Ulagalla lies on the Anuradhapura-Dambulla road, among green paddy fields and forests full of wildlife and exotic tropical flowers. There are wild elephants here, roaming free along jungle corridors established by their ancestors thousands of years ago.
Nestled amidst these tropical splendours is Ulagalla, an exclusive honeymooners' and holidaymakers' retreat that sets an example of sustainability and ecological responsibility to the world. Here, visitors live side-by-side with nature while enjoying all the pleasures and luxuries civilisation has to offer, happy in the knowledge that they are actually helping support and sustain the living beauty that surrounds them. Ulagalla Resort has now completed its third successful year.
The 150-year-old country house that forms the centrepiece of Ulagalla was once the stately home of an aristocratic local family. Lovingly preserved in all its period charm, it contains the reception, foyer, diningroom and other public areas of the resort, as well as its kitchens, stores and administrative offices. Guests are accommodated in 20 private chalets that surround the old house like satellites whose orbits have been carefully plotted to ensure no indiscreet collisions; no more than one chalet is visible from any other, and paths and walkways around the property are designed to provide as much privacy to guests as possible. Although the chalets are designed for minimal ecological impact and maximum energy conservation, they are spacious and luxurious, reflecting the theme of gracious, old-style country living that is the spirit of Ulagalla. Opulent silk cushions, ethnic drapes and rugs create an atmosphere of rich tropical domesticity: private plunge pools promote intimate relaxation, and elegant touches abound everywhere. Diversions – including a swimming pool, horseback riding or cycling down local trails and kayaking local rivers – abound.
The same spirit of refined luxury is evident in the food and drink – vegetables from the resort's organic garden and fresh seasonal produce from the market are turned into exquisite gourmet dishes, to be enjoyed with fine wines from the resort's well-stocked cellar.
Indeed, nothing that is required for the perfect luxury interlude is lacking at Ulagalla. It seems hard to believe that such an experience can be had without a high price to be paid in local environmental impact; yet in fact, this is one of the greenest eco-resorts in Sri Lanka. A commitment to preserving the environment was part of the UGA Escapes ethos from the outset: not a single tree was cut down during the preparation of the site and the building that followed. Construction was undertaken in strict accordance with international environmental best practice, and over a thousand trees have since been planted on the property. The materials used in construction were largely natural – one example being the panels of durra or rice-straw (similar to tatami) used in the walls, floors and ceilings of the chalets. Fire-resistant, with excellent insulating properties, durra is also fully organic and recyclable.
Ulagalla aspires to be as close to self-sufficiency as possible in energy and resources. Rainwater harvesting provides much of the fresh water used on the property. Lighting is powered by bio-gasgenerators, augmented by a solar-energy farm that generates nearly two-thirds of the resort's energy requirementsand even contributes occasional surpluses to the national grid. The use of motorised equipment is kept to the minimum compatible with comfort and practicality.
These efforts have been recognised both within and beyond the hospitality industry. On 31st March this year, Ulagalla received an award for the Most Sustainable Resort at the International Hotel Awards, the international hospitality industry's most prestigious awards programme. Visitors to TripAdvisor, the most popular travel-review site on the internet, also voted it their ‘traveller's choice' in 2013, while TripAdvisor itself awarded the Ulagalla a Certificate of Excellence.
Outside the ‘travel trade', Ulagalla received a Presidential Green Award from the government of Sri Lanka in 2011. The resort has also achieved LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certification from the United States Green Building Council – a feat that demands strict adherence to stringent environmental standards – and is a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, an exclusive worldwide club of luxury properties with high entry requirements.
Yet perhaps none of these awards endorses the quality of the Ulagalla experience as wholeheartedly as the testimony of guests who have visited the resort.‘All the chalets look amazing,' reports one guest on TripAdvisor. ‘In the morning there were monkeys and giant squirrels on the trees right outside our window. All in all a fantastic, peaceful place to stay with amazing wildlife all around. Highly recommended.' Responses like that suggest that Ulagalla is definitely doing things right.