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Southern Sri Lanka's Dreamy New Boutique Beach Resort


In the south of Sri Lanka, along a beautiful, blank stretch of coast, The Sandhya offers the comfort of a beach house in a boutique setting. Story and photographs by CHRISTOPHER KUCWAY.

Published on May 15, 2018

 

KICK OFF YOUR SHOES—you won't need them. Slip through a hidden door in the wooden back wall of The Sandhya. The first thing you'll notice is a sweep of rolling, sapphire-tinged Indian Ocean under baby-blue skies just beyond a near-perfect beach. That vista due south is magnetic eye candy; you want to look away but cannot. It is as captivating for guests who have arrived after a 20-hour journey from winter-swept Europe as it is for those off a late-night flight from a nearby Asian metropolis.

The basic but fun reception desk.
The basic but fun reception desk.

Alan Tan, the owner of this nine-room boutique hotel 30 minutes from Galle, knows this and, despite his obsessive personality, isn't bothered by the fact even though he spent most of his energy and effort over two years on every aspect of its minimalist design. Once you do refocus your gaze to Tan's interior, Midcentury Modern furniture mixed with Mod Chinoiserie spread across a polished-concrete floor is what you'll encounter, almost in disbelief, but take a seat, it works. Your standard tropical resort this is not, but in a country dotted with architect Geoffrey Bawa's Tropical Modernism—a fusion of Western and Eastern looks, a blending of inside and outside spaces, an emphasis on sightlines—it feels like a smart evolution of a very Sri Lankan design ethos.

"I wanted something communal but private," explains Tan, of this two-floor rectangle that was originally a blueprint for his four-bedroom beach house. Then, why a resort? Why here? Retired from the high-pressure world of finance, the 46-year-old Singaporean traveled constantly for work and, like anyone who does, encountered many things he liked in hotels… and much he loathed. As a second act, he thought he could do better. Trade brogues for bare feet. Tan admits to an indelible soft spot for Seminyak sunsets, so he went off in search of a similar view for his own resort.

The Sandhya specializes in the little touches.
The Sandhya specializes in the little touches.

So, like the Portuguese, Dutch and British centuries before, he looked at a map and came up with Galle. But let's just say Tan isn't as adept at navigation as those earlier explorers. He mistakenly booked a trip to Goa and, on arriving, realized that, not only was he on the wrong coast, but also in the wrong country, too. A few months later, he managed to make it to Galle, his first time in Sri Lanka. But even the historic port didn't fit exactly. Having come this far, he ventured a little further along the coast, uncovering bits and pieces and the occasional forgotten beach.

Eventually, he settled on a small plot of land on Kabalana Beach, a strip of sand popular with entry-level surfers. Two years on, The Sandhya has nine sea-facing rooms, including a suite that essentially takes the place of two rooms. Each has a black-and-white tiled balcony (very Bawa-esque) and—the secret is out—a Modernist bathroom that replicates Tan's own in his Hong Kong flat. Clean lines and a minimum of fuss greet guests. The suite's king bed is separated from a living room and desk by a largescreen television. "I want the design to be respectful of the location," he says of what is essentially a modular structure. "I saw all this, it was in my head, the lights, the furniture, the height of the ceilings."

A sneak peek of Kabalana Beach.
A sneak peek of Kabalana Beach.

Dominating the interior design of the ground-floor common area—to call it a lobby just does not work—is an arc of a hanging staircase to one side. Handmade in-country, the smooth wood Midcentury Modern furnishing pop with grey and blue cottons in what is essentially a designer's outsized dream living room, while a cluster of four-seat tables and a longer wooden counter next to a walk-in pantry is the spot for meals. Here is where you'll be lulled into a drowsy state by the sounds of rolling waves, the tropical heat and whirring ceiling fans that are a godsend if air conditioning isn't your thing. Indoors quickly spill out. Two-floor-tall windows open onto a patio and small pool, a lawn with five sets of loungers under umbrellas, all before that beach.

A neat and well-designed common area.
A neat and well-designed common area.

Partly because of the intimate size of the resort, but also because of its design, The Sandhya encourages guests to mingle; that day's newcomers are welcomed as much by the staff as those who have spent the previous night. Chalk it up to the residential feel of the place. "Seeing how guests change from their first day to their last day is what I find most interesting," Tan admits. He wants a place where people can feel comfortable.

The farm-to-table kitchen might be small, but breakfast, lunch and dinner are all available, with the menu a list encompassing open-face sandwiches, hand-made fettuccini, chicken burgers doused in a Peking duck sauce and a vibrant—both visually and on the palate—poke bowl that, at first glance, seems a bit like standard beach fare, but each is delicious in its own right. Using in-season local ingredients as much as possible, Tan says the aim is that guests never have to leave the intimate property. For now, the record is 17 nights.

Quiet comforts outside The Sandhya.
Quiet comforts outside The Sandhya.

Forgotten at this point, except that it's where you left your shoes, is the fact that the hotel abuts The Galle-Matara Road and its traffic. But a simple exterior boundary separates the property from the road, as does a solid wood wall along the back of the building and soundproofed rooms. So, instead of local traffic and despite the Harmon Kardon Bluetooth playing mood music in the background, the rolling waves are the real soundtrack here—aside from the occasional honking bus driver, the bane of everyone's existence in Sri Lanka.

Comfort levels reach their peak come sunset when the entire beach stops to witness the end of another day, the giant orange ball of a sun sinking into the Indian Ocean, just as Tan envisioned it. Aptly, "sandhya" is a Sanskrit noun said to describe that magical moment between light and dark.

The end of the day along Kabalana Beach brings everything to a standstill.
The end of the day along Kabalana Beach brings everything to a standstill.


thesandhya.com; doubles from US$200. Note that the hotel will be closed from now through June 24.

 

 

 

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Quiet comforts outside The Sandhya.
  • A sneak peek of Kabalana Beach.
  • The resort's small pool is actually a repurposed shipping container.
  • The end of the day along Kabalana Beach brings everything to a standstill.
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