ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, April 01, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 44

Feel the peace

By Roysion Ellis

The broad gates made of ancient timbers are firmly closed to deter visitors from arriving unannounced at Nisala Arana, a heritage hotel in the hinterland of Bentota. This is to protect the privacy of guests privileged to be staying there; they value the tranquillity of every blissful moment at Nisala Arana.

Enjoying the green: Mr. and Mrs. Kevin Pereira in the lushly landscaped garden of Nisala Arana

Although it is only three kilometres from where traffic on the Galle Road roars through Bentota, Nisala Arana is far removed from the activities of that beach resort. The 150-year-old main cottage, once the home of a 'vedha mahathaya' a respected village ayurvedic doctor, is set in a four-acre garden lushly landscaped with fruit trees, spices and herbal plants. Curiously, it is nowhere near a river, yet a sense of serenity seems to flow through it.This is emphasised by the birds that flit freely from plant to plant: the vibrancy of a kingfisher contrasting with the buff of a nesting dove, and the yellow blur of a fluttering sunbird. The garden has been deliberately landscaped with plenty of flowering bushes to attract birdlife, as well as to create the perfect setting for accommodating visitors seeking refuge from city life.

Originally intended as the home where Kevin Pereira would retire with his wife and family after a life in the retail business in Norfolk Island, Nisala Arana has become a stylish place for visitors to stay in response to circumstances. After buying the old cottage five years ago and renovating it, Pereira found he needed more space for his family to stay. He designed and built an adjoining two-bedroomed wing and then, when friends wanted to stay too, added two more rooms atop a mews-like garage housing his collection of classic cars.

Open air: The Coconut Wing bathroom

A broad veranda fronts the original residence where the clay tiles of the roof have been retained, layered over asbestos sheeting under-painted white. The ceiling of the entrance hall is the original dark timber designed in diamond-patterns. It adds dignity to the room, enhanced by filigreed screened windows and a dramatic, intricately carved room divider directly under the central arch. Beyond this is a dining area and mini-courtyard where a pond adds to the serene atmosphere.

The interior walls of the cottage are white, relieved by vivid paintings whose exuberance is toned down by ancient brass figurines. There is a bedroom flanked by heavy wardrobes with a huge and beautifully-made reproduction four-poster bed at its centre. The bathroom is partially open to the sky. A smaller bedroom is suitable for children. The cottage also has a kitchen and is only rented as a complete unit for up to four guests.

Coconut Wing room interior

The adjoining Coconut Wing - so called because of the palm tree that crawls out of its cemented veranda floor - has two dedicated bedrooms in minimalist style, all polished cement with crisp white sheets on a white concrete-based bed. The open air bathroom has plants sharing the shower, and the amusing touch of an old window frame with its mottled shutters opening to reveal a mirror.

The combination of new and old continues in the courtyard where a heavy wooden door from Jaffna has been set in a new wall. The lights throughout are rigidly modernist, narrow rectangular frames painted black supporting glass panes. The theme of contemporary black recurs in the garden where the chairs and tables are made of thin black metal strips.

A flamboyant wooden balustrade runs the length of the balcony of the Mango Wing, overlooking the colourful sweep of the garden and its enticing swimming pool. The balcony is reached by steps up the side of the building and gives access to two upstairs bedrooms. These feature double beds draped with gauze and a faux beam of concrete - looking like ancient timber - supporting the roof. Entrance is by another superb, heavy Jaffna door, complete with intriguing motifs.

Pool from Mango Wing

The two wings were designed to be in sympathy with the original architecture but the furnishings and garden ornaments were acquired spontaneously. Kevin Pereira says he likes the legacy of furniture in Sri Lanka but has not been governed by a rule book in keeping to a period and adds pieces when they take his fancy. Furniture that was not already in the house was acquired from local antique dealers.

A Dutch colonial theme has been incorporated in the purpose-built garden pavilion with its stout round columns, painted white. With low eaves to shield it from rain, it is open on all four sides to the garden, where granite stepping stones lead to the granite-edged swimming pool. Adjoining the pavilion is an open-sided kitchen where a chef prepares meals for residents on demand.

Despite not having air-conditioning, the bedrooms are cool with high ceilings, fans and a refreshing flow-through of breeze. Guests delight in relaxing in the shade of the deep verandas or in the garden, with its lawns ideal for a leisurely game of croquet. At night the garden is lit with flares from fishermen's kettle lanterns, adding to the atmosphere of timeless harmony with nature.

Nisala Arana's style is colonial-tropic simple, encouraging guests to feel relaxed and secure in this enchanting abode of peace.
Nisala Arana website:

NOTE:The website address of Madu Ganga Villa featured in this column on March 18 is

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.