Kalutara. What is it known for really, other than somewhere to stop, drop in a coin and pray that you get to somewhere nicer? Turns out Kalutara, the district anyway, has nice areas and Halketha - in Mathugama, 75 km from Colombo - is in one of these.
We were looking for somewhere to go and found it in the Sunday Times HIT Ads supplement. Coming off a recent bad experience at Rainforest Eco Lodge, we were wary but when they sent us pictures, we were rearing to go.
Halketha, a chalet hotel in a working rubber/tea estate in Matugama, is beautifully done. There's only two chalets, one for couples (Villa Surangana) and one for families. We looked at the bigger chalet but decided to stay in the Surangana because it looked cosier and romantic-er.
The chalet's bedroom is pretty but, more importantly, a lot of thought has gone into the layout - the bed is an original take off of the four poster bed concept and positioned so that, when the doors are open, you can see the rubber estate all around you as if you're lying outside. The bathroom is excellently designed with quality fittings, an outdoor shower, a giant rock and frangipani (araliya) tree. (Yes, really!)
It isn't airconditioned but, with the fan on, we really didn't feel hot at all, probably because of the cement floor, wooden roof and the surrounding rubber trees. As this is an active estate, when you wake up in the morning, you can see workers collecting rubber sap from coconut shells attached to the trees - an example of just how ecologically sensitive the old Sri Lanka was.
Activities wise, Halketha has a badminton court, a hammock and a couple of bikes which they let us use without charge. Because there's hardly any traffic - we encountered one van and one motorbike in half an hour - and the surrounding roads go past rubber estates and paddy fields, bicycling is the best thing you can do, ideally at 4 pm when the sun isn't too harsh.
Meals can be taken at the table outside the room, in the restaurant or they will lay a table for you anywhere you feel like. The food was basic Sri Lankan food: string hoppers or kiribath for breakfast, rice and curry for lunch and an odd melange of things for dinner. This was the only area we felt could be improved upon but apparently, if you book in advance, they will get a cook from a nearby hotel to make more advanced stuff.
Halketha is owned by a Sri Lankan couple from the area who designed the whole place themselves, acquiring the antique doors locally and importing the high quality fittings and linen.
They display an unusual level of attention to detail: Buddhika, the brother in law who manages the place, explained to me that the bed was designed this way because normal four poster beds obstruct the view of the rubber trees from the bed. This is impressive precisely because so many hotels we’ve been to – designed by posh interior designer types - don’t show this level of care and understanding.
The inevitable comparison for Halketha is Sun House, as we had just stayed there. We felt it was better, not just because it is lower priced and locally owned (Ganna Ape De!) but because it displays a deeper understanding of just how to design for our climate and region. The rooms, for example, were much less cluttered and took much better advantage of the surrounding environment.
Halketha is our new standard for boutique hotels: we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone.
Hotel Name: Halketha
Address: Mathugama, Kalutara, Sri Lanka
Directions: Turn left at Katukurunda Junction after Kalutara; ask directions when you hit Mathugama town
Phone: +94 72 371 4777 / +94 716 454647 / +94 776 321787
Rates (all inclusive): LKR 6,000 nett full board double for Villa Surangana or LKR 8,000 nett full board for the bigger chalet
More Photos: Halketha Matugama on Picasaweb
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