Dreams do come true. Just ask Onnie Shearer and Gabrielle Bugden, dear friends and also the Australian owners of Tea Tree Villa...
It was after a trip to Sri Lanka, where they fell in love with “the relaxed vibe which is often described as Bali 30 years ago”, that they began their journey of creating this beachfront paradise. Together, they dreamt of building a beautiful seaside villa and eight years later, they opened the doors to Tea Tree Villa, located on the South Coast of Sri Lanka in Ahangama (their first guests were members of the Bahrain Royal Family). Sound dreamy? It is. The five-bedroom villa is set among tropical landscaped gardens on the shores of the Indian Ocean (as in, you’re literally soothed by the sound of the ocean your entire stay – just add a yoga class by the water and you’ll leave totally blissed out). And don’t get us started on the food (stay tuned for our travel review next week!)
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. We caught up with the inspiring duo to find out more about realising their dream.
Photography: Jenna Potter | Go to www.teatreevilla.com
What drew you to Sri Lanka in the beginning and why did you fall in love with the country?
Our husbands’ first visited for the surfing. They would come back raving about the beautiful coastline, food and people. We went together after that and 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.
How did you meet and then decide to go into business together?
Our two families became close while living in Dubai. Our kids went to the same school and we saw each other almost every day. We also did a fair bit of travelling together from Ibiza to Oman and of course Sri Lanka. Having big families with similar aged kids and similar values made us firm friends for life. We really didn’t put too much thought into going into business together… we just jumped in!
How would you describe the Sri Lankan people?
Sri Lankans are warm and welcoming with ready smiles. After we bought the land, we were immediately welcomed into the local community. Our neighbors, who are a family of five brothers, have become a big part of Tea Tree. Kasun is our Tuk Tuk driver, one brother is the local fisherman, the other brother is the local tailor who makes our staff uniforms. Their father keeps a watchful eye over Tea Tree and is like the unofficial Mayor of Ahangama.
Tell us where the Tea Tree Villa journey began? From finding the land to the day you first opened?
After many trips to Sri Lanka, we set about finding our own villa. 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. Nothing really fit the bill, so we decided to build our own villa and started hunting for the perfect block of land. Four years later – we finally found it! It was the perfect location, a good distance from the main road and quiet. It was also absolute beachfront with a safe swimming area for the children. It was a nice surprise for the surfers to learn there were two surf breaks in front of the villa and many more just down the road.
It would take another four years of hard work before we finally opened the doors.