It’s not every day you’re greeted by Sri Lanka’s tallest man (surely a contender), dressed in a sarong and offering a passionfruit martini. Yet after an energetic, four-hour journey in the dark from Colombo Airport, this is the sight that meets us when we finally arrive at the Kandy House, in the leafy suburbs of Kandy. Nuwan, introduced to Mr Smith and me as our personal butler, not only sports the ‘sarong look’ better than Beckham, but also turns out to be a true sport when it comes to service.
Ushered through a series of elegant chambers and an open-air courtyard surrounded by bedrooms, we’re shown to our Ultra Room. Proper-job Dutch antiques, ticking curtains and piles of silk bolsters and cushions (the sort that Mr Smith loves to fling off the bed before his slumber) contrast with polished concrete floors and an octagonal stone bath bedecked with candles at the foot of the four-poster. ‘How romantic,’ we both remark. ‘Let’s eat.’
The bath can wait… in the meantime a delicious dinner is served on the veranda – calamari, grilled fish and meringues with fruit compote, all washed down with Sri Lankan Lion beer. Afterwards, we sink into deep Butterfly chairs for a nightcap. We have some of these design classics in our garden at home, so we’re familiar with how difficult they are to excavate oneself from. We spend the conclusion of the evening giggling as a succession of husbands tip tipsy madams onto the lawn.
A tropical paradise envelops us as we awake the next morning. Walking out onto the colonial-style terrace is like stepping into a Rousseau painting: a jungle filled with brightly coloured birds chortling foreign ringtones and naughty monkeys plucking mangosteens from the trees. Reflecting this green oasis are five oversized mirrors that flank the walls of the veranda.
You can take the boy out of England, but you can’t take the full English out of the boy, so while I tuck into my Sri Lankan hoppers (a traditional rice pancake), Mr Smith devours bacon and eggs. As we sit there feasting, a narcissistic crow flies into one of the mirrors – attracted to his own reflection, he becomes rather annoyed and starts to attack his double repeatedly. One of the Sri Lankan butler boys emerges and – with a swift overarm – skillfully bowls a piece of gravel at the bird to deter him. ‘Stone the crows!’ cries Mr Smith.
The resident masseuse awaits after breakfast, as we’ve booked a session for both of us, but as Mr Smith is a bit sheepish about massages (truth be told, he’s nervous about having his feet touched), he gallantly sends me in first. Seventy-five minutes later – after one of the best full-body treatments I’ve experienced – I float back down to the pool and plonk myself on a lounger for several hours. Impressed with my new stress-free mood, Mr Smith follows suit for some re-energising. Upon his return, wearing a sleepy expression on his face, he reveals that he’s not only been healed but was also rather pleased to be told that he has strong bones. Ticklish feet don’t even rate a mention from this former skeptic.
After overdosing on relaxation, Mr Smith has the itch for exercise. On arrival, we’d been told that Nuwan could do anything we asked of him, so Mr Smith demands a game of cricket. For half an hour, all service at the hotel is put on hold as the staff gathers on the front lawn to meet his unusual request. The England team is playing a test match against Sri Lanka in Galle that day, but I believe this was a more keenly fought contest.
After the last ball is bowled, we decide to hit Kandy. A tuk-tuk arrives to take us on this heritage town’s customary trail: Temple of the Tooth, followed by food market, followed by lookout point (we couldn’t see the point), followed by lake. Don’t get us wrong, it’s a charming place, but we can’t wait to get back to the retreat of the Kandy House.
Sipping cocktails that evening under a clear night sky in the courtyard, we survey the scene: an English Colonel and his wife playing Scrabble, a pair of young Japanese lovers gazing into each other’s eyes, and an elderly couple from the south of France talking gemology, all sitting beneath antler heads resplendent in giant earrings and gold Hindu turbans. We soon conclude that we’re not the only ones who feel life is sweet at the Kandy House.