On top of the world: Sri Lanka's new Aarunya Nature Resort creates an effortless escape
Experience the natural beauty of Sri Lanka with a truly personalised stay in this sustainable luxury boutique
There is no shrill buzzing of an alarm to wrench me from sleep today. Instead, I wake up with the birds, full of energy, thanks to the sun streaming gently through the panoramic floor-to-ceiling windows of my Sky Villa at Aarunya Nature Resort. It's appropriate, given that 'Aarunya' itself means 'first rays of sun' in Sanskrit.
Stepping out of my balcony – complete with relaxing hot tub – fills me with energy, thanks to the slightly daring way my villa overhangs the deep valleys and lush forest that surrounds the famed Knuckles mountain range that dominates my view. This is a very special location indeed.
A short car journey from hectic, bustling Kandy city in the central hills of Sri Lanka, Aarunya is almost impossible to find at first. Just three months since it opened, it's not yet on our driver's map, which means we receive a somewhat more thorough tour of Kandy's suburbs than we might expect. But as we climb the steep narrow roads to Aarunya, we soon leave city life behind, transferring to a buggy to make the steep final trip to Aarunya Resort's open plan reception and dining area – called the Central Bungalow – that boasts unrivalled mountain views.
Set in a seven-acre mixed plantation and tea estate, Aarunya feels impossibly spacious thanks to its small number of structures – just seven luxury villas surround the Central Bungalow, all complete with cosy verandas and four poster beds, with other facilities including a spa and gym – all of which are designed to complement the lush surroundings from their materials and open plan layout to the use of windows ensuring that natural light – and remarkable views. >>
As the resort's highest point, the Bungalow itself boasts an infinity pool overlooking the Knuckles mountains, al fresco dining area, concierge and relaxed lounge complete with pool table.
Aarunya's exceptional staff members are as multitasking as its location. General manager Alec van Cuylenburg is also the resort's talented executive chef, guiding his chefs' Sri Lankan fusion menu (his take on Mulligatawny soup is phenomenal), while staff members rotate through a full variety of responsibilities – sharing housekeeping duties, food and beverage, or providing butler service as requested.
Van Cuylenburg regularly invites guests to join him for dinner, which is the perfect way to meet other guests, learn about the country and get a range of recommendations for your next stop. As part of the hotel's dedication to sustainability, the plantation gardens provide 20% of kitchen produce – from vegetables, fruits and spices. Van Cuylenburg's ambition is for the resort to self-supply 70% of produce. >>
A true hilltop hideaway, this is a place for complete relaxation – albeit one with excellent WIFI for those struggling with Sri Lanka's spotty connections. Whether you want to explore the working plantation on foot or by bicycle, enjoy a soothing massage at the spa (for a truly zen experience, head over at sunset when local fauna such as crickets and frogs provide their musical, meditative background noise), or enjoy excellent food and wine (a must, considering the resort's distance from the city), Aarunya and its surroundings give you the space and time to find a whole new perspective.
With a vision of self-sustaining product and a real love of its lush surroundings, Aarunya is a triumph of design for owner and architect Nath Rankothge, and its attentive, kind and dedicated staff a credit to its general manager's focus on customer service. All this, combined with the best views in Sri Lanka, mean that this is one hidden gem that will not stay hidden for long.