Spa Review: Amber Spa, Colombo Courtyard

Leslie’s Rules for Traveling, Part One: always begin and end every trip with a spa ritual. I figured this out on my first trip to Greece and I’ve tried to stick to it as much as possible ever since. Apart from just being a big fan of pampering the heck out of myself at every opportunity, I really do think this helps to keep jet lag at bay. Not to mention that awful post-vacation “Ugh I’m so exhausted I should have just stayed home” feeling. Since my three months in Sri Lanka are drawing to a close, I decided to visit the Amber Spa at Colombo Courtyard for a relaxing massage to get me in full trip wind-down mode.

This was a very good idea. I opted for the Signature Amber Massage, which is a traditional deep tissue massage, and the therapist was outstanding. She used just the right amount of pressure (lots) and beat all of my tension into submission. (But she did ask a few times if the pressure was OK, so don’t be alarmed if you like a lighter touch.)

I have to add a note for my fellow modest girls who might not have experienced a massage in Asia before: it’s common here for the therapist to uncover you to the waist in order to massage your stomach and collarbone areas, but if you’re not comfortable with that, it’s no big deal. Just mention to your therapist that you’d like your chest to stay covered the whole time. (Or forget, like I did, and then squeal and yank the sheet back up and cause your therapist to apologize profusely. Either way.)

The spa itself is located off the pool area in the middle of Colombo Courtyard, and is accessed by walking across an elegant stone bridge over the pool. Even though the hotel is located right on busy Duplication Road in the heart of Colombo, the treatment rooms are completely serene and they manage to block out all of the traffic noise with thick walls and tranquil music.

Amber Spa MyAdventureBucket.com

Amber Spa also wins my award for the most gorgeous robes I’ve ever seen in a spa, goldenrod yellow with a beautiful floral print.

Amber Spa MyAdventureBucket.com
I need to find one of these to take home…

The whole atmosphere of the inner courtyard and spa area is full of fountains, koi ponds, ornate lanterns, and soft seating arrangements. It has a clean, Morocco-meets-Miami Beach look. 

Amber Spa MyAdventureBucket.com

Amber Spa MyAdventureBucket.com

Amber Spa MyAdventureBucket.com

Amber Spa MyAdventureBucket.com

When I left the spa an hour later, all of the usual pain in my back and hips is gone, at least for a while. I also smelled like a frosted spice cake, thanks to the scented massage oil and the spice-filled pillow that covered my eyes during the second half of the treatment. The smell reminded me of some of the solid perfumes I’ve gotten from Egypt in the past, and I surreptitiously sniffed my arm several times while walking down the street. I hope no one noticed.  

Amber Spa is located inside the Colombo Courtyard Hotel. Find more information, including a full menu of spa treatments here.

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I had the pleasure of being hosted by Amber Spa at Colombo Courtyard for the purposes of this review, and as always, all photos, words, and opinions are my own.

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Hotel Review: The Other Corner

After my disastrous/awesome adventure to the Dambulla cave temples, I checked into The Other Corner to recuperate, and I’m so glad I did. You can tell as soon as you arrive that this is not going to be like any other hotel, unless you’re accustomed to having to cross a swinging rope bridge to get to your accommodation.

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Most writers live in their own heads, you know? We spend so much time sequestered in our own thoughts, spinning words and worlds out of the ether, that it’s no surprise most of us feel more at home there than in the “real” world. I’m no different, and I instantly fall in love with any place that lets me live in my imagination instead of being confronted with a dreary reality full of other people and traffic and blaring televisions, and…did I mention other people? Nothing against other humans in general, but there are so many of you, and sometimes you pack together in large groups and make excessive amounts of noise and it’s just sort of the worst. It’s not your fault, of course, but it’s really hard to imagine that I’m Indiana Jones or a fierce fighter pilot or (my personal favorite) an animal-whispering fairy princess when I’m breathing in clouds of exhaust fumes and cigarette smoke and listening to your baby scream while you play YouTube videos on your phone without headphones.

I only mention all of that because I’m sort of in paradise right now. I’m working on my laptop by the pool, and it is exactly the kind of blissfully secluded dream world that makes me feel at home. The resort is completely empty today, so I have the pool to myself. This greatly helps me to imagine that the resort is my private jungle palace, obviously. There’s a gnarled, vine-choked tree dominating the pool area, and it’s covered with great clouds of butterflies like something out of a Disney movie. There’s also a small brass bell hanging from the tree, with a room service menu. In case you get so worn out from swimming and sunning yourself that you need to be revived with a beer and a cheeseburger, obviously. (I did say it was paradise, didn’t I?)

The Other Corner MyAdventureBucket.com

The only sounds are the wind rustling the leaves of the surrounding trees, the songs of dozens of exotic birds, and the bubbling water from the spa behind me. (I later get my very first fish pedicure in that spa, and laugh-squeal loud enough to startle several passing monkeys. You should definitely try this if you get the chance.)

The silence is briefly broken by a small family of monkeys who swing down and take a quick drink out of the pool before scampering back up to the treetops and continuing on their way. Once they’ve gone, two gorgeous bright red dragonflies swoop down and skim across the surface of the pool. A pair of jewel-colored birds alight on a branch above my head for a just a moment, before the distant trumpeting of an elephant startles them away.

An hour or so later, drama erupts as a gang of monkeys descends on a nearby mango tree and makes off with fistfuls of fruit before a groundskeeper chases them away with a rake. They are gleefully unrepentant as they huddle together near the spa and enjoy their stolen treat. (Monkeys are such jerks, aren’t they?)

I spent three nights at The Other Corner, and it was the perfect spot for lounging by the pool as well as an amazing base for climbing the famous rock monastery of Sigiriya. I’ll write about that awesome experience in another post, but for now, just know that you should 100% visit Sigiriya if you’re in the neighborhood. The Other Corner can also arrange tours to Minneriya National Park, the Dambulla cave temples, Ritigala Forest Monastery, and all the other cool stuff there is to do here in the Cultural Triangle area.

I also took a nature walk with the resident naturalist, and he was an absolute fountain of local knowledge. If you go, ask him to do some of his amazing bird calls for you. The area around the resort is absolutely gorgeous, and you can even see Sigiriya if you walk along the lake bordering the property. 

The Other Corner www.MyAdventureBucket.com

The three nights I spent at The Other Corner were like being at summer camp for grownups. You stay in a really adorable cabin and there’s nature hikes and tree houses… but there’s also a nice beer and wine selection. I suppose you can bring the kids, if you want to share the tree houses. 

The Other Corner www.MyAdventureBucket.com

The Other Corner MyAdventureBucket.com

As you explore the grounds, you’ll see a sign pointing to the hotel’s organic garden. One of the best things about staying at an eco resort is knowing that all the produce in your meals was grown right there on the property.

The Other Corner MyAdventureBucket.com

You might also see some of the other local residents lounging about:

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The Other Corner is located in Laksirigama, Habarana, Sri Lanka, right on the edge of Habarana Lake. Find more information or book your own stay here.

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This has been a sponsored conversation with The Other Corner, and as always, all words, photos, and opinions are mine.

Hotel Review: Villa Rosa, Kandy

The first thing that hits me when I check into Villa Rosa and start exploring is that this is the perfect location for a romantic retreat.

Between the candlelit dinners, the breathtaking mountain views, and the secluded hilltop setting, I’m really wishing I hadn’t come to Villa Rosa solo. This ridiculously photogenic villa just screams romantic rendezvous. The canoodling couple having dinner two tables away from me would likely agree; they’re currently holding hands and staring out at the river. I can’t say that I blame them- this view belongs on a postcard, or maybe your desktop wallpaper.

This is no business traveler’s hotel- the information binder in my room informs me that the Wi-Fi will be turned off at 10pm and when it’s on it can’t handle streaming a video conference. You might not notice- the cozy second floor library will pull your attention away from work with its large collection of reading material and panoramic views of the river and the mountains.

Villa Rosa Kandy MyAdventureBucket.com

Back to dinner, though. Villa Rosa is a foodie’s paradise, and they win my award for the absolute best rice and curry I’ve had during my three months in Sri Lanka. That’s a pretty big deal- *everyone* makes rice and curry here, and it’s almost always fantastic. Villa Rosa goes the extra mile, though. The chef visits the local market every morning, and guests are welcome to tag along and see how he chooses the freshest spices and produce. If you’re really keen, you can join him and his team in the kitchen to prepare your own meal while having a lesson in authentic Sri Lankan cooking.

Villa Rosa Kandy MyAdventureBucket.com

On the off chance that you want to do more than smooch your travel partner all day, Villa Rosa is perfectly positioned for exploring Kandy and the surrounding area. The extremely accommodating staff will happily drop you off in town at no charge, or arrange transportation for more far-flung adventures. While I was here, I explored the impressive botanical gardens, the city of Kandy, the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic (don’t miss this! Easily the most beautiful Buddhist temple I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen rather a lot) and the Kandy Garrison Cemetery.

The river that you’ll find yourself continually staring out over is the Mahaweli, the longest river in Sri Lanka. Every time I settled down to read or write or work on my laptop, I only lasted a few minutes before I found myself picking up my camera and wandering over to the edge of the property to snap just a few more photos. Sri Lanka is outrageously beautiful in general, but the view here is absolutely mesmerizing. Try to get back from your day of adventuring in Kandy before sunset if you can. There is no better way to start your evening than with a cold beer on the open air balcony while watching the sky go all pink and purple and orange while the flying foxes venture out to their nightly hunt and the chanting of the monks from the city temples down below drifts up on the breeze.

Villa Rosa Kandy MyAdventureBucket.com
The view from my dinner table. Are you kidding me??

Art lover alert: The owners of Villa Rosa are connoisseurs of fine art, and have decorated the villa in impeccable style. Make sure you take a wander around the entire property to have a look at some of the fabulous pieces in their collection.

Villa Rosa Kandy MyAdventureBucket.com

Villa Rosa is located at 71/18, Dodanwela Passage, Asgiriya, Kandy, Sri Lanka. Visit Villa Rosa here for more information or to book your own romantic rendezvous.

Villa Rosa Kandy MyAdventureBucket.com
Wouldn’t you like to wake up to this breakfast table view?

This has been a sponsored conversation with Villa Rosa. I had the pleasure of being hosted at their beautiful property for the purposes of this review, and as always, all words, photos, and opinions are my own.

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Villa Rosa Kandy MyAdventureBucket.com

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Hotel Review: Ceylon Tea Bungalows

Imagine you’ve gone to pay a visit to your dear British granny…who happens to live in a gorgeous, modern house on a tea estate in in the middle of Sri Lanka, that is. That should give you an idea of what it’s like to visit Ceylon Tea Bungalows.

My first thought when I enter the Windermere Suite is that I’m in an English country house. Blue floral paper on the walls, a large wooden canopy bed, delicate grey silk window treatments. The vases of fresh tropical flowers give away the location, though. Nothing like these wild blooms grow in English cottage gardens.

Ceylon Tea Bungalows MyAdventureBucket.com

Ceylon Tea Bungalows MyAdventureBucket.com

I’ve arrived late, after dark, and am met by the lovely staff, who immediately inquire about my journey, ask me if I’m hungry, and bring me a cup of tea. Just like visiting Grandma’s house, actually. To enhance the feeling, there is no menu. “Whatever you want” is the mantra. Kumar, the manager, starts listing possibilities from traditional rice and curry to roast chicken. I tell him to surprise me, and this turns out to be an excellent idea.

Thirty minutes later I’m settled at a table under the covered porch, protected from the pouring rain. I have a glass of wine, and all is once again right with the world. Dinner is a delicious cream of vegetable soup and an entree of roasted chicken in a unique sweet and mildly spicy sauce, with mashed potatoes and fresh vegetables. Comfort food through and through, just like Grandma makes. And of course there’s always ice cream for dessert.

Ceylon Tea Bungalows MyAdventureBucket.com

I don’t see Ceylon Tea Bungalows in the daylight until I wake up the next morning. Opening the drapes covering the French doors leading onto my private patio, I’m shocked at the absolute riot of flowers outside. The front lawn looks out over green hills as far as the eye can see, and rainbow hued blooms spill out over pots and planters and garden beds everywhere I look. Lounge chairs and intimate seating areas are arranged around the lawn. A classic Morris Eight sits at the end of the walkway, completing the English country house feeling perfectly.

Ceylon Tea Bungalows MyAdventureBucket.com

Ceylon Tea Bungalows MyAdventureBucket.com

Ceylon Tea Bungalows MyAdventureBucket.com

Ceylon Tea Bungalows MyAdventureBucket.com

Ceylon Tea Bungalows MyAdventureBucket.com

Ceylon Tea Bungalows MyAdventureBucket.com

Ceylon Tea Bungalows MyAdventureBucket.com

Ceylon Tea Bungalows MyAdventureBucket.com

Over breakfast (fried eggs, thick cut bacon, sausages, toast and jam, endless pots of tea… they will try to feed you just as much as your grandmother always did), Kumar suggests I take a tuk tuk to the nearby town of Ella. Having heard that Ella is everyone’s favorite hill country town, I readily agree.

Ceylon Tea Bungalows MyAdventureBucket.com

Honestly, Ella is pretty underwhelming. The mountain views are lovely, but mostly blotted out by the endless stream of guesthouses and juice shops that plague most Sri Lankan tourist meccas. Take away the views, and this could be Hikkaduwa, only with more tourists walking around in swimwear, which is bizarre because there aren’t any beaches here. (Also, please don’t do this. It’s really offensive to the locals.) I see more European backpackers than I do locals, and if it weren’t for the occasional Sinhala street sign, I could be in Austria. The views really are magnificent, though. 

Ceylon Tea Bungalows MyAdventureBucket.com

Next time I’ll arrange to go on a nice day hike instead of hanging with the backpacker crowd. The mountain views are spectacular, and it’s so nice to be out in weather that isn’t miserably hot and sweaty all the time.

Things I loved about Ceylon Tea Bungalows:

  • Being treated like family. There’s no set menu or mealtimes, and the staff has a genuine desire to please. It doesn’t feel like a hotel at all, but like you’re visiting family.
  • Big fluffy white robes (not a common amenity in Sri Lanka!)
  • Spacious rooms and common areas for lounging.
  • The location, away from tourist hordes, literally in the middle of a tea plantation. You can even go out and help the plantation employees pick tea and see where your favorite afternoon beverage comes from. If you do, you’ll have a new appreciation every time you brew a cup- these ladies work hard.
  • The most comfortable bed of my entire 3-month trip.
  • The gorgeous flower gardens.
  • Attention to detail: all of the art, fresh cut flowers, coffee table books, and bath amenities have been chosen with tremendous care.

Ceylon Tea Bungalows MyAdventureBucket.com

Ceylon Tea Bungalows is located at Hilpankandura Estate, Mirahawatte, Bandarawela, Sri Lanka.  You can visit their website here for more information or to book your own visit.

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Ceylon Tea Bungalows MyAdventureBucket.com

This is a sponsored conversation with Ceylon Tea Bungalows. I had the pleasure of being their guest for the purpose of this review, and as always, all photos, words, and opinions are my own.

Hotel Review: Kalahe House

I had the pleasure of being hosted at Kalahe House for the purpose of this review. As always, all words and opinions are my own.

 

In Stephen King’s landmark work of nonfiction, On Writing, he describes his idea of the perfect writer’s retreat. Secluded cabins set in the woods with an unobtrusive staff who prepare your meals and never disturb your afternoon nap. Could someone let him know I’ve found it?

My first glimpse of Kalahe House; I'm already charmed.
My first glimpse of Kalahe House. I’m already charmed.

If you’re looking for seclusion, Kalahe House has it in spades. As I write this at the dining room table, night has fallen and the grand wooden doors that line three walls of the room are open to the woods and rice paddy that surround the property on all sides. I can’t see a single artificial light but the ones in sconces around the room, and the only sounds are those of monkeys, frogs, and insects performing their nightly concert. It’s hard to believe this sanctuary is only a fifteen minute tuktuk ride from Galle’s busy (but extremely charming) Dutch fort.

The sunny living and dining wing of Kalahe House. I may have lost track of the amount of time I spent sitting here with a pot of tea, daydreaming
The sunny living and dining wing of Kalahe House. I may have lost track of the amount of time I spent sitting here with a pot of tea, daydreaming
A view of the surrounding rice paddy through the trees at Kalahe House
A view of the surrounding rice paddy through the trees

When I arrived at Kalahe House early this afternoon, I was met by the extremely efficient Prasanga, who takes care of everything from meals to massages (yes, they provide spa treatments as well. What better way to keep your creative juices flowing than a deep tissue massage under the flowering trees in the garden?)

Before I even managed to extricate myself from the taxi, Prasanga had seen my bags to my room and made afternoon tea appear on the living room table. Did I say efficient? I meant magical. Within minutes he had determined what I wanted for dinner and set off to the local market for fresh ingredients, leaving me to explore the beautiful house and grounds.

Exploring the gardens of Kalahe House
Exploring the gardens of Kalahe House
How gorgeous is this jackfruit tree?
How gorgeous is this jackfruit tree?

There’s no TV to distract you from what you came here to do: write. (Don’t worry, there is WiFi, so you’ll be able to fact check that article on the go…or post pictures of your beautiful home away from home to make all of your friends and family jealous. Whichever.)

My room has a cozy alcove with a beautiful wooden desk, a comfortable chair, and plenty of natural light. It’s an extremely inviting spot to sit down with my notebook and get to work…just as soon as I take one more stroll around the gardens for inspiration.

Writing and meandering have always gone hand in hand, so when I need a longer walk to clear my head, I wander down the drive and start exploring the surrounding countryside. There is absolutely no hint of the nearby expressway or the city of Galle itself. A local man in a traditional sarong and a plaid shirt waves as he passes buy on an ancient Royal Enfield motorcycle, but I see no other people.

I’m visiting Kalahe House at the start of the annual southwest monsoon season, which means I’m treated to a lovely rain shower every afternoon to help lull me into that aforementioned afternoon nap. Don’t judge; it’s hard work churning out these masterful works of literature in paradise.  Especially when there is a very inviting bed sprinkled with orchids only steps from your writing desk.

Back to the dining room: the soft rattle of china on a wooden tray announces Prasanga’s arrival with dinner. He has prepared an amazing spread of traditional Sri Lankan chicken curry with rice and accompaniments, followed by more tea and a fresh fruit platter. Just as I decide I’m far too stuffed to take another bite and head back to my room, the local monkey population decides to put on an impromptu acrobatic show in the trees outside. Prasanga warns me that they may decide to frolic on the roof in the morning, and hopes they won’t wake me. His tone is apologetic, but I can’t think of anything more charming.

As it turns out, the monkeys like to sleep later than I do, and nothing disturbs my sleep. As Prasanga prepares what turns out to be the best breakfast of my trip so far, I ponder the most pressing issue I’ll have all day. Shall I venture into the gorgeous old fort and wander around the ancient streets in search of artistic inspiration, or settle down in my sunny writing nook for another day of unhurried creative effort?

The answer, of course, is both.

No detail is overlooked at Kalahe House
No detail is overlooked at Kalahe House

I’m happy to report that I finished four articles while sequestered at lovely Kalahe House, and emerged feeling even more inspired than I did when I arrived. In need of a creative retreat of your own? Kalahe House is located on the outskirts of Galle, my favorite city in Sri Lanka.  Find more information or book your stay at www.kalahehouse.com.