A Rare Find – the River House Balapitiya

The River House Balapitiya has to be one of the finest places I have visited. From the service, to the scenery, the accommodation to the activities, this place deserves all the accolades it has gotten, both locally and internationally.

A slight detour off the main town of Balapitiya, with perfect directions that were mailed to me before departure, we arrived at the River House one Saturday morning. Apart from the steep and narrow road leading up to the imposing main gate, the coastal drive was uneventful. I had finally arrived at the River House which I had heard so much about. And kudos to everyone who has something to do with this wonderful place.

From the moment we arrived, Duminda and his friendly and most courteous staff were the epitome of hospitality. After the warm welcome, a cold towel and delicious fruit juice we were escorted to the Walawe villa which was our abode for the next 24 hours.

This villa is considered the second master suite and is situated away from the main villa. It is set amidst the gardens at river level and offers complete privacy. The villa is encircled by a wrap-around terrace with private dining options and two planter’s chairs that offer a view of the river and the garden around.

The interior of this villa features original craftsmanship of wood, stone and polished cement and chilled to perfection! A beautifully styled impressive contemporary double bed blends with selected pieces of antique furniture from around the Asian continent whilst other amenities like DVD and TV options, mini fridge, tea/coffee service and lounge chairs make this a veritable haven. The en suite bathroom is of neutral colours and clean lines with double sinks and a plunge pool in its small private garden with hot water cascading from above. Heaven! Small objects d’art are tastefully placed amongst polished stones.

The River House is set in a 7 ½ acre garden rich in foliage beside the Madhu River adjoining the Protected Wetland Sanctuary of the river estuary. The fruit trees in this garden are full of birds and chattering monkeys as they vie for the fresh fruit. The Walawe villa is one of five villas, all named after the rivers of Sri Lanka: Menik, Gin, Kirinda  and Kala. The Menik Villa is the other master suite encompassing the entire upper floor with open air terraces and its own private pool as well. The Gin suite is also large with a private outdoor plunge pool in a semi private garden. Meanwhile the Kirinda and Kala suites are located adjacent to each other, also with their own private gardens and lily ponds. Although these two are considered to be standard, the service and surroundings remain top class.

After a delightful lunch of chicken wraps and fish and chips, complemented with home made mango melbas and ice cream, we decided to kayak down the Madhu River. Donned in life jackets and pumped with adrenaline, we rowed along the river enjoying the myriad of birds, the calmness and serenity of the river, and often veering off course!  An hour later, we were back and ready to take a dip in the sea at their private beach house located about 5kms away. Guests are generally transported in a ‘tuk tuk’ to this beach where they can enjoy a dip in the ocean although unfortunately our sea bath was cut short as the seas were too rough. We returned and dived straight into an azure blue pool set in picturesque surroundings.

That evening, we sat outside on the veranda enjoying the sounds of the nocturnal birds as we feasted on delicious grilled calamari salads and honey roasted pork ribs. By the time our dessert came, we were completely happy!

Apart from the river cruise on the nine-seater power boat, there is plenty of bird watching to do around the gardens. The morning’s bird song is as refreshing as the delicious breakfast served on the veranda. Nature trails are plenty for the adventurous.

I will not do justice to this review if I do not mention the input by Taru aka Nayantara, whose unique style is apparent in every chic nook and corner. Along with her impeccable training of the staff and the splendid finishing touches to a beautiful property, Taru has indeed made something out of nothing.

This wonderful River House was the first ever Sri Lankan owned property to be featured in Conde Nast Traveler’s exclusive annual Hot List (2005) as one of the “Hottest” new hotels in the world and Robb Report Recommended 100 Ultimate Luxury Escapes – featured for the 2nd years running. I have no doubt this place deserved it. Well done for getting it all right.

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