Wellness travel is on the rise and if CF’s August Spa of the Month, Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle, is any indication – adding a short retreat onto your travels could be the next trend in rest and relaxation.
With an authentic and comprehensive Ayurvedic well-being programme, this Sri Lankan hotel and spa demonstrates exactly how the wellness industry should be crafting short retreats for travellers with busy schedules.
Designed to transform an extended stay in the country, or for a short trip while exploring elsewhere in Asia, the Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle offers in three days what some spas might struggle to do in a fortnight.
This secluded coastal hideaway, located a three-hour drive from Sri Lanka’s capital, Columbo, is perfectly designed to facilitate relaxation. Built on the site of a 21-acre coconut plantation, the five-star resort extends out of a centuries-old estate house with a water-lined lobby and traditional conch shell salute greeting weary travellers when they arrive.
With expansive views across the ocean, peacocks roaming the split-level pools, and fragrant Sri Lankan fare served by exceptionally-friendly staff, the pinnacle of the offering is an expansive spa. Here wellness therapists and Ayurvedic doctors combine to offer short wellness retreats, inspired by the traditional techniques and teachings of the region.
THE WELLNESS RETREAT
In many ways, there’s no better place than Sri Lanka to experience a wellness retreat of any length. Sri Lanka is one of the traditional homes of natural Ayurvedic healing, a practice that has, for thousands of years, provided holistic health and wellbeing remedies. Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle’s programme builds on those principles, bringing together education, luxury treatments and holistic experiences such as breathwork, meditation and yoga. The aim: to tackle stress, burnout, anxiety and general fatigue for both beginners and wellness aficionados alike.
While three days might not seem like a long time to make an impact, the resort’s personalised approach and expert practitioners really enhance your experience, providing you with the necessary tools to address and overcome triggers of stress and burnout, both immediately and longer-term. If you’ve ever escaped your stresses by booking a city break and then found them only to be heightened on your return, this is a way to break that vicious cycle.
What I was most impressed with was that the programme places you, as an individual, at the heart of the experience, avoiding any generic itineraries. The retreat starts with a comprehensive personal consultation with the Resident Doctor of Ayurveda who, after a thorough discussion of lifestyle habits, as well as Vata, Pitta, and Kapha dosha readings (read more about these here), designs a truly tailored itinerary for your stay.
My main concerns on arriving were around high-stress levels and an inability to switch-off, so my retreat was designed to be busy enough that I wasn’t bored, while giving me the opportunity to breathe and recharge throughout each activity. Over the three days, I experienced an unforgettable sunrise over the ocean as I practiced yoga on a cliff-side with an expert yogi; made a hair oil using Ayurvedic herbs after exploring the on-site gardens; and meditated by candlelight, which you can do with a monk at the nearby lagoon or temple. Each of my meals was tailored to benefit from Ayurvedic principles, with menu suggestions that successfully boosted my energy levels, as well as multiple spa treatments that truly pampered me from head-to-toe.
To say I left floating on a cloud is an understatement – but you’re also not left to fend for yourself once you board the plane home. Instead, you are given a long-term wellness plan, which extends the benefits of the three-day programme. While my busy life has meant I haven’t become wedded to all the suggestions, I definitely now dedicate a lot more time to self-care using the techniques I learned while there. Plus, if you’re after a wellness retreat that also allows you to travel with your children then the well-organised kids’ club means that, while you’re relaxing in the spa or enjoying moments of meditation, your little ones will be well-looked after (and out of your hair).
Whether you choose to try the short wellness retreat or not, a visit to Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle would not be complete without a trip to the spa. The true mark of an excellent spa is one that doesn’t hide you away from your surroundings, but instead actively celebrates and utilises the culture and techniques of the destination.
Here, the treatment menu is brimming with traditional Sri Lankan therapies and highlights include Marma Abyganga: an oil-based body massage that can be relatively difficult to find performed properly outside of Asia due to the level of training required. It’s recommended to take it early in your stay to help stretch out knots and heavy limbs from your flight; you’ll instantly feel the benefit of warmed Ayurvedic oils being massaged into your skin, helping with physical tension and emotional blockages.
The Ceylon Facial is also highly recommended, though the name might be deceiving. It’s actually a head-to-toe treatment as the thorough cleanse and brightening therapy – which uses locally-sourced Ayurvedic skincare – is followed by an outdoor herbal bath. There’s even time built into your schedule to make sure you can relax and soak in the sunshine.
But, perhaps even more transformative is the signature Shirodhara therapy which, if you’re lucky can feel like a very positive out-of-body experience. Coming from two Sanskrit words for ‘head’ and ‘flow’, the technique involves slowly dripping liquid onto the forehead, and at this resort it was combined with probably the best head massage I’ve ever had. It’s designed to rebalance your doshas and can be physically reflected in your limbs, allowing them to relax like never before, sometimes even feeling like you’re floating. It definitely worked.
There are 152 rooms and pool villas at Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle, with each one specifically designed to feel like your own private oasis. All offer incredible ocean views that open out towards a breathtaking landscape, and all refine the perfect balance between modern comforts and traditional touches, inspired by the signature flair of one of Sri Lanka’s most celebrated architects – Geoffrey Bawa.
But it’s the 32 stand-alone villas with private pools that really upgrade your experience. Cocooning you in a blanket of calm they offer large, airy spaces, with a massive bed positioned to capture the best of the views and outdoor pillow-populated loungers to flop onto once you are back from the spa. The bathrooms would make some small London spas jealous too, with double sinks, walk-in closets, a free-standing tub, and a power shower allowing you to continue practicing the bodycare rituals you’ve been taught. Highlights of the in-room amenities include a yoga mat for individual practice and spicy fragrance pillow mists, but don’t miss the opportunity to watch the sunset (champagne in hand) while reclining in your pool either, which is large enough to do a few leisurely strokes.
When I first visited Sri Lanka some years ago, I fell in love with the hoppers (pancakes made from fermented rice and coconut milk batter) and fresh curries that I experienced during home stays. I worried that a hotel catering to hundreds more people wouldn’t get close to that level of home cooking, but I was suitably impressed. Flavourful and filling, the Sri Lankan dishes are the true highlight, especially at Journeys’ buffet breakfast, and through the freshly-caught fish and abundance of spices available at the Asian restaurant Verela. It’s also here that you can enjoy live music from local performers late into the evening.
All the restaurants are situated to make the most of the incredible views, but Il Mare’s elevated clifftop location makes it a must-visit for sunset drinks as well as trusty Italian fare, while the poolside restaurant has a very informal feel and friendly staff offering salads, club sandwiches and generous portions of chips at lunchtime. The pinnacle for lunch is the Harvest Table by Anantara – affectionately known as Mama’s Kitchen. Here, local women cook their signature family favourites, with a little assistance from you should you like to get involved. You then enjoy the bounty of dishes and flavours in a memorable setting in the middle of the resort’s rice fields.
THE LITTLE EXTRAS
As soon as you arrive, you’ll be introduced to your personal butler, who will be on hand to provide tailored recommendations, make dining reservations, and drop you to-and-from the spa in a buggy if you wish. Considering the wellness retreat is (deliberately) short in time, the staff quickly make you feel like a well-known friend, with all of Sri Lankan’s well-documented friendliness. In fact, everyone I spoke to was more than ready to give a recommendation or make a slight tweak to a dish or activity to make it that little bit more special. If true relaxation means turning your brain off for a while, this is the attention-to-detail you’ll fall in love with.
THE TO-DO LIST
Your pre-prepared schedule means the hotel has done all the thinking for you when it comes to activities. I’d recommend remaining in that cocoon as much as possible – it’s not a restrictive regime. In the spare moments you do have, a simple walk along the beach to watch the waves roll in will allow you to experience first-hand the incredibly healing effect of nature. (Unfortunately, the waves are often too rough for swimming).
Lazing by the communal pool offers similarly breathtaking views, and an opportunity to catch-up on that book you’ve been wanting to read. There’s an on-site nature expert who provides walking tours around the property to help you discover the over 280 plants and animals, including monkeys, monitor lizards and turtles, that call the area home. If you want to explore Sri Lanka outside of the resort, head to Udawalawe and Yala National Park to see elephants and leopards roaming free: the perfect day trip to add onto your stay.
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