Step into Lankan-style royal comfort at Buckingham Place

This resort report is about a property that is the complete opposite – geographically, architecturally and stylishly - to the guesthouse in Jaffna featured last month. It is yet another example of the good value places to stay in Sri Lanka, designed to suit all budgets.

For boutique hotel luxury instead of northern guest house bonhomie, I went to Buckingham Place at Rekawa in the deep south, east of Tangalle. (Prospective guests should check the map on the hotel’s website to find it, as there are no signposts.) Buckingham Place, as its name suggests, is the epitome of a boutique hotel’s good taste.

However, an explanation about the name is necessary, in case it sounds pretentious. The hotel, which opened last year, is owned and run by a British resident of Sri Lanka, Nick Buckingham. During the eight years it took Buckingham to create it, villagers themselves began to refer to it as Buckingham Place.

If you call it Buckingham Palace instead (as many do), you’ll find it appropriate as staying there is fit for royalty. It’s certainly not regal or formal though; for instance the ‘Big Village Breakfast’ (included in the room rate) is available to order all day.

The big surprise is to find a place that is so sturdily built tucked away in the woodlands around an empty, rugged beach – a favourite spot for turtles to lay their eggs. There are 12 large, air-conditioned suites and bedrooms in separate units set in a tropical garden where a tame, foundling pony welcomes guests.

The real welcome, however, comes from the ebullient Nick Buckingham himself who resides there and is happy to entertain guests, to dine with them and to regale them with stories of life in Sri Lanka. On the other hand, guests can be left entirely to themselves to enjoy the accommodation and serenity.
By policy, there are no room telephones so guests need not be disturbed, but mobile phones are provided in case of emergencies. Satellite television is available in bedrooms on request although invariably guests just want to chill out without distractions. Bicycle and canoes for village and lagoon exploration are also available.

All the bedrooms and suites are an adaptation of contemporary architecture (the architect was Suchith Mohotti) with brilliant splashes of colour through furniture and artwork to complement the clean, functional lines of white and grey concrete. Bathrooms are big, with skylights; one has a coconut palm tree growing through the roof.

The hotel’s convivial, central area is the open-sided Pavilion where guests gather for cocktails and to chat, and to enjoy the unique Buckingham Place cuisine. Nothing is pre-prepared but guests have an amazing choice of dishes, whether Sri Lankan fusion, international favourites, or gourmet meals belying the isolation of the place. Even the conventional wattalappam dessert is transformed with nuts and curd accompaniments.

The restaurant is open to guests who are not staying in the hotel as long as table reservation is made in advance. The hotel also sells its own brand of five different kinds of Buckingham tea, created to be enjoyed at different times of the day.

Pool side: Where the foundling pony welcomes guests

Although it has only been open 10 months, the hotel has already had several repeat visitors. They like the individual and utterly charming ambience that Nick Buckingham has created.

He encourages guests to participate in local community events if they want, and many of the staff come from the surrounding villages. The staff sport shirts with the hotel’s positive slogan “Believe in Sri Lanka” reflecting the underlying philosophy of the place.

Buckingham began his hotel as a hobby, with the idea of having a few wooden cabanas close to the beach for himself and visiting friends. His belief in Sri Lankans and in their progress and development, made it inevitable that he would expand his hobby to a business to benefit the area.

His simple dream has become a viable, fully approved boutique hotel for sophisticated guests of all nationalities.

To stay there is to discover a smoothly run sanctuary of tranquillity in a beachside wilderness, without the pangs of being too rustic and feeling deprived of creature comforts. Incredibly, a double room at Buckingham Place, with hearty breakfast for two, starts at just US$159 a night, with all taxes and service charge included, making it lower in price than many of Sri Lanka’s mass-market beach resorts.

Buckingham Place, near Tangalle; 047 3489447;;

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