By Elaine Kelly
One of the perks of being the organizer of Yogafest is being invited to try out various wellness retreats. So, when Hugh Alexander, founder of Satori Villas, invited me to spend a few days at his retreat in Sri Lanka I immediately said yes.
Arriving from Dubai by plane, you can get a visa on arrival, but it’s faster to do it online at a cost of $35.
After a very pleasant flight I exited the airport at 10pm and found my driver who thoughtfully had pillows and blankets for the two-hour drive south so I could sleep. I found that the new highway is fast and very safe.
Hugh was waiting to escort me to my room, one of five in a large single-story villa which overlooks the pool. The décor is beautiful; colonial white with personal touches everywhere from the inspirational messages on the mirrors to the vases of local flowers. I had a quick shower to freshen up before bed and then crawled under the white mesh mosquito net and settled into my large four poster bed with the AC keeping me cool as I drifted off to sleep.
I woke to light streaming in through shuttered windows and dressed quickly realizing I had overslept. Breakfast is from 8-10am and it was 9:45! There on the terrace, surrounded by mango trees and endless jungle, was Hugh and his beautiful five year old daughter, Satya. We chatted while enjoying green smoothies, fresh fruit salad and omelets. This was followed by a tour of the two-acre property, first climbing to the highest point where the open-air yoga Shala overlooks lush, green paddy fields. We then down to the pool and the garden villa below the restaurant. There is also an outdoor spa for massages if you like. Satya and I went for a swim to cool off and then showered and drove to Unawatuna for lunch at Skinny Tom’s Deli café. Hugh insisted we try a local dish – “hoppers” which reminded me of a dosa filled with curry. We walked along the beach full of European tourists, and then up the hill to the Buddha that overlooks the small bay. Unawatuna is just down the coast from Galle and is growing quickly into a tourist destination in its own right.
We returned late afternoon and I moved down to the garden suite for the rest of my stay. This room provides you with plenty of privacy and has a private balcony overlooking the gardens. Dinner was served by candlelight; a mixture of local specialties served buffet style. We had a tasty five root salad, dhal and red rice and a fresh salad – everything was delicious! I went to bed to do some writing and slept until my friend arrived at 1am.
We started the day with a yoga class with KK, a British friend of Hugh’s who was the visiting teacher. There was a refreshing breeze as we practiced and cold scented towels and fresh coconut juice waiting for us after savasana – pure bliss. The shala has a stunning view and there is a private meditation space above if you want more privacy.
We changed and went into town for lunch at Jina’s Vegetarian restaurant. They let you know from the outset that this is not a fast food place… they are firmly part of the ‘slow food’ movement. We ate a delicious falafel sandwich with hummus and fresh lime sodas watching the place fill up around us. The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing by the pool and relaxing. Coconuts are available any time and there is a water cooler in the kitchen so you can stay hydrated. At sunset we had a professionally-made G&T (by moi) then headed off by tuktuk for dinner at the highly rated Bed Space Restaurant. The place was packed; we started with Dukkah and dips followed by salads and curry – all were delicious.
After a great night’s sleep, we left early for a bike ride through paddy fields. Hassy, our Sri Lankan guide led us along the narrow streets turning into the small paths that snake between the lush green paddy fields. Enormous water buffalo stand out in the lush green fields surrounded by tall white horn birds who eat the insects off them. Every few minutes the quiet was interrupted by the sound of squawking peacocks.
We passed old men in sarongs tying coconuts to their bikes and young girls in jeans shaded by enormous umbrellas – such are the contrasts in this country. We had another dip in the pool and a late lunch seated on the pool terrace where we were served a delicious lunch of local vegetables, curries and mango rice pudding. The views from here are stunning.
The trip ended with a walk around the Rumassala Peace pagoda built by Japanese Buddhist monks in 2005. It’s the perfect place to watch the sunset over the Indian ocean. We walked through the 16th century colonial streets of Galle arriving at a Middle Eastern restaurant for dinner with some of Hugh’s friends.
If you are looking for a truly chilled holiday or are a teacher looking for a serene retreat center, definitely check out Satori Villa retreat. Hugh works hard to ensure his guests have an amazing experience from the fresh flowers on our beds to the beautiful goody bag. Every detail of your stay in curated for a truly wonderful experience.