Palm-fringed sparkling sea views, incredible architecture, bohemian-hip hangouts, a surfers' paradise and a seriously impressive foodie experience, the south coast of Sri Lanka is simply buzzing with a cool modern vibe that merges respectfully with this traditional, culturally rich and naturally diverse part of the world...
“We fell in love with the relaxed vibe which is often described as Bali 30 years ago. Sri Lanka has a rich history and culture that we found fascinating. From the ancient trade of spices, elephants, gems and pearls to the amazing wildlife, it’s quite an intoxicating mix – a bit like The Jungle Book meets Sinbad the Sailor,” says Australian mother Gabrielle Bugden, who co-owns Tea Tree Villa, located on the South Coast, a short drive from Galle, with friend Onnie Shearer and their families.
Our founder, Georgie Abay and editor-at-large, Emily Armstrong and their families had the wonderful pleasure of staying at Tea Tree Villa on Sri Lanka’s stunning south coast at the start to the year and it was quite simply – heaven. A heady immersion in the beauty of nature, wildlife, culture, food and family time, and the warmest welcome by the people of Sri Lanka.
Tea Tree Villa is the result of a dream held by two Australian families who become friends while living in Dubai. The husbands first visited on surfing safaris and regaled their stories of beautiful coastline, and wonderful food and people. The families soon followed, falling for the beguiling beauty and mix of culture and cuisine. “After many trips to Sri Lanka, we set about finding our own villa”, explains the duo. “With eight kids between us and both Dads’ keen surfers, this proved to be a challenge. We dreamt about finding a place that was convenient, safe and enjoyable for the whole family without compromising on luxury.”
It took time, but the dream has been realised to aplomb. Every single detail has been so well considered, culminating in a stay that so envelops you in beauty, comfort and relaxation, that, at times, it was challenging to leave the hammock, the view and sounds of the Indian ocean on the doorstep.
Tea Tree Villa boasts very comfortable beds (in the five bedrooms) draped with mosquito nets for a romantic tropical feel, enormous, luxurious bathrooms, an oversized dining table to fit everyone (the villa sleeps up to 25) for long lunches and board game sessions, an air-conditioned tv snug for the children to retreat to after too much sun, and doors opening from all areas of the house to the cool courtyard, or to the vast level lawn – perfect for some afternoon cricket, featuring a giant Pandanus tree with hammock (and impromptu cubby house/sand pit for our children!) – with a gate to the sea and surf just a few steps across the beach.
From every living space, indoors and out, there is that ocean view, wave upon wave rolling in, level to the house and garden. It’s the heartbeat of Tea Tree. There is also an alfresco lounge area in the corner of the lawn by the sea which is a wonderful spot for evening sundowners while the children play. The large sparkling infinity edge pool, set off the verandah in front of the lawn, has plenty of sun loungers and has been cleverly designed with a children’s section at one end and can also be easily fenced off with younger guests in mind.
Then there is the bunk room, like the most perfect-Pinterest-post in reality, this is possibly the pièce de résistance of Tea Tree Villa. The children (and mamas!) squealed with delight upon opening the doors. It sleeps up to nine, and is beautifully designed with a mix of single and double bed spaces with signature mosquito nets and individual lamps on each bed, so older children can read while the younger guests sleep. Well… that’s the idea! In reality, there is far too much excitement over all bunking in together, and who can blame them.
The staff at Tea Tree are completely wonderful – both attentive and discreet, a fine balancing act – and this speaks volumes about the owners themselves. “Our wonderful Sri Lankan Villa Manager Madhu had been working in Dubai for over 20 years as a Housekeeper and Nanny” recalls Bugden. “Four of those years were spent with the Shearer family so we all got to know and love her over this time and knew she would be the perfect person for the job.” Madhu’s love and respect for the owners of Tea Tree, and passion and appreciation for this very special homecoming project are apparent in all she does.
Trained in Italy, then perfecting his authentic and inventive dishes through various villas throughout Sri Lanka, Chef VJ is superbly talented. From the mango and papaya salad to the many delicious Sri Lankan curries to the chocolate soufflé, the food is off-the-charts good, which makes leaving Tea Tree to venture out for meals harder than it appears.
But while the comforts and delights of Tea Tree Villa where hard to leave, Sri Lanka beckoned. With this short trip, we only had time to scratch the surface of this incredible country, but we left wanting more – more Tea Tree, more Sri Lanka!
At Tea Tree, we started each morning with yoga on the lawn in front of the ocean. An incredible start to the day followed by the amazing Tea Tree breakfast. Heaven! We then spent our days visiting the many beautiful beaches up and down the south coast and soaking up the sights, sounds and smells of the real Sri Lanka from the back seats of our tuk-tuks. From Unawatuna to Koggala to the secret Jungle Beach to spotting whales from Mirissa. Even though there are two surf breaks right in front of Tea Tree, we are surfing novices, so we had surfing lessons (mamas too) at Weligama Beach which was a highlight for all. We also escaped for a girls trip to Cape Weligama resort – for a drink with stunning views and an incredible facial. We visited the Sea Turtle Hatchery, which we all loved and loved spotting the stick fishermen as we whizzed past the beautiful beaches. We could have done so much more – next time we want to visit the tea plantation nearby, spend a morning with Idle bikes cycling through paddy fields, enjoy pizza and sundowners at Wijaya Beach and the list goes on – but the beauty and serenity (and delicious food!) from Tea Tree kept luring us back.
After the devastating Easter attacks, travel restrictions have been lifted and Sri Lanka has been declared safe. We want to support this incredible country as much as we can – because a visit to this special part of the world is something you’ll never forget. Sri Lanka, you have won us over completely, and Tea Tree we are coming back very soon.
Photography: Jenna Louise Potter