Unexpected retreat away from the hustle

Moragolla, the town vehicles roar through along the A2 as they approach Alutgama on the way to the beach resorts of the south, is a surprising place to find an “eco resort.” Even the broad frontage and forecourt of the Riverdale Restaurant, Coffee Lounge & Pub proclaims suburban rather than environmental good taste.

Yet, like so many ingeniously designed resorts in Sri Lanka, Riverdale is more than it seems. First impressions are favourable indeed: a saree-clad receptionist rises to greet a new arrival with the traditional ayubowan gesture of welcome.

To the right of the reception lobby is an air-conditioned coffee lounge (open 8 a.m.-12 midnight) with creamy cakes and fresh short eat snacks baked on the premises. Ahead is the neat restaurant (open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily) with centre tables and side banquettes. The sensibly priced menu (such as Chicken Cordon Bleu at Rs. 525) is a favourite of both local and foreign visitors. There is also a cocktail bar.

Outside in the sheltered garden is a swimming pool, open to day time visitors for a fee, and with two air-conditioned bedrooms alongside it. There is also a roadside pastry shop. The garden is popular for barbeques and cocktail parties. But where are the eco villas?

The general manager, Shirantha de Silva, who astonished me by recalling our first encounter some 20 years ago when he was working at a restaurant in Colombo, was strangely coy. I followed him with growing excitement along a path between two huge warehouses to the back of the property.

To my amazement this industrial complex segued into a single, long boardwalk that disappeared into what seemed like untamed jungle. The raised wooden walkway crossed above the marsh of a mangrove swamp, the tangle of vegetation providing shade and peace. It tapered off at the bank of a river, where the riverine scenery reminding me of the attractions of the Kerala backwaters. Boats, for cruises through the mangroves, depart from the narrow wooden jetty there.

Riverdale villa exterior
Uncluttered look: Spacious bedroom

The rooms? We walked along another boardwalk that gave access to six separate villas side by side, but each with individual privacy. Number 6 is at the end of the row, with its entrance door set into a wall of coloured granite blocks and looking as though it is surrounded by jungle.

The door opens into a room as big as many guesthouse bedrooms. This serves as a television lounge and has a tea and coffee set up. It is where guests can enjoy exotic items such as shredded beef and papaya from the room service menu. It opens to another huge room with a dressing alcove, an ornate wall of black granite, a spacious area for two double beds, and a bathroom with a semi open air roof.

French windows open onto a balcony face to face with the mangroves, proving its eco credentials. A greater surprise is the plunge pool at the villa’s side so guests can step straight from the bed onto the balcony and into the cool water of the pool. It’s small (8ft x 8ft) but so welcome in the heat of the day or for a plunge in the moonlight.

Each villa is flooded with light and brightly coloured in décor, without the dangerous corners and cluttered space typical of contemporary “boutique-style” rooms. These Riverdale Villas are an unexpected retreat, perfect for seclusion away from the cacophony of the Galle Road and yet so close to it, with easy access after the drive from Colombo.

The boardwalk through the lush vegetation provides plenty of distraction for the nature lover, or is ideal for romantic walks listening to birds instead of the traffic. This is another one of Sri Lanka’s surprising, and little known, retreats for discerning guests.

Riverdale, 46 Galle Road, Moragala, Alutgama; tel: 034 2276116; Villas for two from R19,500 (BB).

Ulagalla leads the way in green resorts

When the well- known French fashion designer Emanuel Ungaro checked out of the Ulagalla resort, he was headed to a famous, much larger hotel for the remainder of his vacation. But to the delight of the staff, their famous patron had barely reached his destination before he decided to bring his family right back to Ulagalla. Ranjaka de Mel, General Manager, Marketing, tells this story with some satisfaction.

When combined with favourable reports from various travel and booking agents, this is good news. The Thirappane property near Anuradhapura is only five months old, but has already made a name for itself. In the last week, it was further distinguished by becoming the first boutique hotel in Sri Lanka to be LEED Certified.

The Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design (LEED) certification is issued by the Green Building Council of the United States. Under this, Version 3, the standards are particularly exacting, much tougher than they were even a few years ago. But five points over the required 50, Ulagalla sailed right through.

One of the hotel’s biggest accomplishments is its extensive solar panel farm – apparently the largest in Sri Lanka. A 125kW Photovoltaic panel generates enough renewable energy to supply 50% of resort’s energy needs. Placed atop the roof of the horse stable, the same set up is also used to harvest rainwater – with the property collecting an impressive 1.5 million gallons from the skies per annum.
Of its 55 points, the property earned 18 in Energy and Atmosphere. A large segment of those comes from the setting up of renewable energy sources – a windmill exists in addition to the solar panels.

Energy meters have been installed to monitor savings at regular intervals. Within the property itself, electric buggies and bicycles allow guests to get around – another choice that brought them more points. In a number of other aspects, the property adopts a go green approach, as is the case with its organic farm and waste management policies.

Applying for a LEED Certificate must begin well before the foundations are laid, revealed consultants from the firm Energy Solve International who supported the resort’s bid for LEED. They helped ensure that 90% of construction waste was diverted to a landfill and that location material accounted for 40% of material used for construction. The team’s involvement with the property began in June 2009, and they say that standards will have to be maintained if Ulagalla hopes to have its certificate extended after five years.

In the meantime, Ulagalla’s beauty owes much to its landscaping. For the discerning visitor, the fact that native plants were used is a plus – having adapted to the surroundings, these do not require a permanent irrigation system be installed. Within the rooms as well, water is being conserved. Potable water savings of 250,000 gallons per annum from efficient flow/flush fixtures were also announced. The facility has even constructed its own waste water treatment plant and uses treated water for irrigation purposes in the dry season.

Ulagalla is the brainchild of Harsha De Saram, Senior Vice Chairman of ICC (International Construction Consortium). Speaking about his desire to embrace sustainable developments, he identified ICC as a construction company that was trying to do its work while always keeping in mind the impact on the environment. Pointing out the decline in raw materials and the need to employ more renewable materials and energy sources he said that the group would always be mindful “to remain in harmony with our environment.”

General Manager of the resort Ranjan Dissabandara, completed the presentation and went on to answer questions on two more upcoming properties. The one in Kalpitiya, that will adhere to the same approach as Ulagalla is due to open later this year. It’s an encouraging development, that amid this hotel construction boom, that there will be those who take the long view, that thoughtful stewardship is what is required to maintain our biggest asset - the natural beauty of Sri Lanka.

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