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jan 1, 2007 -> The Austrian Ayurvedic Beach Resort

It was only noon, but we were getting worried. Several of the hotels recommended in our guidebooks didn't exist any more. Another had construction on both sides and smelled of sewage. We'd forced Souri down awful roads and even driven through a funeral procession. Along the way, we had seen what makes Sri Lanka's southern coast so special: endless, stunning beaches, often with neither local nor tourist on them. We also saw firsthand the destruction of the tsunami. Hotels had been gutted, and fishing boats tossed near the road. One incredible beach was punctuated by a promontory of polished boulders. Nearby, dozens of new fishing boats were pulled up onshore; they had been donated by various charities after the tsunami. All proclaimed the munificence of their patrons: Deutsche Bank, ABN Amro and the Kuwait Red Crescent. Souri laughed when he saw them.

“There were so many donated boats that many people who don't even know how to fish said they had lost their boats in the tsunami.”  

We turned off just before the small town of Dikwella. While Nori checked out a modest beachfront hotel, I walked up a side road to investigate the intriguing “Austrian Ayurvedic Beach Hotel,” whose logo was a detail from the cave paintings at Sigiriya: an elegant, female hand holding a flower between her thumb and forefinger. I certainly liked the sound of the place. A ‘Beach' was what we were looking for; the ‘Ayurvedic' meant herbal oil massages; and the ‘Austrian' meant clean and well-organized. When I reached the gates, I couldn't believe what I saw.

Statues of plump, Renaissance-style cherubs topped a high, whitewashed wall. Behind the thick, iron gate rose a two-story, gleaming white Italianate mansion, complete with Corinthian columns and a roof of faded terracotta tiles. Somewhat shocked, I pressed the electric buzzer and an eager, smiling man rushed from the guardhouse to swing open the gates. I walked across the tiled driveway and into the lobby, where muscular statues flanked an elegant stairwell that bifurcated halfway to the second floor. There was no one at the reception desk, so I continued past the lobby and emerged onto a wide patio that overlooked a grassy courtyard dotted with tall, slender palms. The sea was one hundred meters away – big, blue and inviting.      

“Can I help you?” said a voice from behind me.


I turned and saw a woman in her fifties, pale, with wide sunglasses and close-cropped blonde hair. She was clearly the Austrian. Her name was Kristal.

“This place is beautiful,” I said “please tell me that you have a room available.”

“Oh ja, we have rooms available,” she said with a bit of mirth in her voice. “All the rooms are available.”

I followed her back inside and up to the second story. My mouth dropped when I saw the magnificent room. It was spotless, with high ceilings, a huge bed and an odd but endearing beaded curtain that hung between the bedroom and the shower stall. Outside, two thick, wooden deck chairs sat on a wraparound loggia with palm and sea views for all the rooms. The columns were separated with classic and corbelled arches, and several chains of small, terracotta cups hung from the rain gutters.

Room and half board was €120 a night, twice the cost of our most expensive accommodation so far. But I really didn't care. We had been watching the budget during the first half of the trip, and now it was time to splurge. If we were lucky, we would have the place to ourselves. I ran outside and back down the road. Nori and Souri were coming up in the car.

“You're not going to believe this place,” I told Nori, “it's somewhat bizarre, but perfect.”

The next three days were blissful. When we awoke, after nine hours of undisturbed sleep, we wandered downstairs and breakfasted on the patio. Then it was back to our room to sit on the terrace and spend several hours reading our books. I was reading an excellent history-cum-travelogue written by Justin Marozzi about Tamurlane, smiling every time he described a place that we had visited in Central Asia. Nori was devouring a book about a crazy journalist who had traveled from Angola to Mozambique via train in the late nineties. After an undeserved nap, we put on our swimsuits and headed out to the beach for a swim. Then it was back to the terrace for wine and more reading until the sun went down and the bugs came out. Each night, the chef made an excellent (and far too large) dinner for us. On the final night – New Year's Eve – we had an incredible seafood feast. Each day we expected other guests to arrive, but they never did.

“We opened just a few months ago,” Kristal said, “so nobody knows about us. Not so good for us, but very good for you!”