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Our aims were simple; we wanted to build a big, beautiful, comfortable, family house with a pool on the best undeveloped beach in Sri Lanka. We found secret Mahawella 'big beach' with its golden sands and fishing boats, safe swimming and peace and decided we had found it.
We finished building Thalassa in July 2008.It was designed by an experienced Sri Lankan architect, who had a great cv, which included Geoffrey Bawa team work and study in the UK and USA.
It grew to 85OO square feet on two floors of covered space. There are seven double beds, which all have sea views, and seven en suite bathrooms, a huge sitting room with a piano, two outside sitting rooms, a big dining room, a pool in the inner courtyard, a massage temple, a great kitchen, a study with satellite TV, internet, DVDs and books and games and spacious staff quarters.
We have used only Sri Lankan materials, furniture and fittings throughout the house, and were delighted to discover how luxurious these are, and often beautifully designed too. There are luxurious 10 inch mattresses, mosquito nets and fans in every room and stunning use of coloured polished concrete in the bathrooms and elsewhere. The furniture is a mix of state of the art - a vast stainless steel chandelier and barbecue - and genuine eclectic antiques. The Burmese teak floors in the two biggest downstairs bedrooms, the study and sitting room are recycled from a defunct ballroom in Nuwara Eliya, and the walkway has pillars from a collapsed South Indian temple. Dutch and old Brit antique chests and planters’ chairs sit side by side with modern white sofas and Chinese cabinets. There are Sri Lankan and other pictures everywhere.
There are really three gardens. The seaside garden is often windy and has 25 palm trees and a one-minute walk from the house to the beach. There are hammocks and loungers and built in benches along the front of the house and a croquet set and table tennis. The courtyard garden contains both pool and massage pavilion and is sheltered and the bougainvillea and hibiscus thrive here. The back garden is defined by the gravelled driveway and the family dogs, cats and hens live out here too. Big shady trees abound in all of them.
Our greatest asset is our family staff. Nandi is the smiling resourceful housekeeper who runs everything for us and we have known her personally for nearly 20 years. We trust her completely and she works very hard to ensure that all our visitors are relaxed and happy. She is also one of the best cooks on the island. Jayantha and Samantha serve at table, organise luggage, transport, gardens, pool and maintenance. Then there are Neetha, Sumana and Kusuma who wash up, clean rooms, chop, slice, do the washing and ironing and also cook.
Samantha drives us locally in his tuktuk and gathers others for local expeditions as well. When the house is full, Nandi summons extra ladies to help from the village. Nandi has a list of about eight drivers with vans for longer expeditions or the airport runs - our favourite is Gameni, who is a great naturalist and Sri Lankan enthusiast.
Thalassa is equidistant between Dickwella and Tangalle. You pass the 189 km marker (from Colombo) and soon see a big blue T sign for Thalassa and you turn right, then immediately left and follow road round to right down a long drive towards the sea where the sign Thalassa will be obvious and through big wooden gates to the property.
It takes about two hours from the airport to our house down the new motorways to Matara and then 45 minutes for the home stretch on local roads.
We ask Nandi to arrange for one of about eight known drivers to come and get us in a minivan with a/c from the airport, which costs about 15,000 rupees or £75.
There are already sea planes from Colombo airport, which drop you 5 minutes from the house - ask Sri Lankan airlines for details of flight times.
Bandula runs a good surf school at Nilwella ( 15 mins away) in a charming horseshoe bay full of cafes.
You can fish from a boat in the lagoon behind the house ( ask Samantha) . Chinthaka has canoes at his Spice Garden on the main road on the same lagoon. Gameni has two kayaks on a lagoon the other side of Tangalle and you can rent others there. Deep sea fishing can be arranged via Samantha and local fishermen.
Whale watching is a great success from Mirissa Harbour – about an hour away - sometimes you will see giant rays, dolphins, turtles and lots of pygmy blue whales which are about 6O feet long. It's a beautiful three hour trip in a good big wooden boat.
Turtles can be seen at night at Rekawa – about 20 minutes east of us – where there is a WWF protected beach where five out of seven of the world turtle species come to lay their eggs. Like salmon, they travel thousands of miles across the oceans to return to their natal beach.
There are several wildlife reserves not far away. Elephants and leopards and birds can be viewed at Yala (two hours away); elephants and monkeys in abundance at Uda Walawe (one and a half hours away) and bird life, small animals and a few elephants at Bundala (one and half hours). Kalamatiya lagoon and bird sanctuary is about half an hour from Thalassa.
The local markets (or pollas) are in Tangalle on Sundays and in Dickwella on the beach on Saturdays.
In Tangalle there is a fishing harbour and lots of low level shopping and short eats on the streets in the evenings. The Sapphire jeweller has a reasonable owner, situated opposite the lily pond and small wooden Dutch church. He makes simple rings and has silver elephants and turtles, which are good cheap presents.
In Dickwella, there is a good antiques and junk shop off the main road at the T junction, also an interesting lace making place on the Galle Road on the right.
You can walk down the beach to the left to Tekla at Isana villa for Italian food. Further along is The Last House, a most elegant place designed by Geoffrey Bawa, where you can arrange to dine privately by previous discussions with the head houseboy, Ananda. At the Amanwella hotel you can eat at the beach restaurant at lunchtime or in the main one at night; or just go for drinks as we often do to watch the sunset.
We go to Villa Maya, on the jungly road to Beliatta north of Tangalle about 25 minutes away and we watch birds, as the sun goes down, along a road which runs through paddy fields en route. This charming villa/hotel has excellent food overlooking a green paradise of paddy fields and peacocks.
When we go to Rekawa to see turtles, we go and eat at Buckingham Place. The food there is good and glamorously presented and the service is memorably helpful and friendly. Nick Buckingham is a friend and he will tell you when a turtle has been sighted on the pristine beach below.
Temples and Buddhist statues are abundant. Our favourite is at Mulkirigala – about 40 minutes away – a spectacular rock temple on three levels with lots of steps and a great view at the top and voluble English-speaking guide. Otherwise about three hours to Buduruwagala and Maligawila to spectacular huge Buddhist statues in the jungle. The huge temple complex at Kataragama is a world heritage site and not far from the others.
Galle is only two hours’ drive away and makes a neat day trip. Another world heritage site, it is a Portuguese and Dutch walled fort with beautiful houses and restaurants and shops within it. Walking round the city walls is well worth it and many shops in Colombo have smaller outlets here. We usually eat at the Kingfisher at Unawatuna on the sea just outside Galle or at Why Beach or Wijaya Beach close by.
At the house itself we have a cricket bat and balls; a table tennis net, footballs, pool toys, croquet and badminton racquets. There are hammocks and loungers too.
'Complete perfection – maison et cuisine'
'A wonderful time in a fab house. We arrived exhausted and left in peak health, massaged by Matthew and looked after so well by Nandi and her team… paradise! '
'Oh what bliss – crashing ocean waves and the thrumming of the fans, cicadas and rasping frogs, dancing fireflies and Orion's Belt straddling the inky blue sky above the palm fronds. It's real. And Nandi's culinary talents are wondrous.
'Such an astounding and magnificent stay. I will always remember the house, the waves, the cicadas, the curd and grappa by moonlight.
'The house is lovely and one of a kind'
'I feel years younger after being here. The house is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen'.
'I will never forget walking into this stunning place! You have created a magical retreat. And what wonderful ladies! '
'Serendipitous indeed – except that you haven't really left that much to chance! The place is a wonderful discovery and every detail speaks eloquently of the thought, care and love that have gone into it.'
'I have enjoyed my early morning swims, my walks from bay to bay, my conversations with the fishermen …. '
'Fantastic light, a glimpse of the sea on arrival, the soothing grey, green and yellow colours of the house…'
"Wonderful peaceful huge house and the best beach in Sri Lanka'
'Lush unspoiled paradise on a safe and perfect beach. Tuktuk visits, whale watching, massage and swimming and lotus eating. Utterly superb villa; charming and efficient staff.'
Thalassa was chosen, among eleven Chic Retreats worldwide, as best family villa at Christmas 2010.
In 2012 The Times of London printed an article including Thalassa a s mong the 25 best family villas on the Indian Ocean.
In April 2013, the Wall Street Journal carried a picture and description of Thalassa.