By Antler's roaming Editor, Sarah Jappy
For our latest edition of Unpacked, we’ve set our sights on Sri Lanka, aka the Teardrop Island – and the box-fresh PALM Hotel, to be precise. Set your own pace at this modern marvel, which offers poolside lounging, high-octane fitness, delicious food and drink, and sea-salt surf thrills, just 10 minutes away.
In three words
Shoreditch via Ahangama.
Helmed by former Londoners Miriam and Laurie, PALM is a master of contrasts, successfully transplanting urban British style to a former coconut grove on the island’s surfy southern coast. Sleeping quarters encompass six ink-black, A-frame Cabanas, two Deluxe Suites and a 4-Bedroom Villa.
The heart of the action is the sparkling 14m garden pool, backdropped by a peach-pink tropical modernist wall, inspired by Spanish architect Ricardo Bofill (and ripe for enviable Instagram snaps). Surveying the pool, in the breezy, open-air main building, is the ground-floor restaurant and bar, with simple wooden tables and snug seating areas where egg chairs swing gently in the breeze. A little concept store offers on-site retail thrills.
Upstairs, there are additional spots for relaxing, replete with a stash of artful tomes and magazines, to be browsed in a choice of nooks. (Preferably with an excellent coffee featuring Tusker Coffee Co. beans, rustled up by the team.) Beyond, in the sprawling four-acre grounds, PALM Fit features CrossFit equipment reclaimed from a Shoreditch gym by the hotel’s resourceful owners. A daily programme of yoga and fitness classes is included in the rates, which also cover breakfast – and, oh, what a breakfast. #EggHopperHeaven
PALM is tucked away in a quiet, remote spot on the southern coast, poised between the paddy fields and beach. Expect a somewhat-bumpy drive on approach, especially if you’re arriving by tuk-tuk, but fear not: you’re richly rewarded on arrival. Clapping eyes on PALM’s liquorice-dark Pavilion and emerald gardens is the visual equivalent of an ice-cold G&T. On this note, the rose, lime and vodka welcome drink creates a refreshing first impression, as does the low-key ‘check-in’ process (i.e. just make yourself at home).
Hop in one of the tuk-tuks obligingly parked up outside PALM’s entrance and enjoy a jaunt into the mellow-with-a-buzz town of Ahangama, about 10 minutes away, where the surf-centric beach beckons, alongside an enticing array of boutiques, bars, restaurants and cafés. When it comes to recommended stretches of sand and sea, there are plenty of spots within easy reach: start with Secret Beach in Ahangama, Coconut Groves in Midigama, and Kabalana, a coupla hundred metres from Ahangama and home to some stellar surf schools.
Beloved for its Unesco-listed Fort, the southwest city of Galle is a 40-minute drive away; other local attractions include whale-watching in Mirissa, a half-hour drive from PALM, and surfing for all levels in Weligama. Further afield, elephantine safari adventures await in Udawalawe, a two-hour drive away.
What to pack
Something you can comfortably hold a downward dog in; your favourite crystal to keep you chill; a stainless steel water bottle to keep you hydrated during PALM’s workouts. A good book won’t go amiss for poolside sessions. Seasoned surfers: come armed with your favourite surfing paraphernalia, since many of the island’s best beaches and breaks are just 10 minutes away.
Get the look
Beachy and bohemian – but if in doubt, pick up threads and accessories from the hotel’s on-site store, stocked with yoga gear, covetable threads and snazzy hats and sunnies, amongst other temptations.
Sun-soaked poolside afternoons: stake out your favourite raffia rug, grab a soft-pink towel from the bar and unwind, with plenty of opportunities for people-watching. (PALM attracts a notably photogenic crowd.) Order lunch to your lounging spot, shaded by a tiki-style sun umbrella, if moving to the restaurant feels too onerous.
Our Editor says
“Sri Lanka has countless palms, but only one PALM: there’s nowhere else like it on the island. (We are prepared to retract this statement upon the arrival of PALM: The Sequel.) Full of surprises, PALM puts a modern, born-from-the-Big-Smoke spin on Sri Lankan hospitality, its liquorice-dark Pavilion sitting amid the greenery like a landed spaceship.
The relaxed restaurant serves moreish mains and small plates, infused with vibrant Sri Lankan flavours. I ate the coconut-milk rice on repeat for breakfast, and am still fondly reminiscing about my tamarind lamb curry and watermelon rum punch.
Book a Cabana for its minimalist, sugar-cube-white interiors. Each Cabana comes with enthusiastic air-conditioning if you want it (there's also a fan), a vaulted ceiling, sleek stone fittings and pleasing extras: from a private terrace and tropical outdoor shower to Bluetooth speakers, a minibar and locally sourced PALM bath products. If it’s extra privacy you’re after, opt for a Deluxe Suite set in the peacock-, monkey-, dog- and cow-adorned scenery. Wherever you bed down, you’ll wake up to the sounds of the jungle: chirruping birds and perhaps the occasional monkey on the roof. Not so London after all…"
Like Antler, PALM has a soft spot for millennial-pink, so opt for anything in our modern Blush hue. Tuck your phone in a Clifton Mini for leisurely breakfasts or sunset cocktails; digital nomads can bring their laptop to the bar in a Chelsea Daypack. Pink not your thing? Honour the jungle and paddy fields with dashing green luggage: Clifton in Mineral or Sycamore; Stamford in Khaki. Sporty types: stash your gym kit in a Bamburgh Expandable Backpack, equally useful for jungle jaunts.
Rates Double rooms from £121 ($150). A ten-percent service charge is added on check-out.