It’s not often you have a crocodile eyeing off your breakfast, but as I sat in the open-air restaurant at Sri Lanka’s Jetwing Vil Uyana, that’s exactly what was happening. Luckily for me, there was a safe distance between my eggs and curious new friend.
Five star eco-resort Jetwing Vil Uyana is home to a number of Sri Lanka’s wild and well-known residents: monkeys bound through the trees that seclude the resort’s dwellings, and peacocks fan their tails on the edges of thatched roofs.
Vil Uyana has been designed to be close to nature and it achieves this goal with an easy grace. Built on an area of wetland reserve, its detached bungalows are hidden among grasses or connected by teak walkways over lush paddy fields.
There is a lily pond in the middle of my two-story forest dwelling (with private plunge pool), and when I’m running a hot bath in the enormous tub that looks out to the stars, a chameleon pops in to say hello.
My room is so secluded within the rushes that I lose my way to the restaurant. Luckily, a passing resort buggy takes pity and I hitch a ride. There’s no need to worry about finding my way back—I can simply call the buggy to return me to the forest.
Dinner at the Aspara is a daily changing menu featuring traditional Sri Lankan cuisine among contemporary Asian dishes. I opt for the Sri Lankan curry. The trick, I’m told, is to spoon each of the six dishes onto your plate and mix into one deliciously messy pile. If I were to be truly authentic, I would eat with my fingers to appreciate the texture of the food, but this place is awfully classy so I stick to knife and fork.
From here I can see a couple of rustic tree houses rising up from the marshland. Guests can request to dine in these private huts for an added touch of romance. But the atmosphere at the Aspara is not to be sniffed at. A sitar player provides the evening soundtrack over the zealous percussion of cicadas, and the sun setting over the bungalows and paddy fields is a vision that will stop you mid-mouthful.
I’d spent the afternoon on safari at Minneriya National Park, where, during the May to September dry season, hundreds of elephants gather at the lake to rehydrate. Disappointingly, rain had kept the elephants out of sight for my visit, but in a moment of classic Sri Lankan serendipity, on our way back to the hotel we spotted a young wild elephant idling beside the road.
There was simply so much to explore from this place, perfectly positioned in the heart of Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle—tomorrow, I’d be visiting the ancient rock city of Sigiriya and the Dambulla cave temples—but for now, the outdoor lounge and a chilled cocktail were waiting.