New Delhi, Feb 2 (IANSlife): The island country has put renewed efforts to revive its tourism industry. And why not? After all, the country has the best of both oceans and mountains to offer. From the quaint, charming British-era tea estates in the North to the uber sporty, panoramic beaches down South, Sri Lanka is well worth a visit.
While there check into Resplendent Ceylon's collection of small luxury resorts which offer the discerning traveler a unique 'Tea, Sea and Safari experience' across the country, with a range of authentic experiences. Conceived by the Fernando family, Sri Lankan tea producers and founders of Dilmah Ceylon Tea, the luxury resorts contribute towards local communities and the environment through the MJF Foundation and Dilmah Conservation.
This "best of Sri Lanka" circuit currently features three distinctively original resorts of global acclaim, connected by a thread of peerless service as the sole Sri Lankan members of Relais & Chateaux, the global fellowship of individually owned & operated luxury hotels and restaurants. IANSlife caught up with Malik Fernando, MD - Resplendent Ceylon to find out more.
What is the current scenario of tourism in Sri Lanka?
Fernando: Sri Lanka has always been one of the top picks for travel specially for Indian tourists. But post the Easter Sunday attacks last year, there has been a genuine need to spread the message that the country awaits the guests and it is safe for travel. The government has formed Sri Lanka Tourism Alliance, a first private sector body comprising of industry captains working towards damage control and follow-up post the attacks and renew the sector.
Tell us what sets Resplendent Ceylon apart?
Fernando: The Resplendent Ceylon, inaugurated in 2005, revolves around the concept of "Best of Sri Lanka" circuit. It currently features three distinctively original resorts of global acclaim, connected by a thread of peerless service as the sole Sri Lankan members of Relais & Châteaux, the global fellowship of individually owned and operated luxury hotels and restaurants.
When you conceived it, what was the main aim of the project?
Fernando: Luxury is our prime and only segment. Each resort located across the country offers a unique experience.
Ceylon Tea Trails, the company's first iconic property that opened in 2005 as the country's first Relais & Châteaux. It is a collection of five colonial era tea planters' bungalows restored to impeccable style, to offer a taste of gracious living in 27 suites and rooms, with butler service and period furnishings, accompanied by gourmet meals.
Cape Weligama - the award-winning luxe cliffside retreat opened in 2014, sits on a stunning Indian Ocean headland near Galle with magnificent panoramas that naturally complement the 39 private retreats that have been designed by one of Asia's most celebrated architects, Lek Bunnag. The hotel's dining venues capture Weligama's iconic sunsets, as does the 60-meter crescent-shaped infinity pool.
Wild Coast Tented Lodge is adjacent to the Yala National Park and renowned for its leopard population and rich biodiversity. This spectacular luxury tented camp opened in 2017 -consists of 28 cocoons and is spread on a rugged beach overlooking the Indian Ocean. The resort's unique, sustainable design sees its man-made structures blending seamlessly into the surrounding landscape with the extensive use of carefully selected natural materials.
Talk us through the design and architecture of the resorts.
Fernando: Special importance has been given on the design and architecture of the resorts. All of them follow a holistic, astrological approach to their construction. Sustainability, landscape, architecture and heritage are intertwined in the design of the resort, celebrating the flora, fauna and culture of the area with minimal intrusion on the landscape.
Ceylon Tea Trails comprises of five restored historic tea planter residences, called bungalows, perched at an altitude of 1250 meters in Sri Lanka's panoramic Ceylon tea region. Rooms are named after tea planters who lived in the bungalow. They offer a taste of colonial-era luxury with solid teak furnishings, antique touches and plush beds. Master Suites with a separate living room, Garden Suites with verandahs to private gardens and Luxury Rooms of great character. A secluded Owner's Cottage.
Cape Weligama, inhabits 12 manicured acres atop a singular promontory rising 40 metres above the Indian Ocean. Stunning panoramas await you, naturally complementing the 39 private retreats designed by Lek Bunnag, too. Nestled into the natural slopes atop Cape Weligama's striking headland, the Villas create the welcoming illusion of a traditional Sri Lankan village. Yet beneath local terracotta-tiled rooftops, stylish interiors unfold as generously sized contemporary living quarters, surrounded by tropical gardens, named after a distinguished explorer or writer whose historic Ceylon journey captures the spirit of Cape Weligama.
Wild Coast Tented Lodge is a series of organic structures at Wild Coast, designed to mimic the rocky outcrops that are scattered across the local landscape, with the aim of integrating the camp seamlessly into the site. Hospitality studio Nomadic Resorts worked with Netherlands-based interior designer Bo Reudler Studio to create the safari camp in Sri Lanka, which overlooks the Indian Ocean and is surrounded by woodland.
In terms of accommodation - Our Cocoon tents brings to mind an anchored airship. A space that travels from one place to the other and stations temporarily at one location. Inspiration is also drawn from the tents of historic military campaigns, especially the concept of a mobile, elaborate interior filled with specially designed, sometimes eccentric dismountable campaign furniture made for travel. The intention is to suggest an atmosphere of antique futurism, a pre-digital era with a mechanical mind frame that evokes a bygone era of luxurious travel.
What are the curated experience tourists can enjoy at the resorts?
Fernando: The tourists can explore the breathtaking heartland of Ceylon Tea, with some of the following activities - The Essential Tea Experience, Tea Planter's Picnic Lunch or a Tea Infused Dinner, a signature culinary experience unique to Tea Trails. Teas grown in various areas of Sri Lanka have distinctly different flavour profiles, and each lends a different effect to types of ingredients and methods of preparation.
Mountain Biking - for adrenaline seekers of different levels of ability, there are mountain bikes in the bungalows.
Cape Weligama has ocean safaris guided by naturalists and customized surfing experiences, Wild Coast tented lodge blessed with diverse habitat, ecology and scenery across the five sectors of the Yala National Park Complex and Bundala National Park it offers, guided bush walks and game drives.
How important is sustainability to your approach?
Fernando: Service to the community has been at the heart of our business since its inception. Merrill J. Fernando conceived, the idea of a business that would help restore the fortunes of his country's ailing tea industry, while sharing the benefits of that business with the community. Merrill believed that no business was possible without the combined efforts, involvement and commitment of workers, staff, clients, consumers and in the case of tea - the environment. He was determined that his business should be a matter of human service.
Wildlife Conservation Efforts forms a big part to that. Dilmah Wildlife Conservation has supported the Elephant Transit Home (ETH) in Udawalawe National Park since 2007 through many initiatives.
Leopard and Biodiversity Research and Conservation in Norwood area forms another important venture. Besides, MJF Charitable Foundation.
The MJF Charitable Foundation works towards empowering the underprivileged, through education, so that they may find sustainable employment. Some of the key initiatives are The Empower Culinary & Hospitality School, one of Sri Lanks's premier culinary and hospitality facilities and The National Centre for Children with Cerebral Palsy and other Developmental Disorders, officially inaugurated to coincide with World Cerebral Palsy Day, serves as a national hub in giving education, therapy and training, not only for those living with CP and other developmental disorders but also for their caregivers and for teachers and trainers who work with such special needs individuals.
Please tell us more about your expansion plans and upcoming projects.
Fernando: Working towards our motto of offering guests exclusive insights into our cultural, natural, and culinary heritage, we have plans to expand the circuit in Sri Lanka to five resorts or more.
A tree house resort near Sigiriya, in the Cultural Triangle will follow, and the collection will be complete with a beachside resort in Trincomalee in north east Sri Lanka.