The Southern coast of Sri Lanka is home to a number of fairly obscure beach towns filled only with verdant shrubbery and a few small shops. One such market town is Dikwella, known best for Hiriketiya Beach (a small bay with lovely clear waters and a few stellar beach bars) and a handful of trendy restaurants that have popped up as of late.
Dikwella, however, has an unexpected trick up its sleeve. It hides a well-kept secret just 20 minutes away, in a secluded part of the island privy only to a select few. There sits Ani Sri Lanka, a luxurious beachfront private resort looking out into the Indian Ocean, untouched by the outside world.
For many, Ani’s main draw is evident in its name. The private resort (and all of its 15 majestic suites) is open only to one group of guests at a time. A necessary minimum booking of six suites means that the usual foot traffic at Ani runs the gamut of multigenerational families looking for a holiday home away from home, young friend groups seeking out experiential travel, or—in rarer cases—affluent couples booking out the entire resort for a true taste of private luxury.
No matter who the guests are, they can count on having a staff of 30—including a full kitchen team with a head chef—dedicated fully to them, tailoring the experience to their tastes and preferences with an approach to service so intuitive, you might feel like they have known you for years before you ever set foot onto the compound.
When our group of journalists arrived at the Ani estate one afternoon at the beginning of a sweltering hot Sri Lankan summer, nearly the whole resort team was waiting out front to meet us, ready with glasses of fresh coconut water and chilled wet towels to cool us down.
They weaved between us seamlessly, handing us drinks, retrieving used towels, asking after our journeys and enquiring if we had been to Sri Lanka before. Dinesh Hewavitharana, the resort’s general manager, invited us in, visibly excited to show us exactly what Ani had in store.
The resort, a vision of dark wood, natural stone and verdant greenery, feels like a paradisiacal garden. Lush fields of grass stretch on for miles, flanked by tall trees and interrupted only by pebbled pathways, which lead in from the entrance and diverge at various points to bring guests to residential suites or common areas. The suites are built on a gentle slope, meaning that no matter which one you pick, views are never obstructed.
From my own suite—or rather, from the giant balcony that came attached to it, replete with a private plunge pool and daybeds—I had a bird’s eye view of the whole resort, including one of two glittering infinity pools that appeared to blend right into the silvery waters of the Indian Ocean, with the heads of swaying palm trees brushing the horizon.
Right next to the pool sits an imposing two-story pavilion, built from luxurious Burma teak and topped with vaulted, woven-bamboo roofs. This is ostensibly where guests are meant to spend most of their time—sharing meals in the alfresco lounge or dining areas, socialising over summery cocktails in the poolside conversation pit, flipping through a book in the row of resin chaise longues placed directly inside the pool. It’s all very White Lotus, only instead of Armando’s aloofness or Valentina’s hostility, you are taken care of perfectly by Hewavitharana and his team.
The design of the common spaces—handsome and wooden—mirror what you’ll find in the residential suites. Returning to my room the first evening, it took my eyes a little while to adjust to the dim lighting. You won’t be able to turn them up to a fluorescent brightness even if you wished to, and for good reason—in Ani, you are meant to feel safe, serene, relaxed.
The suites are furnished simply, but well. In mine, the bedroom was outfitted with a sleek desk and a plush bed, with a pair of low-slung armchairs at its feet. These face outwards to the aforementioned balcony, good for relaxing on when you need a break from the sweltering heat but aren’t quite ready to tear your eyes away from the view. The bedroom is linked by a closet-cum-kitchenette to an opulent bathroom, the centrepiece of which is a suitably enormous stone bathtub.
Still, despite the resort’s charming design and luxurious amenities, what the mind keeps going back to at Ani is the quality of service you receive. There are a handful of cultures around the world, Sri Lanka included, that truly pride themselves on how they treat their guests. These are places where generosity, humility and warmth are prized traits. At Ani, guests are fortunate to catch a glimpse of an amalgamation of all that and more.
I left my slippers in a random corner of the resort on my second night there. Like all the others, I had kicked them off haphazardly since Ani encourages visitors to go barefoot when possible—and understandably so, for there is nothing quite like soft, manicured grass brushing your bare feet as you sip languidly on a gin and tonic. I made it all the way back to my room before I realised I had left them behind, and decided to go back for them the next day, since it was already past midnight.
The next morning, I found them neatly placed outside my door. I still don’t know how the Ani team had figured out the slippers were mine—they were a simple pair or black thongs, near-identical to several pairs belonging to other members of our group. They might have seen me trekking back to my room barefoot the night before, or they might have even taken note of the minute differences between everyone’s footwear. Or, perhaps, as I secretly grew to believe during my stay—they really could read my mind.
One of my favourite people at the resort was the humble and soft-spoken chef Cyril Human. As the executive chef who has been with the team for nearly a decade, Human has plenty of international experience and expertise in a variety of cuisines. Spanning breakfast, lunch and dinner, him and his team presented delicious meal after meal, ranging from fresh sushi platters served family-style in the open-air dining pavilion, to a continental steak dinner enjoyed with a fine-dining set-up—inside the pool.
The best that Human and his team has to offer, however, is Sri Lankan cuisine. Searingly spicy, moreish and exploding with flavour, the kitchen executed their native dishes with great finesse and authenticity. Breakfast hours would see them dishing out made-to-order hoppers. Hoppers, for the uninitiated, are a type of Sri Lankan pancake made from fermented rice flour. They are light, airy and perfect for the first meal of the day—especially when served with piping hot curry, daal and a range of chutneys as they were at Ani.
Upon request, guests can learn how to make Human’s truly delicious chicken curry from scratch through a hands-on cooking class. This is, of course, only one of several activities and cultural excursions the resort offers. You can go on tea plantation tours at the nearby Handunugoda Tea Estate, take in a traditional Sri Lankan dance on the lawn, or—for the art-inclined—take the tuktuks out to the art school the resort sponsors. Ani Art Academies, a non-profit organization that provides intensive multi-year art education to local students in Sri Lanka, turns out world-class artists year after year, equipping them with the necessary skills to represent themselves, work in galleries and thrive in the art world.
At the end of your trip, departing Ani is not a prospect anyone would look forward to. You are, of course, leaving one of the most beautiful places in Sri Lanka. You are also embarking on a three-hour long car ride to the airport. Thanks to winding roads and tight lanes, this is a journey best completed by the light of day—so if you’re flying in on an evening flight, consider staying somewhere closer to the airport overnight before moving to your final destination.
Your best bet is The Wallawwa, located a mere 15 minutes from the airport and yet built without any of trappings of a usual airport hotel. Decked out to look and feel like an atmospheric 18th century manor house, this is a boutique property that exudes style and serenity, boasting large, comfortable bedrooms which are thoughtfully designed with plenty of vintage detailing. If you like, you can even kick your holiday off early with a dip in their jungle pool, or a heavenly massage in the spa. In the morning, a new adventure awaits in the heart of Ceylon.
Find out more or book a stay at Ani Private Resorts.