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Sri Lanka: The Art of mixing culture and wellness

By: Thierry Macquet

Some people see many virtues in British winters, where sitting in front of a crispy fire place while sipping a cup of Ceylon tea or taking long walks in the countryside is the epitome of a pleasurable start of the year before the hussle and bustle of spring and summer time. My dear Scottish cousins even believe that the post festive winter months are the only moments where one can get some ‘me’ time and retrospect on one’s inner self. I personally do not share this view as this time of the year makes me feel more like living in a prehistoric cave where one hibernates while longing for warmer days.

This is why I headed to Sri Lanka this February, as my dear friend Chandra Wickramasinghe who owns the boutique collection of hotels known as Theme Resorts (www.themeresorts) had invited me to experience his newly opened ayurvedic Resort ‘Ayurvie Weligama’ in the southern part of the island, and avoiding all the fuss around Valentine was an even bigger incentive to travel at this time of the year. The idea of spending two whole weeks in a wellness cocoon made me feel rather guilty though, and I took this opportunity to spend the first week of my stay visiting the old Ceylon before putting my body and soul in the hands of Dr. Asha and his therapist for the rest of my trip.

With two direct flights a day from Heathrow and numerous others via the Middle East or Asia, options to reach Colombo are multiple and I landed on a warm Saturday morning where I spent some time visiting Art galleries and Antique shops before boarding my private caravan plane to Sigiriya where I was hosted at The Aliya Hotel. Surrounded by an endemic forest, lakes and paddy fields, my trip started on a very picturesque note as one could enjoy the tranquility of the countryside while also taking the time to visit small villages, elephant parks and learning how to ride a tuk tuk away from the mad crowds of the capital city. What stroke me the most though was how happy Si Lankans are as a nation, and the way Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims live in harmony despite many years of political conflict; a conflict which every single Sri Lankan I have met refers to as a politically motivated one.

After three days of cycling through the fields and drinking king coconut water at every village corner, I left this tranquille lush surrounding and drove with my chatty driver to Kandy which is one of the main cities of the country. Surrounded by tea plantations and lakes, Kandy has the biggest temple in Sri Lanka which most inhabitants see as a national shrine as well as a vibrant urban life. I was lucky enough to be able to stay at The Mountbatten Bungalow, situated on the posh suburban hills of the city and which has been transformed into a sixteen-room boutique hotel. The Bungalow has kept most of its original features including wooden stoves for traditional cooking, antique pieces, and a cosy library from the days where Lord & Lady Mountbatten (nephews to the last Tsar of Russia) lived in the villa during the war as Viceroys of India and Ceylon. One can still live this bygone era through the atmosphere, décor and a top team all dressed in white livery and who seem to have been trained by Royal Butlers from Buckingham Palace. The only new add on to this historical place is a swimming pool where one can sip a G&T while enjoying a panoramic view of Kandy, a city which I would highly recommend to aficionados of shopping looking for Art, jewelry and fabrics. During my time in Kandy, I could also visit a few tea factories and learn how to pluck tea buds in the fields, not to mention learning about all the virtues of gold, white and green tea which are very much part of the healthy lifestyle of many Sri Lankans.

We then headed south to Weligama, a beach town not far from the historical Dutch fort of Galle and which had been affected by the tsunami in 2006. It is known as one of the most ‘in’ places of Sri Lanka, notorious for its surfing spots, local restaurants and long stretches of beaches where the locals from Colombo mix happily with the tourists on week ends and holiday time. The Ayurvie Weligama is in one of the private coves of the coastal town, and it has already built a reputation as being one of the leaders in Ayurveda on the island. With only 42 rooms and suites all facing the ocean, the zen atmosphere of this heaven of wellness gets into your bones from the minute you get into the lobby and the gong welcomes you. The General Manager is a charming man who has had 25 years of experience managing Ayurvedic Retreats and is proud of the fact that his baby as he calls the place has kept a very grounded and authentic feel and style from the day it opened. As he rightly mentions, the whole principle of Ayurveda is to go back to one’s inner self and heal in a friendly natural environment, and a sophisticated bling beach Resort would not fit the purpose of the retreats.

Those seven days spent at Ayurvie was not only a very pleasurable experience but also an eye opener, where I learnt that the science of Ayurveda is over five thousand years old and has been part and parcel of the day to day life of Sri Lankans and Indians forever. Unlike western medical values, it promotes a healthy non-artificial lifestyle which brings happiness and a clean body and mind to every human being; and keeping a close bond with our inner self and mother nature is the key to a stable fulfilling life. My first consultation with the in house Ayurvedic Doctor was a very soothing experience, as he seemed to know me inside out and I felt instantly at ease in his presence. I was given a programme for the week where I was on a vegetarian diet (which made me register the fact that healthy food can be tasteful), joined the yoga and meditation classes every morning and at sunset, and had two to three treatments per day with the most gifted therapist I ever came across.

After 72 hours, I could feel that I was sleeping better, while learning that you are the only one in charge of your happiness by letting go when need be or being grateful for what life offers to you. I can honestly say that it was a life changing experience which I would highly recommend to everyone, especially in an era where we race through life neglecting our true priorities and wellbeing.

I will be going back to Sri Lanka next November, and this time to experience the new Ayurvie Sigiriya which will be a sister Retreat to Ayurvie Weligama and opening at the outskirt of the forest in October.
I just cannot wait.