Oman travel: Shangri-La Hambantota is a nature's retreat
September 5, 2017 | 7:07 PM
by Scott Armstrong
Shangri-La Hambantota Golf Resort and Spa is a golfer's dream paradise.

It’s a study in vivid greens, blues and gold, the scene set before me, one that is both animated and utterly tranquil at the same time. To my right is the violent beauty of the Indian Ocean, its azure waters whipped into foaming white as its waves crash onto the yellow and golden sands of the beach. To my left, through the tall coconut palms which stretch impossibly high into the sky, a huge lake acts like a mirror; its placid waters is a giant looking glass reflecting back the clear blue sky above. And before me cheerfully green grass rolls into the distance, each blade almost glows as the warm Sri Lankan sun beats down.

A gentle breeze carries the sound of the ocean to me and I take a moment to let it all sink in, this portrait in prime colours. I glance again at the vast lake, take a deep breath and then slowly let it out. For a moment this could be yoga, so centering is the experience. In fact it is golf at Shangri-La Hambantota Golf Resort and Spa, a course so beautiful that even hapless amateurs such as myself care little for the loss of balls, this is good walk (as Mark Twain once wrote) that cannot be spoiled by one’s lack of proficiency at the game. And this beautiful 18-hole course, designed by the famed architect Rodney Wright, is only one facet of one of Shangri-La’s newest and most impressive resorts.

Opened only a year ago this 300-room resort sprawls across 18 hectares of a former coconut plantation and is the first five-star resort to grace the stunning south coast of Sri Lanka. Located about 30 minutes drive from the equally new Mattala airport, Shangri-La Hambantota Golf Resort and Spa sits in an enviable position, nestled by the sea but within reach of wilderness adventure and elephant country.

Lush manicured gardens are home to three swimming pools in a colonial style hotel that focuses on families at one end and adults-only at the other. Three pools (one just for grown-ups), a thoughtfully designed ‘splash park’ that is great for toddlers, and an activity zone which includes a trapeze and circus skills school (a unique attraction), there’s even a drone-flying area for older children. If the children are happy then so are the parents, so goes the presiding logic for many when booking family holidays. But what happens when you have a toddler and a teenager, as an increasing number of families (especially second-time arounders)?

Thankfully Shangri-La Hambantota manages to be almost all things to all holiday-makers, offering a sort of five-star ‘convenient adventure’. Being so new it has one of the best-appointed kids clubs for little ones, with excellent staff who will also provide in-room babysitting for parents in need of a little breather.

During that time off they can head to the Chi Ayurveda Spa for a treatment or two to sort conditions such as TCB (toddler carrying backache). As relaxed and tranquil as it is the resort is also a great jumping off point for adventure with safaris galore on offer.

Head east for 45 minutes and you’ll reach the famous Yala National Park, a stunning Jurassic Park-esque reserve that is home to elephants, leopards, alligators, and all manner of bird-life. Head north for the same time and you’ll come to the Udawalawe National Park, a similarly prehistoric reserve of natural beauty which focuses more on elephants, including an orphanage where you can stop to see feeding time and watch baby elephants being cared for.

Head west for an hour and you’ll hit a lovely coastal town called Tangalle and then a little north of that is Mulgirigala (also known as Mulkirigala). While the more famous Sigiriya, the Lion Rock mountain fortress, lies many miles north and is crawled over by hundreds of tourists daily, this mountain temple is much less well known but just as impressive and with no crowds. From its peak 205m up (it’s a climb but doable with a toddler in a carrying harness) after being blessed by a Buddhist monk you’ll find the view of the Sri Lankan mountains and valleys are breathtaking. All these excursions are organised by the activities team at the Shangri-La, giving you the peace of mind that the trip will be well run.

With all that adventuring you’ll need somewhere comfortable to relax and there is nowhere better than resort’s 96sqm Premier Ocean Suite. This one-bedroom suite features a generous lounge / dining room, separate cavernous bedroom and a spa-like bathroom with a deep bath for soaking off the safari dust and a monsoon shower for getting you set for another day’s expedition. It also comes with a gorgeous view of that tumultuous Indian Ocean, the song of which is never far from your ears in this special resort.

You’ll need to refuel too and Shangri-La Hambantota doesn’t disappoint with two main restaurants. Bojonhala is essentially an international cuisine buffet but it is also here you’ll find plenty of brilliantly spicy Sri Lankan specialties. For anniversaries or birthdays the South East Asian Sera is the upscale venue to celebrate in with delicious food served up by the excellent Chef ‘Moko’ (lovely guy too).

What makes this Shangri-La feel so special is the deep sense of pride everyone working at the resort has. When it opened its doors in 2016 it gave a huge employment boost to the local area and in some cases meant people could return from jobs abroad to be with their families in Sri Lanka. So while you are there, the ‘Hambantotians’ (I think I just made that word up) work hard to make you feel like part of one big extended family. They treat your children as theirs and a smile is never far from their lips.

In the world of fiction Shangri-La was a paradise where everyone was happy and healthy, and in Hambantota they’ve come pretty close to hitting that mark in reality.

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