Hidden from view above the iconic tea fields of Kandy – Sri Lanka’s UNESCO-listed and second largest city – Santani Wellness Resort embodies every aspect of why Sri Lanka is fast-becoming a top wellness location.
With rooms that overlook the mountains, authentic soul-soothing cuisine and a spa based on the grounding principles of Ayurvedic medicine, Jules Pearson checked in to discover exactly why the resort holds such appeal for wellness seekers.
THE PACKING EDIT
First opened in 2016, Santani Wellness is Sri Lanka’s only purpose-built, fully-fledged destination spa and wellness retreat – a unique selling point that’s emphasised by the fact that Sri Lanka (alongside India) is actually the heartland of Ayurvedic principles. The country has a rich history of considering mental and spiritual wellbeing just as important as physical health, so a stay here is grounded in authentic techniques and experiences.
High up in the hills on an old tea plantation, an hour outside of Kandy, its beautiful and remote location is half the story, with jaw-dropping views and unspoilt scenery engendering a sense of serenity from the moment you arrive. In amongst the swaying trees and tea bushes, modernist wood and glass pavilions that wouldn’t look out of place in Copenhagen slot seamlessly into the landscape, housing Santani’s spa facilities and restaurant, as well as twenty guest rooms. Despite being very much off the beaten track, it’s undeniably luxurious and is just as suitable for a few days relaxing as it is for someone who wants to indulge in one of its wellness programmes, which include everything from yoga and sleep packages to detox and stress management.
Santani’s spa is at the heart of the experience, with a yoga pavilion, four open air treatment rooms that look out on to paddy fields, a cedar wood sauna, a steam room and a small thermal salt pool. There’s also a stunning, picture-worthy infinity pool just away from the spa complex. A stay isn’t complete without experiencing the daily free yoga sessions with the brilliant resident yoga instructor, which make the most of the location’s spectacular views. It’s well worth making the effort to attend both classes – one at 7AM, and one in the late afternoon – designed to energise you in the morning and help you relax at the end of the day. The hydrotherapy facilities are also free to use at any time, and we highly recommend a soak in the thermal pool after a strenuous yoga session.
If you’re not taking part in one of the pre-set wellness packages, you’re invited to customise your experience with everything from private yoga lessons and meditation sessions to Ayurvedic massages and treatments. The latter is a particular highlight, with specialist practitioners offering traditional treatments using medicinal oils and techniques – such as Thakhadara, where buttermilk processed with herbs is streamed over the forehead after massage and said to relieve hypertension and headaches. The Navarakizhi treatment uses medicinal rice boiled with sida root and milk, which is wrapped into clothbound bundles. The bundles are then dipped into medicinal oils and applied all over the body during a massage, helping to alleviate sore muscles and joints. It’s ideal for anyone who spends hours sat at a laptop. There are other massages on offer too, such as the Swedish, Sports or Hot Stone treatments, but the Ayurvedic treatments stand out. If you’re unsure which is right for you, the spa team are on hand for consultations and will help you find the ideal treatment for your body and symptoms.
There are twenty rooms at Santani; sixteen Mountain View Chalets and four Garden View Chalets. Although very similar internally, it would be a waste to come all this way and not indulge in a Mountain View room – the views really are spectacular. Each one juts out into the landscape and has its own peaceful private terrace from which we spent many a happy hour gazing out across the mountains with a cup of tea.
Inside, it’s all polished concrete and comfy fixtures, including a lounge area, a four-poster bed, and a rainforest shower. There’s no air conditioning in the rooms but each one is kept delightfully cool by natural ventilation (the high altitude means temperatures do dip a bit at night) and it works so well we were convinced there must be a hidden air con unit somewhere. The downside of this, though, is that there is a fair bit of noise from local animals and insects – but there are ear plugs by the bed if you need them. All the public areas of the resort are a strictly no technology, no WiFi zone, but each room has its own internet connection, so you can watch a movie in the evenings or check email (if you really have to).
The Food + Drink
Santani takes a full holistic approach to wellness, and this of course includes the food on offer – there’s not much point getting up for yoga at 7AM and being healed by Ayurvedic masters if you then fill up with bad food, after all. There’s no set menu, but the kitchen team take note of preferences and requests ahead of each meal (this didn’t always work quite as smoothly as you might like) to prepare nutritious meals based on the Ayurveda philosophy of ‘Rasa Haya’, meaning six tastes – sweet, salty, sour, pungent, bitter, and astringent.
There are plenty of Western dishes on offer, but we stuck to Sri Lankan cuisine for every meal, including freshly made hoppers and curry for breakfast, alongside fresh juices and fruit. At dinner, we loved the traditional spread of vegetable curries and rice, but the standout meal was undoubtedly the Sri Lankan tasting menu prepared by Executive Chef Indika Bandara on the final night. Modern takes on traditional flavours included the exquisite coconut pol roti with hadella (a kind of local anchovy); braised scarlet prawns with a red curry froth; banana blossom soup; and set coconut and durian ice cream. All meals are served in the stunning main building – a modern minimalist marvel of wood and glass that offers incredible views of the landscape from every angle.
The Little Extras
As well as the included yoga classes, Santani also has a resident naturalist who leads a daily guided walk through the local habitat. It’s a great way to explore and learn about the local wildlife, including over a hundred species of birds that can be spotted in the area. The walk ends at a nearby river where you’re welcome to take a swim before attempting the climb back up to the hotel. There are several more walks, trails, and excursions too, including mountain biking, temple visits, and tea factory tours available for an extra charge.
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