has been making waves in the luxury travel sphere since it opened in 2016 and upon arriving at the property, post steep hillside drive, we could immediately see why.
The hotel, built on an abandoned tea estate, is luxury with a difference: it's not complicated or fussy but thoughtful, calm and composed. Its wooden and concrete suites (each perched on stilts on the hillside), mesmerising birdcage-esque dining room and sub-terrainian concrete spa almost look as if Mother Nature built them into the landscape herself.
On arrival we were ushered into a white tuk tuk, which glistened in stark contrast against the natural hues of its setting, and driven down a path and into the resort. It felt as if we were entering a well-kept secret as you can see nothing of the resort from the 'check point' meaning that only guests ever really get a feel for what Santani is like.
'It's like we're celebrities,' my boyfriend exclaimed as we waved goodbye to the staff who had checked us in.
Just a few metres away we disembarked and were led down a wooden path to our suite or 'ambalama' as they are referred to at Santani, the Sri Lankan word meaning ‘place of rest' and where pilgrims and traders would take a break when travelling around. The dwellings are a seamless mix of this ancient concept of a simple space to rest and the luxury details befitting of modern-day travellers.
Deliberately sparse, the rooms act as a frame for the view outside, and what a view. Rolling hills stretch out in front of you and in the mornings we watched from our bed as the mist slowly rolled out and revealed the landscape beyond. Each suite has an open plan shower and toilet area with concrete sinks, fully stocked with locally sourced amenities. And around its entirety, instead of a skirting board, a pane of glass means that the surrounding greenery is visible from every angle. It's testament to the resort's conscious merging of the natural and the manmade, everywhere you look there is a nod to the landscape, where the meticulous minimalism serves as both functional and beautiful. There are no distractions from what is important here, there is no veil of decadence from which to hide behind, just simplicity in its most magical form.
Once settled in we headed to the spa – one of the most unique aspects of the resort – which sprawls out below the ground and houses open air treatment rooms (all with views out across the paddy fields), various relaxation areas, a steam and sauna and a thermal salt soak pool.
But it's much more than just massages and facials on the menu here, it's a full wellness package for mind, body and soul. It's a cliched, overused phrase but it is truly the case here. Each guest experience is personalised based on an assessment of body composition, current lifestyle, stress, fitness, emotional state and future goals. No two people are having the same experience at the resort and that's part of the magic.
Our first spa excursion began with a visit to the ayurveda doctor who creates a plethora of programmes for guests whether you're looking to lose weight, detox, heal from an illness, tackle insomnia or get over an addiction. Unfortunately we weren't stopping long enough to embark on an in-depth programme but what I did get to experience was the immediate benefits of a herbal compress massage.
I constantly battle with poor gut health as well as endometriosis and so wanted the focus to be on my lower stomach and back. The heat activated traditional herbal compress therapy I was recommended is an ayurvedic treatment to sooth and relieve muscular tension, stiffness, joint aches and pains. As well as this is helps treat inflammations and soothe skin irritations while still managing to feel like an incredibly gentle and calming treatment. Of course it helps that for the duration of that blissful hour I gazed out across the mountainside, as birds swooped across my concrete frame and chirped happily just out of view.
Our first real experience though of the care that Santani gives to each and every person who comes through its doors (read: trees) was at dinner later that day. Tucking into our three course evening meal amidst the panoramic views of the dining room, our doctor paid us a remarkably unobtrusive visit to check how we were feeling after our treatments. He seemed to glide gently from one table to the next, making guests aware of his support but not imposing on their evenings.
As well as our interactions with the wellness team, the dining room offered us some of the most magical moments of our stay. From breakfasts of fresh pancakes, homemade granola and beautifully carved fruits (a gourmet version of a full English is also available) to candlelit evening meals looking out over the darkened stillness of the nature reserve around us. In the mornings the floor to ceiling windows were opened so that the sounds of the birds mingled with the scent of the fresh juices and lunches felt leisurely and drawn out. We had nowhere to be but in the moment. People meandered up from the pool, an architectural delight in its own right, or emerged from their rooms to bask in the sun-flooded pavilion.
In fact I could write an entire love letter to the dining pavilion, nestled between the hills and the rainforest, because Santani's special brand of nourishment doesn't just end at the spa it extends to the fresh and varied menu on offer. It seems to be the epicentre of the entire resort, where guests can meander up to the downstairs bar to enjoy a delicious juice, stretch out on the sofas with an indulgent coffee table book for company and of course, tuck into three meals a day ( an afternoon tea). Upon entering, shoes are removed so you pad barefoot up the beautifully carved wooden staircase and into the airy restaurant. Past the open kitchen and to the table where there is always a choice between a traditional Sri Lankan meal and a more westernised option. Stand outs were the multi-texture strawberry platter with homemade pepper ice cream and a trolley full of fragrant curries served with hoppers (which my boyfriend described as a 'cake made of rice noodles').
Santani is a place for those bored of the usual wellness package offering, a sanctuary for people looking to recoup and relax away from worldly interruptions. Whether you're staying for an extended period of time to follow a personalised ayurvedic programme or just looking to unwind for a few nights in the middle of a Sri Lankan tour, a stay here will ensure you return to civilisation with a spring in your step and calm in your very bones.
A recommendation though: what it is not is a base for exploring Kandy, the centre of which is around a 45-minute drive away. It is a place to disconnect. If you're looking for somewhere to simply get a good night's sleep and eat breakfast before you rush off to the Temple of the Tooth or the popular Botanical Gardens then this isn't the place for you – and that's what makes it so magical. It's a simple settlement in the hills, where faces become quickly familiar and the hustle and bustle of the tourists below the canopy of trees feels as distant as home.
From £293 per night including all meals, though longer packages and personalised wellness programmes are available. For more details visit the .
From £300 per night per room, per night
Santani Wellness Resort & Spa Aratenna Estate, 00013