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Unless you’ve been to Sri Lanka, it’s possible you won’t have heard of the modernist architectural movement which took place here in the 20th century, or of its most famous figurehead, the late Geoffrey Bawa. Bawa had a huge impact on building design, evident here at Amanwella in so many ways.
The setting over the stunning, palm-fringed, golden bay is undeniably breathtaking and the design is unapologetically modern. Personally, I think the statement works beautifully, especially given the other Bawa projects in the area which gives Amanwella a context, but some guests find it stark and lacking the soft touch one may expect from a beach resort.
The footprint of the hotel is generous and the various villas and common areas are very well spaced out, so much so that every suite has a view. The design both of the exteriors and interiors throughout the property is unashamedly modern, with the use of elegant dark beams and columns, local and aged terracotta tiles, and huge glass doors and windows which remain open in clement weather. The effect of such clean lines is to frame the natural views and bring the outside indoors.
There are few prettier bays along the Sri Lankan coast but in common with most others, it’s not advisable to swim here unless you are a very strong swimmer. The currents can be very strong and the waves are pretty large. Compensation, however, comes in the form of an enormous lap pool. Read on…
The driveway up to the hotel from the main road reaches the entrance lobby which, on a grand scale, is open to the elements. Walking through this verdant area, I catch a glimpse of ocean waves on one side and the lobby area on the other. The GM is there to greet me on arrival with the hotel Labrador, Nero. Check in is swift and I’m taken directly to the suite.
Rooms and suites
All the suites are the same, the only variation being whether you opt for a private pool or not and the distance you are from the common areas. I stayed in an Ocean Suite, a minimalist and completely open-plan room with a stunning, direct ocean view through floor-to-ceiling glass. Tones are muted neutrals with the odd dash of tasteful green to liven things up. The room is rectangular in shape and the longer sides are built of tall doors which open up completely, bringing me closer to the view and drawing in a refreshing sea breeze throughout the day.
The location of the private pool is the biggest design fault of the hotel. It’s at the back with a tall wall for privacy making it feel more like a garage than a pool area and worse, it lacks light. It’s such a shame the pool isn’t at the front overlooking the beach and although I had a dip, I barely used it.
Because of the proximity of the rooms to the ocean, the salt air batters the fixtures and fittings and although staff work on the upkeep every day, the rooms suffer from warped wood which can rattle in the breeze. Talking of which, light sleepers might want eye masks and earplugs. Although I love the sound of the crashing waves, others might find it disturbing that morning rays voraciously beam through the latticed doors after sunrise.
While WiFi is technically offered, its reception is sporadic and slow. There was a decent Bose iPod dock but no other gadgets.
The bathroom is completely open plan with more clean lines and beautiful views. A bathtub dominates the room with shower and WC behind doors. Lighting is a little on the subtle side for makeup and shaving but I’ve seen worse. Own-brand amenities are provided. Mosquito repellent and sun lotion are particularly useful, as is a superb hairdryer.
One thing worth noting is that the windows allow in a fabulous amount of natural light during the day but I kept the back doors closed and shaded as it was possible for the suite behind to see into my room.
The graceful and high-ceilinged dining room offers indoor and outdoor dining, depending on the weather conditions. Located just above the pool, it’s another feature which is focussed on the views and I spent hours sitting on the terrace watching the local fishing boats come and go. The cocktails here were delicious and not too sweet; the signature Arrack Sour is particularly moreish.
I ordered the roasted tomato soup as a starter, which was divine, and with the general emphasis of the menu being fish, I opt for a beautifully flavoured, tender lobster curry, which came with just the right amount of heat. The next day, I wander down by the sea where there is a beach shack serving standard beach side fare. I took a perfectly cooked medium-rare burger. There were also lots of creative salads on the menu although prices are on the high side, even by Aman standards.
Other restaurant options
It was possible to eat by the pool or in-villa, but the menus don’t vary hugely around the property, just the location. There are a few good, local restaurants but they are a drive away so you would need a car or a cab.
Spa and wellness
A great weakness here at Amanwella and an oversight in the initial design is that it has no dedicated spa…as yet. Treatments are on offer in a converted suite but the list is limited. Private yoga can be arranged on demand but there is no gym here, so if you are after a more focussed spa/beach combo, Amanwella may not be for you.
Pool and beach
One of the most spectacular swimming pools in the region, Amanwella’s offering is an enormous, 47m lap pool overlooking the beach. It offers plenty of sun loungers facing the sunset and you can watch the fishermen come and go which provides ample entertainment all day long.
If you tire of the pool, walk or take the adorable hotel tuk tuk down to the golden palm-fringed beach. Plenty of sun loungers in the sun or shade adorn the sand and while it’s lovely to watch the sea, lifeguards will hover around you should you try to venture in. It is not a beach for casual swimming.
Staff and service
Staff are lovely at Amanwella, attentive and subtle, but the hotel is vast so sometimes you have to look around to find someone. In fact any reservations I had about the service were related to the size of the property. The room service was a little slow, probably due to the sheer amount of time it takes to walk from the service area to the rooms. If you want to take the hotel tuktuk down to the beach in busy months you might need to wait your turn. But these are minor annoyances in an otherwise superb set-up.
Guests staying while I was there varied from honeymooners to weary travellers who had come here to relax at the end of a long journey around Sri Lanka. Everyone seemed pretty relaxed and spent their days reading and keeping themselves to themselves. I didn’t see any families and although there are some interconnecting rooms, I don’t think there is enough here to keep anything other than the most ‘chilled-out’ of families entertained for very long.
Check-out at the front desk was relatively formal but efficient and unfussy. Luggage took a while to arrive from the room and I was waved away, grasping a gift of a little something for the journey.
How to get there
3 hours 25 minutes by road transfer from Colombo Airport
First-hand knowledge from LuxuryBARED members who've been here.
What I liked
The service and staff
The architecture of the public areas
What I disliked
The villa accommodation. It is dated and uncomfortable. Very architecturally stylish but daybeds and chairs are not relaxing and the terraces are not conducive to a chilling holiday. Style over substance.
Lighting around the resort at night is bad.
No chilling bar area – just one by the restaurant with 2 tables outside, otherwise a very cold air conditioned lounge.
Food menu in the main restaurant is on a 3 day rotation i.e. Day 1 is the same as day 4.
Agree with your reviewer about plunge pool.
Also use of tuk tuks by staff to get around. Really noisy – what’s wrong with golf carts?
Overpriced for what it is.