pedestrian subway to the main shrine which was painted with various murals narrating stories of Buddha’s life and at the centre stood a golden statue of the Enlightened One himself.

kalutara sri lanka avani © Amrita Das
Kayaking on Kalu River.
AVANI Bentota Resort and Spa designed by Geoffrey Bawa.
kalutara sri lanka avani © Amrita Das
View from The Loft, AVANI Bentota Resort and Spa

That was probably the most active of our holiday in Kalutara. The remaining afternoons panned out differently. Slowly and steadily, I succeeded doing nothing. My 40-minute kayaking on Kalu River on the second morning had influenced this mindset significantly.

That afternoon, I remember slowing down and unwinding with a spa treatment at AVANI Bentota Resort and Spa, only 30 kilometres/30 minutes away from Kalutara. I decided on a 60-minute signature treatment.

The moisture-laden afternoon cooled down soon after the massage, when we waited for the torrential rains to subside. During these minutes, I idly looked through the showers of rain, towards the choppy ocean.

kalutara sri lanka avani © Amrita Das
The outdoors of AVANI Bentota Resort and Spa.
kalutara sri lanka avani © Amrita Das
Spa at AVANI Bentota Resort and Spa.
kalutara sri lanka avani © Amrita Das
Smoked salmon handcrafted to go with the cocktails.

Of gastronomy and guzzlers

On our first evening at AVANI Kalutara, we were introduced to Chef Gihan Chamindra. He put together an exclusive and delectable selection of sweets and savouries for our high tea evening. As I moved my head across the three-tiered deck, the chef guided me through each of the colourful bites. Local tastes like sambal bun, fish cutlet, tuna roti and lavariya (string hopper sweet dumplings made of coconut); and international snacks like vegetable pinwheels, chicken sandwich, tuna sandwich, cream and strawberry scones and eclairs—accompanied each sip of my Ceylon black tea.

Later I understood that the evening high tea was just a teaser to what lay ahead.

kalutara sri lanka avani © Amrita Das
The assortment during high tea.
kalutara sri lanka avani © Amrita Das
The delicious AVANI Sunset.
kalutara sri lanka avani © Amrita Das
Mahesh posing with my drink.

For dinner, the chef designed a culinary journey across Sri Lanka’s local flavours. The menu comprised 13 items, including local regulars like AVANI crab curry (signature dish), devilled prawns, fish ambulthiyal, chicken red curry, cashew curry, tempered potato and my favourite, brinjal moju. All this was accompanied by red rice from the land, seven types of condiments and dessert (the Sri Lankan watalappam).

The extraordinaire first travel to Sri Lanka only concluded with a vibrant cocktail evening by the river. Mahesh, from the bar, used local alcohol to blend in intoxicating and fresh cocktails. First, I tried Sri Lankan Delight which was an interesting concoction of local coconut arrack with passion fruit cordial and lime. But my second drink, AVANI Sunset, was beautiful. A mix of local gin (Rockland) with lemonade and lightly coloured with Campari, this drink was refreshing, potent and smooth.

We walked along the river while sipping our cocktails in our last evening in Sri Lanka. The midnight blue of the sky beautifully complemented the silent turns of the river. And then I wondered how I was ever to leave these velvet moments of AVANI Kalutara.

kalutara sri lanka avani © Amrita Das
Cocktails by the river.
kalutara sri lanka avani © Amrita Das
A complete Sri Lankan spread specially made by AVANI Kalutara Resort.
kalutara sri lanka avani © Amrita Das
AVANI Kalutara Resort signature dish, crab curry

Practical information
-AVANI Kalutara Resort is about 85 kilometres/2.5 hours from Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo.
-AVANI Kalutara Resort has multiple offers through the year. Go here to check the latest.
-AVANI Kalutara Resort organises cooking classes, yoga mornings (on Thursdays), cinema nights, live gigs (on Saturdays) and cultural shows (on Fridays) during high season. Guests are also welcomed to book cycling and tuk-tuk tours, cocktail and sundowners, water sports (jet ski, kayaking, banana boats, speed boats), fishing, miracle dinner (or romantic dinner), crazy kottu night (make-your-own-kottu night) and high tea evenings at an extra cost.
-For those who wish to stay in a lively neighbourhood, AVANI Bentota Resort and Spa, designed by world-renowned architect Geoffrey Bawa, may be a better option. Check their offers here.
-If you are looking to hire a car and drive through Sri Lanka, I would recommend Dinesh Ranasinghe. He speaks English well, is affordable and well-versed with the island’s history and places.
-Richmond Castle has an entrance fee of 500 LKR for foreigners and 50 LKR for locals.
-Only a handful of people in Kalutara speak English.
-It is best to travel with cash, as credit card machines are limited to big shops, restaurants and hotels.

Does this tempt you to visit Kalutara?

Note: I was invited by AVANI Kalutara Resort.

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Amrita Das

I have been a travel and culture independent journalist. My bylines have appeared in many publications worldwide including National Geographic Traveller India, Lonely Planet Magazine India, The Indian Express and World Travel Magazine. A fellow of Media Ambassadors India-Germany 2019 program by Robert Bosch Stiftung and Centre for Media Competence, University of Tübingen. Currently, I am the photo editor for RoundGlass Sustain, a wildlife and conservation e-publication. I live in India.

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