As I wash away the sweat from climbing Sigirya Rock Fortress and its 1200 narrow steps, the elephant’s traces on my bruised legs, the dusty red soil from the Polunnarawa ancient city, and the oils from the Ayurveda massage, I hear the houseboy knocking on my door. He came to chase the lizard away.
One hour later, someone else knocks.
“Ayubowan!” (May you live long!) Two houseboys, traditionally dressed in their finest, but barefoot, come in to make my veiled bed.
They bow and present me with a good night gift: a box of sweets. After which they sweep and meticulously place flowers and leaves on my bed. It reads “Good night.” They pull the veil and off they go.
I am left looking at my fanciful bed, listening to the rain in a reverie, perplexed at Sri Lanka’s customary gallantry of doing things.
If you could only visit one place in Sri Lanka, Jetwing’s Vil Uyana would be it. A mere three miles from what many consider the 8th “Wonder of the World,” Sigirya – a brilliant fortress built on a peculiarly shaped rock rising in the middle of the surrounding jungle – Vil Uyana embodies the islands’ natural beauty and dedication to the environment. Located within the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka, famous for its rich history and long withstanding heritage, Vil Uyana is a lifestyle hotel, eco retreat and natural reservoir all in one.
Winner of the Environment Award at the 2014 Tourism for Tomorrow Awards, Vil Uyana is not just a heavenly oasis, but the quintessence of responsible tourism.
Open since October 2006, this is Jetwing Hotels’ most groundbreaking project yet.
The hotel is the first of its kind in Sri Lanka to construct a wetland system with lakes and reed beds, from abandoned agricultural land and forest in what is known as the dry zone. In meeting this extraordinary challenge, the brilliant architect Sunela Jayawardene went by the tank-building tradition of the ancient kings of the dry zone, who collected rainwater for irrigation, bathing and recreation. The result was the formation of this private nature reserve with 27 dwellings (in four different types of habitats) spanning over 24 acres.
From the moment I arrived at Vil Uyana, the care for the environment was more than evident. No gas run vehicles are allowed on the premise, specifically on the gravel roads and boardwalks inter-connecting the dwellings. Instead, electric buggies with silent engines provide transport for guests from their villa to the reception.
I could clearly see why. On my second buggy ride, the driver has to occasionally stop for traffic. By traffic, I mean three mesmerizing peacocks crossing the road.
At a first sight, the glamping style eco resort is brimming with lovely-dovey honeymooners. But not long after check-in, I saw plenty of solo travelers such as myself, as well as families and groups of friends. It made perfect sense; it’s the perfect spot in Sri Lanka from where to plan hiking trips, visit the island’s most renowned cultural sites and go elephant riding.
I spent my first day at Vil Uyana inside a paddy dwelling built on stilts, in what felt like a house of its own, with my very own plunge pool and garden terrace.
I showered with three (tiny) frogs and a myriad of lizards staring at me through the window. It somewhat felt ok. For in that unflustered, natural habitat, the sounds and look of the incredible wildlife were all too soothing and invigorating.
All throughout the night, I heard birds, monkeys, perhaps loris. I was as remote as could be, but as serene as ever.
Over breakfast the next day, I learn about the birth of baby loris from Chaminda, the hotel’s trained naturalist, a seemingly prestigious job in Sri Lanka. His passion for the wild and the environment is contagious.
“I love my job,” Chaminda says, “because the habitat at Jetwing Vil Uyana is a haven for wildlife, with over 112 species of birds, 20 species of mammals, 36 species of butterflies and 21 species of reptiles and amphibians.” There is plenty to see during the day, but by night he leads tours to spot Sri Lanka’s elusive primates, the Grey slender loris – which explains the torches readily available in each hotel room.
My second day at Vil Uyana, I was moved to a garden dwelling, a closer look and feel to a hotel suite but no less jaw-dropping. Apart from the disappearance of the plunge pool, most other features were very similar. What was radically different was that I had to call in for a buggy to take me everywhere; the positioning of my villa was so far from reception, I could easily get lost otherwise.
This was in fact a blessing. The remoteness and feeling of not being in a hotel, rather in a wild forest with birds, lakes, and scenic foliage was all that I could have wished for.
This was a Sri Lankan fairytale of sorts; the difference being that this fairytale was very much real.
Monica Suma is a Romanian-American freelance travel writer and blogger, always on the hunt for art, good food and all things Cuba. Through storytelling and an insatiable pursuit for whimsy, she contributes to a variety of publications such as Lonely Planet, BBC Travel, Business Traveller and more. Follow her adventures live on Instagram and Twitter.