It’s January. America buckles under well-below-zero temperatures, Blighty is gloomy, back-t0-work blues are taking hold and we’ve come out of Christmas overweight, overindulged and off the booze. Tom Bangay has the solution…
Getting away from it all – really getting away from it all – requires some real effort. If you take a train from Waterloo an hour into the New Forest and walk to a country pub, it’ll clear your mind a bit, but I need more. And as an inexplicably fortunate sampler of fine hotels the world over, it was only Santani that made me understand what getting away from it all really looks like.
To get to Santani, head for Kandy, on the plateau in central Sri Lanka, but then take the Teldeniya Road into the hills and head up. And up, and up and up and up, past temples, hillside schools and an extremely rural hospital, until you leave the road entirely and take a hair-raising trip along some bumpy paths with sheer drops to the side. Finally, you’ll surrender the car and Santani’s staff will take you to the summit with the strained engine of a plucky tuk tuk. When you get there, you’ll be greeted with the view that explains why all this was worthwhile.
Santani is a high-end wellness resort – Sri Lanka’s first – perched on a hilltop in a working tea estate. Upon arrival I immediately wanted to cancel my next hotel and book a few more nights. The Bond Villain Lair description is tired but nevertheless appropriate; this is a secluded haven made of glass, with lush forests and dramatic scenery on all sides. The main building houses the restaurant (it’s full board – you will not be popping out to a nearby restaurant, because there aren’t any), the bar (mainly juice but plenty of contraband too) and the screening room.
Tucked into one side of the hill is the spa, which focuses on ayuverdic treatments. I submit to a full-body experience that starts with a menthol-tinged head massage, before forcing out every knot and impurity I’m carrying around and depositing me doe-eyed and limber into the sauna. The sauna manages, of course, to look out on another magnificent vista, and as I watch the pink sun dip behind the Knuckles mountain range in the distance, I experience a genuine pinch-me moment.
As a wellness-focused resort, Santani offers yoga every morning and evening, plus a formidable range of treatments, ranging from herb poultice wraps and mineral scrubs to massages that run from soothing to punishing. Throw in the steam, sauna and salted thermal pool and you can see why it’s hard to leave. You can step out for guided hikes, to nearby temples, hilltops, and the hanging bridge at Narampanawa, as well as touring the tea plantation and learning about your natural surroundings.
Dinner is serene, with breathtaking views on all sides and a barefoot team of staff ready to help. If your culinary tastes trend western then they can rustle up something delicious, but if you opt for Sri Lankan cuisine – and you should – executive chef Wajira Gamage will deliver something truly special. Meals are calibrated to be satisfying and sumptuous, but to leave you feeling healthy and invigorated, and the array of curries on offer is more than enough to justify a visit.
However, to really understand the magic of Santani, we have to talk about the bedrooms. From the restaurant we take an unhurried walk down the hillside, gawping at the inspiring views on every side – the hilltop infinity pool is scarcely believable – until we reach a modernist cabin, lifted away from the slope and leaning out over the valley. Inside is a huge, soft, quiet bed, wrapped in a subtle mosquito net, that faces out to a private balcony overlooking green, rolling hills for miles. The chirrup of insects is subtle and reassuring, the stillness is arresting, and the sunrise we enjoy from the comfort of the bed borders on the spiritual. Creating this kind of solitude, but with a world-class restaurant and soul-renewing spa a short walk away, is not easy. Delivering it at this level of luxury for such an accessible price is something else entirely. For relaxation, wellness and peace in an unspoiled location, I’ve never seen anything like it.
Santani Wellness Resort & Spa, Arantenna Estate, Werapitiya, Kandy, Sri Lanka. For more information, including details of wellness packages, visit www.santani.lk.