As soon as you arrive at this charming cottage, you will be enveloped by its tranquillity and soothed by its verdant setting amidst lush tropical gardens. Grassy lawns surround the cottage, sun dappled below swaying coconut palms and fringed by banana trees and crimson heliconia. Whilst a wall encircles most of the property, on one side a tall earthen bank carpeted in creepers, ferns and greenery makes for a particularly lush backdrop for the deep blue swimming pool whose still water perfectly mirrors the natural scene. An elevated wooden ambalama (relaxation pavilion) overflowing with colourful cushions overlooks the pool and garden and offers an opportune place to discreetly watch for wildlife.
The interior of the cottage is light and airy. Soaring ceilings are a feature of the open-plan living room whose trio of cosy sofas are placed beside wide doors that open onto the garden. Cool polished terrazzo floors are prominent throughout the cottage whilst semi-outdoor bathrooms in three of the four bedrooms perfectly mirror the natural tropical aesthetic of the house. A blend of carefully chosen antique and reproduction furniture topped with exotic flower arrangements provide the villa with essential furnishings, whilst a selection of books, board games and swimming pool toys will keep both adults and children amused. It is a great family house, where children, their parents and even grandparents may enjoy spending quality time together.
The Indian Ocean is only a short walk from the villa whilst the local village of Moneragama, interesting for its majestic old houses, discreetly surrounds you. The villa staff of three takes as much care over the house and gardens as they do their guests, warmly welcoming them and shopping and cooking on their behalf, if necessary, as well as helping to arrange any local transport. Self-caterers are welcome and since none of the staff are live-in this choice brings increased privacy. There are also a handful of good local restaurants and cafés nearby.
Coconut Grove is located in the small village of Moneragama just two kilometres from the town of Ahangama on Sri Lanka’s southern coast. The buildings in this picturesque village are characterised by a scattering of flamboyant ancestral homes embellished with fanciful fretwork and enveloped by large tropical walled gardens where exotic birds and inquisitive monkeys hide amongst the verdant foliage, colourful blooms and fruit trees. A little further inland, swaying coconut palms give way to lush paddy fields and tea-carpeted hills whilst the closest beach is a five minute stroll from the house.
A busy fishing town roughly half-way between Galle and Matara, Ahangama has an intermittent stretch of beach that opens out properly to the east at Midigama where the surf is considered to be some of the best in the south. The beach often skirts towards the road, but when it finds its own path away from the traffic beneath swaying coconut palms it feels unspoilt and is often deserted except for the fishermen who can be seen hauling their wooden catamarans onto the soft golden sand. This stretch of beach is not only famous for its surf, but also for the stilt fishermen whose characteristic pose atop a stick stuck deeply into the sea bed is often seen on postcards and gracing the covers of guidebooks, such is its uniqueness to the island of Sri Lanka. Best photographed in the early morning and evenings as they cluster in favourite fishing spots close to the shore, the fishermen and their sturdy sticks, passed down through the generations, are often absent during the heat of midday. Inland from Ahangama’s beaches is a verdant wonderland of paddy fields and jungle that hug an amazing collection of antique houses whose pretty fretwork adorned eaves, inspiring stucco columns and delicate detailing hark back to the time of the colonials and make for an interesting walking tour. Also in this area is the Handunugoda Tea Factory where you can tour the estate and taste the tea to your heart’s content. There are no western-standard restaurants in Ahangama; they get better the closer you get to Galle (20km).
Stretching between Galle and Hambantota, the south coast is undoubtedly one of the most popular destinations in Sri Lanka. Characterised by historically significant fortified towns, numerous picture-perfect palm-fringed beaches, a sultry turquoise sea, swathes of iridescent green paddy fields fringed by lush green jungle, ancient Buddhist temples, expansive waterways, nature-filled rainforests and tea-carpeted hills it offers enough variety to be a destination in itself; fabulous for families, groups and couples alike.
Galle is one of the region’s most significant attractions for its sixteenth century Dutch fort filled with an evocatively rich collection of buildings, boutiques, museums and luxury digs that hug a peninsular to the south of town. Galle’s popular beaches are better-facilitated, more developed and safer for swimming than those in and around Tangalle, but the further you travel east the more expansive, deserted and nature-filled they become.
Surfing, snorkelling, diving, whale watching, sailing, fishing and kayaking can all be done along this magnificent stretch of coastline as well as cycling, walking and trying your hand at Sri Lankan cookery. Inland, the scene varies as the westerly wet zone’s lush jungle interior gives way to the arid dry zone plains a little beyond Tangalle. Taking off by bicycle is often the best way to explore the hills, plains, sanctuaries and jungle whilst a boat is a must to navigate the scenic lakes and rivers that wind in between.
Some of Sri Lanka’s most popular national parks – Uda Walawe for elephants and Yala for leopards and bears – as well as a trio of its most accessible rainforests – Sinharaja, Kottawa and Kanneliya - are easily visited on a day or overnight trip from anywhere along the south coast.
Coconut Grove is a wonderful retreat which, despite its privacy and modern additions, including a swimming pool, offers a chance to experience life in an authentic Sri Lankan village. That said, we noticed on our recent visit that the area is seeing quite a lot of development in terms of small hotels and villas; the plus side of which being that the number of tourist-friendly restaurants is likely to increase.
The cottage is perfectly set up for families, especially as the two rooms to the front of the house have smaller double beds (or large singles), which would be perfect for children. However, it would be an equally good choice for a group of friends wishing to stay a little off the beaten track. The living areas – both inside the house and outside in the garden – offer plenty of cosy places to relax and private pockets for escape.
The wildlife is magical here, and right on your doorstep. Whilst sipping afternoon tea in the poolside pavilion we watched monkeys playing in the trees as birds twittered melodiously overhead. The large lawned garden is a fansasyland for roaming kids but supervision is necessary around the pool as it quickly gains depth.
The staff kept the house clean and tidy during our stay, and were on hand to assist us with anything we needed. The staff do not stay in the house at night although the gardener/watchman lives in a small building tucked independently to one side of the property. If the housekeeper is not needed to assist with making afternoon tea or dinner, you can dismiss her early and enjoy the run of the house all to yourselves.
Oceanfront Indisch is superbly located on a picturesque curve of sandy coastline south east of Galle and features a large swimming pool and an expansive lawned garden with kid’s playground. Ideal for families and groups, this hugely spacious villa comes with an exceptional staff team, and is very private and secure.