It's the river which makes this place," said the English lady as she sat at a glass-topped table on the verandah of her room, overlooking a sparkling swimming pool and the majestic sweep of the Bentota river.
"It keeps the air cool during the hottest day and emphasises the tranquillity of the setting."
The Waterside Boutique Villa Hotel is aptly named as it has been built beside the Bentota river on the southern bank, in a garden artfully raised to prevent flooding. The lawn runs down to the water's edge and the swimming pool has been placed parallel to the river. The purpose-built villa of six bedrooms spread over two floors gives each room a balcony or verandah view of the riverine scene. The hotel is far enough away from the Galle Road for peace to be preserved, yet close enough to be only five minutes by boat from the sea.
|Oasis of blue: The pool and the river
Waterside is not the typical Sri Lankan 'boutique villa' with nouveau colonial architecture, reproduction antique furniture and knickknacks from India. With its tiled roofs glowing in the sunlight, white columns glistening and floor tiles shining brightly, Waterside resembles a Mediterranean villa. It consists of several linked pavilions with access to the block of six bedrooms through a long loggia with a high, classically timbered roof.
This serves as the restaurant, open on two sides so the breeze flows through, with tables set with dashing blue napkins and tablecloths. Bold colours are a feature of Waterside with each bedroom painted a different colour, with matching linen and drapes to contrast with the white of the exteriors. Furnishings are simple but the beds are ample and the attached bathrooms each have a bathtub with shower and hot water. Rooms have satellite television, a minibar and fans as well as air-conditioning. There is also a bookshelf with a collection of paperbacks in each room, and paintings by Sri Lankan artists hang on the walls.
In spite of its Mediterranean appearance, all the furniture and fittings at Waterside were manufactured or sourced locally (much of it was made in Bentota) and nothing was imported especially for the project.
It is the brainchild of an English woman who confesses to having wanted to live in Sri Lanka since she was five and collected Ceylon postage stamps featuring tea pluckers and rubber tappers. Although she visited Colombo in 1961, it was not until 2005 that she stayed on holiday and in 2007 was able to make her dream come true by opening Waterside.
Her original idea was to open a restaurant to relieve the monotony for visitors of bland package-tourist hotel fare. Rooms were added to accommodate guests who wanted to stay the night. Now they come from around the world as well as from Colombo for holiday breaks. (There is a special double room bed & breakfast rate for Sri Lankans and expatriate residents that includes insured boat transfer from Bentota bridge and a free river cruise.)
The restaurant has become renowned for its seafood and guests clamour for the seafood platter and fresh lobster. There are also some scrumptious home-made starters (my favourite is the spinach crepe) and formidable desserts like the deliciously gooey crème brulee. There is a modest wine list with the accent on New World rather than Mediterranean wines. There is no actual cocktail bar but guests can enjoy drinks, or tea, in the garden, or carry sundowners up to the rooftop gazebo with its panoramic view of the river.
The ambience at Waterside is bright and informal and it seems to run itself quite comfortably; with 18 staff on hand - all of whom come from Bentota - guests are well looked after. Being less than two hours drive from Colombo, Waterside has become popular for a brief escape from the city. It is reached by taking the sign-posted road that leads inland off the Galle Road between the 61km and 62km markers.
This road winds past rural homesteads until a sign indicating Waterside directs drivers down a meandering lane to the river. The romantic way to arrive is by boat from Bentota and this can be arranged on demand through the Waterside management.
(Waterside, Yathramulla, Bentota; tel: 034 2270080; www.bentotawaterside.com)