How do you tame an island wilderness where every grain of sand has a story to tell of centuries past, and where there is no water, electricity, roads or inhabitants except for itinerant fisher folk eking out a living by the shore? For the answer, visit Dutch Bay Resorts. My visit to Dutch Bay Resorts [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Amidst the sand, an oasis of tranquillity and opportunity

Royston Ellis discovers a luxurious hideaway off Kalpitiya

How do you tame an island wilderness where every grain of sand has a story to tell of centuries past, and where there is no water, electricity, roads or inhabitants except for itinerant fisher folk eking out a living by the shore? For the answer, visit Dutch Bay Resorts.

My visit to Dutch Bay Resorts near Kalpitiya reminded me of visiting desert islands in Northern Maldives 20 years ago. The journey then took four hours by boat from the airport, and it seemed impossible that neglected islands without anything could ever be developed as upmarket tourist resorts. Now those same islands host thousands of high spenders from around the world.

Luxury amidst the mangroves: Brilliant white contrasts with the blue of the swimming pool at the Dutch Bay Resorts

Dutch Bay Resorts is four hours by taxi from the airport and today resembles those pioneering Maldives islands of 20 years ago – on the cusp of successful and sustainable tourism development. The man pioneering it, working in keeping with government initiatives for the Kalpitiya area, is a Sri Lankan with a vision; yet he began his career in hospitality humbly as a steward at Triton (now Heritance Ahungalla).

I first met Neil D’Silva by chance nine years ago when, having become a successful hotelier and realtor in Bahrain, he had just agreed to buy 184 acres of land on Dutch Bay Island, at the time when the area was riddled by the effects of war. He was enthusiastic about his dream for developing the area and the benefits it would bring to the impoverished people there.

So I was pleased to learn that D’Silva has finally managed to make his dream come true by opening the first phase of a planned three-phase development project on Dutch Bay Island. The project, called Dutch Bay Resorts, currently consists of 17 solidly built white-painted brick buildings that he calls Chalets, but that are more aptly described as elegantly modern lagoon lodges.
I approached the island by speedboat across the lagoon from the Kalpitiya pier to be welcomed by staff at the private jetty for my Lodge, number 16. That was better than any arrival at a villa in the Maldives. I could see only the white tops of the Dutch style façade peeping above the mangrove jungle that embraces the hotel’s 17 lagoon lodges.

Entrance to the Lodge is from a wooden deck, totally secluded by vegetation. A huge glass door swings open to reveal a spacious room of startling white, unplastered brick (manufactured in clay works in Kalpitiya). The bed, at seven feet by seven feet, custom built of solid mahogany and raised to waist height for easy sliding under the luxury linen duvet, sported plenty of plump pillows and a mattress of blissful comfort.

Perhaps it was the stillness of the setting, the absence of noise (no waves splashing, no traffic roaring) or the embrace of sheer tranquillity that made my stay so relaxing and memorable. The Lodge’s interior is sensibly designed with television and dvd player at the foot of the bed, a dressing alcove with plenty of shelves, drawers and hanging space, complemented with an enormous mirror. There is a minibar, a safe, and free Wifi.

Neil D’Silva: A dream come true

The bathroom is as brilliantly white as the rest of the Lodge with an individual solar power heating unit, a rain shower, two wash basins, and super soft towels, each with the Dutch Bay Resorts logo of shield with ponies rampant topped with a Dutch crown. The ponies acknowledge the wild ones that roam the island, while the crown commemorates first the Portuguese, then the Dutch who settled the island, built churches (there’s a ruined one to be seen) and forts.

There is a recreation complex fronted by a saltwater swimming pool with an open-sided restaurant serving delicious fusion seafood (no pork or beef). There,the pioneer of this unusual and enchanting holiday retreat told me the motivation behind his vision.

He praised the local residents who helped him cope with the difficulties of construction as everything had to be ferried in by tractor when the tide was low as only a sand bar provided vehicular access from Kalpitiya.

“Luxury in the 21st century is not a ‘brand name’,” said Neil D’Silva, “it’s a unique experience, such as we offer here. People talk of sustainable tourism as being a development that respects the environment by using eco-friendly systems
“For me sustainable tourism must take into account the socio-economic factor; it’s CPR, where ‘C’ stands for the connectivity between community and guest; ‘P’ for the preservation of the environment; and ‘R’ for our Respect for Mother Earth.”

With its rich biodiversity including a marine sanctuary of 40 sq. m of living coral reef, flat coastal plains, salt pans, mangrove swamps and sand dunes, wild donkeys, exotic birdlife and whale, dolphin and dugong sightings, Dutch Bay Resorts is for the nature lover as well as for the harassed high-flyer seeking tropical tranquillity. For the active, there are walks through trees and scrub along sandy trails, boat tours and, more extreme, kite surfing.

D’Silva sees the success of Dutch Bay Resorts as measured not by profitability in monetary terms, but how effective the project is in preserving and enhancing the environment for future generations to enjoy, and also in empowering the people of the area.

D’Silva is proud of having created a unique development that is bringing wealth to a poor rural area, supporting local industry as well as creating not just jobs but career opportunities. He plans to extend the resort in two more phases to include 100 villas, a model township and ultimately a reproduction Dutch Fort to bring the past into the present.

It’s not just awards from Trip Advisor that Neil D’Silva deserves for making Dutch Bay Resorts a reality; he also merits an award for social empowerment. Through realising his dream he has changed for the better the lives of the neglected people of the area. His method of sustainable tourism is giving them, and generations to come, a future.

Dutch Bay Resorts, Dutch Bay Island, Kalpitiya; tel: 0117 850850;

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