Sri Lanka abounds with once private villas that have been revived into tiny boutique-ish hotels; some slightly more decrepit than others but all bursting with history. Perhaps the most intriguing of such reincarnations is the Lunuganga estate, previously owned by Geoffrey Bawa, undoubtedly the island nation’s most illustrious architect. Bawa purchased this 25 acre plot of rubber estate back in 1948 and gradually transformed it into a tropical idyll with lake views, Italianate lawns and hidden courtyards, all surrounded by dense jungle.
Today, 10 years after Bawa’s death, Lunuganga is a museum and artists’ retreat for most of the year. But from December to April, it functions as a five-room hotel. Meals are still prepared by Bawa’s personal cook and, as there is no formal dining room, they can be taken wherever and whenever guests should choose. To the western palate, Sri Lankan cuisine is similar to Indian, mostly rice and curries ranging from hot and spicy to very hot and spicy. A national breakfast favorite is the ‘hopper,’ a sort of pancake made with rice flour and coconut milk.
Since the completion of Sri Lanka’s first and only highway – the Southern Expressway – driving time from the capital Colombo to Bentota (the main village near the estate) have been reduced from four hours to just more than one. Bentota isn’t much of a sight, but it does have a great beach. A short car ride south will bring you to Galle and the Galle Fort in all its crumbling glory; first built by the Portuguese in 1588, it withstood the 2005 tsunami and remains one of the largest standing fortresses built by European settlers in Asia. Monsoon season is usually from June to August, and yearly temperatures hover around the 86-degree mark. But saying it’s humid would be a slight understatement – it’s more like having a steam bath.