Dambulla, Sri Lanka

Photo: Aitken Spence Hotel Managements
Photo: Aitken Spence Hotel Managements

You feel like a king. You woke up in a stunning design hotel, which was built into the surrounding hillside. You stared at the full, serene wewa from your balcony as you sipped tea. You swam in the infinity pool and rested your arms against the ledge to stare at a rock fortress that many consider the Eighth Wonder of the World. Then you watched monkeys swing between tree branches and pillars as you ate breakfast on the rooftop. It’s not even 10 am, and it’s already been a very good morning in Sri Lanka.

The design hotel is the Heritance Kandalama outside of Dambulla. It’s shaped like the outspread wings of a bird, so it doesn’t disrupt its surrounding environment. The wewa is the Kandalama Reservoir, where elephants bath and swifts nest in the overhanging cliffs. Sigiriya, or Lion Rock, is the fortress. King Kashyapa built his palace there in the 5th century AD. While you find the monkeys charming, despite the feeling that they’re plotting to steal your food.

Photo: Aitken Spence Hotel Managements
Photo: Aitken Spence Hotel Managements

After such a relaxing morning, you’re ready start exploring the area. Tour the Golden Temple of Dambulla. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is a cave monastery, where another king, King Valagamba, took refuge for 14 years after his kingdom was invaded by South India in the 1st century BC. Its five sanctuaries are full of Buddha statues, murals, and burial sites. Bike through the surrounding villages and farms. You pass rose quartz mountains and ironwood forests along the way. Ride an elephant around the wewa. The majestic animals are surprisingly gentle, despite the way they crash through the water. Then go to Sigiriya, the rock that drew you to the center of the country in the first place.

The ancient city of Sigiriya must have been stunning. Its remains still are. See the remnants of the palace walls, as well as the gardens—boulder, terrace, and water. Climb the steep staircases and ladders to the top of the granite peak; the palace’s gateway is a sculpted lion’s head. Pay attention to the frescoes on the rock’s walls. And take in the view of the water and the jungle from up high.

When you return to the hotel, you could chill out at the spa with a Kurumbaa Kaashi coconut rub, relax at the Kachan Bar with a Three Coins lager, or eat baked red snapper marinated with tahini and sumac in the Kaludiya Fusion Room. But first, you’re going to soak in your room’s jacuzzi. You can see Sigiriya and the starting-to-set sun from it. It’s a view fit for a king.

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