Words: Kirsten Durward Photos: Monica Tindall
High in the rolling hills of Kandy, in the very heart of Sri Lanka, lies a hideaway of unparalleled privacy, colonial luxury and impeccable taste. Stepping through the entrance gateway, we are instantly entranced by the unparalleled view down to the house and the Knuckles Mountains beyond. A stone path leads us past the pretty spa, down through the gardens, under shady trees to stepping stones across a koi pond and the open welcome of Clingendael. With sweeping vistas of lush greenery and colourful tropical flowers at every turn, our eyes are rested and our spirits soothed after the hustle and bustle of our panoramic journey along twisting roads today. As though the hands of time have turned back, we are ushered into a bygone era, where our every wish is granted, it seems almost before the thoughts have formed in our heads.
Clingendael is a luxury boutique hotel, which offers guests the best of both worlds: an intimate environment with personal service; and yet all the facilities of a much larger property. With only five luxury suites, accommodating up to twelve guests at a time, this exclusive retreat, is perfect for romantic escapes or larger social reunions. Clingendael in old Dutch means literally the hill and valley. The designer of Clingendael and host during our stay, Robert Kokshoorn, wanted a name that both reflected the natural location and was imbued with grandeur. The original Clingendael is a grand estate with a very famous garden in the Hague. We find that the sundial in the garden is an exact replica of the one at that stately home – an early indication Robert’s great attention to the smallest detail.
We are captivated by the colonial charm of Cingendael, although exceedingly grateful for the modern luxuries and amenities on hand. Nature beckons us from every angle and the whole property oozes old world charm. Wooden floors inside give way to polished concrete outside, a style we’ve already found so particular to Sri Lanka, while the bathrooms are beautifully tiled with a harlequin effect. On the shady ambalama (traditional verandah), antique furniture blends surprisingly well with stylish modern European lighting to unique effect. But what is truly special is the myriad of tiny details scattered through the home, brass telescopes, weather instruments, an abundant collection of wooden walking sticks, a box of cigars to select from. I truly feel as though I am staying in the private home of an eclectic collector with very particular tastes.
Robert’s eye for detail is nowhere more evident than in the spacious and sumptuous bedroom suites. Each suite is individually designed with its own ambience and colour theme. Monica is in the Brown Room which is nothing short of spectacular, extending through a capacious dressing area into an open air bathroom with rain shower and deep Jacuzzi bath. I can certainly imagine lounging in there with a glass of bubbly gazing out onto the greenery outside. Meanwhile, Monica is in raptures to find one of her favourite Australian organic brands of toiletries; Appelles Apothecary – a small family producer from Australia, just the kind of industry we like to support, and we are glad that Robert does too.
My Red Room is no less lavish with comfy chairs, an armoire writing desk, and connecting door to the outside terrace. The bathroom boasts a splendid double rain shower. Both rooms are double story with a resting daybed on the high internal balcony. Ceiling fans whisk the fresh country air, which is enough for me, but those in need of AC will find it is discreetly concealed in wooden surrounds but no less effective for that.
Unusually for this day and age, there is no television in the room. And what a welcome respite that is. Guests are encouraged to completely shut off from the demands of modern technology, although complimentary Wi-Fi is available throughout the property for those who need to keep in touch or catch up with the news. Guests can also request an iPod for their room, but the only other technology available is the mobile phone with butler contact button provided for each room should it be too much of a struggle for you to reach the butler buzzer on the wall.
Delighted though we are with our accommodations, on finding out that we are the only guests, I cannot resist requesting to tour the other rooms. The centre of the upper floor is home to an opulent open-air suite, with cream tones giving it a rather bridal feel. The views from here are particularly soothing and restful to the eyes. A second lavish suite graces the upper floor, but my favourite room is downstairs; the magnificent Green Room, with its giant bed, seeming about twelve foot wide, colourful sea tones and private outside seating area. I can guarantee you though, that you will be captivated with the style and comfort of whichever room you are settled into at Clingendael.
A plentiful supply of drinking water is to hand, and should you desire something more in your room, pressing your individual butler bell will bring you service whenever you desire. Butlers also offer a discreet alarm service, with the silent surrounds and the effectively blocked light meaning that sleep is sound, if you need to wake at a particular time it may be prudent to take advantage of this. Morning tea can also be served in bed. Surely a delightful way to wake up!
The butler service at Clingendael is impeccable. A plethora of smiling, orange robed Singhalese and Tamil gentlemen are on hand to offer you whatever you need, or want. In a throw back to the genteel days of 19th Century upper class living, discreet hand bells are scattered throughout the house and garden. There’s something so ‘Downton Abbey’ about ringing the bell for the butler, and I can’t help but think that the Dowager Countess would approve. Perhaps not of the orange robes and bare feet, but definitely of the service rendered.
Relaxing on the capacious terrace with views of the surrounding hills stretching purplish into the distance, I feel a million miles from everywhere and all the better for it. I’d happily sit here all afternoon and soak up every shade of green, every hint of colour in the swaying tropical foliage. But we are treated to a sunset aperitif down on the golf course, overlooking the silvery waters of the Victoria Reservoir. We enjoy a bottle of chilled white wine as the sun settles down for the night. From gentle orange and pink that strokes the clouds to misty purple behind the mountains, we sigh with delight in the perfection of the moment.
But it’s time for dinner, so after a refreshing shower we meet on the ambalama for pre dinner drinks, giving me a strange sensation of being back in Africa days. Dinner is delightful, with charming company, and served home style from serving dishes at a long table. We are wooed by the gentle tastes of Sri Lankan curries and then wowed by some sensational European desserts. Read more about the food experience on this previous post.
Waking up on a misty morning to the sound of birds singing I am eager to step outside and explore the lush environment. Which is lucky because we have a private golf lesson with the professional at the Victoria Golf and Country Club. Despite the complete seclusion of the location, resident guests benefit from the proximity to this 18 hole golf course, with perfectly kempt lawns. Victoria golf course is rated as one of the world’s 100 most scenic courses by Golf Digest, and I can only be in accord with that. Golfers and non-golfers alike will be in raptures at the location on a plateau amidst semi tropical foliage in the shadows of the surrounding hills. Clingendael will book tee times for resident guests and lessons for those in need, whether beginners like us or just in need of a brush up. Also free of charge, golf clubs from Clingendael are provided. I’m somewhat nervous for our first golfing lesson but thankfully our professional proves to be a very patient personality. Monica and I tussle with irons, and woods and putters, trying to figure out how to swing and follow through. But I enjoy a couple of rounds on the putting green, learning to slow down and not hit so hard, and we both benefit from a Mini Moke tour around the 18 hole course, before heading back to Clingendael for breakfast.
As we adore the open-air experience we’re delighted that breakfast is served in the garden. Freshly prepared to order, our definite favourite is the colourful plate of fresh tropical fruits. Fruits are always our preferred start but we are particularly in love with the sweet Sri Lankan pineapple. Guests may choose from a British style cooked breakfast or a traditional style Sri Lankan breakfast. We are most enamoured with the coconut roti, vegetable curry and dahl that typifies the latter. With the addition of local noodles, affectionately known as spring hoppers, rice and potato curry we are stuffed to our gills.
After breakfast it is time to relax in a comfortable chair on the long verandah reading a book, while ceiling fans sweep the indolent air above. A dip in the pool to refresh, before a massage at the pretty natural outdoor spa: it would be hard to schedule a better day. Robert is concerned that his guests relax and enjoy this divine location to its potential, so the minimum two night stay includes a complimentary 30 minute massage for each guest, something I am quite happy to take advantage of. Massage can also be enjoyed in the privacy of your own room. Read more about the spa here.
Guests may choose a whole range of locations in which to enjoy lunch or a light snack during the day. Our preference though is once again the shady verandah, where we enjoy fresh soups and salads. As well as water, guests are provided with limitless tea and coffee, soft drinks and beer included in the two-night stay.
Afternoon offers another typical colonial experience, a round of croquet on Clingendael’s front lawn. I last played this on a tea estate in Limuru Kenya, and the ambience here is very similar. We chortle away, happy that the croquet mallets are somewhat easier to handle than the golf clubs of this morning. What helps the whole experience go with a swing though, is the classic gin and tonic that we sip as we play. Oh those colonials knew how to live.
Host Robert wants to provide a home away from home for his guests to experience. We laughingly suggest that perhaps it is the home we all wish we had, with luxurious bedrooms, magnificent vistas and butlers to hand at the touch of a bell. For our part, we’ve certainly felt very much at home here, and will depart relaxed, refreshed and a little sad to be leaving the special ambience and smiling staff of Clingendael,
Reasons to visit: private luxury retreat; stunning location; timeless colonial charm; spectacular bedroom suites; outstanding service.