The first time I came to Sri Lanka was in 1991, when I was still a student of foreign language in St. Petersburg. In Russia, perestroika was under way, and in order to earn money for my studies, I began working for a Dutch flower company. I first came to Colombo for the World Exhibition with my “flower” colleagues. After the damp and grey of St. Petersburg, it was strange and quite surprising to immediately feel at home in this warm and vibrant tropical world. The feeling was forever burned into my memory…
After my trip, life went on as usual. I embarked on various projects, living and working abroad. I had the opportunity to travel around Southeast Asia, exploring the world and developing as an person. Nevertheless, in the back of my mind, Sri Lanka was always calling me back and eventually, I joyfully returned.
On one particular trip, my friends and I traveled to a place whose beauty stunned me. As often happens with love at first sight, in a flash everything in my world turned upside down. Thus began a new chapter in my life, in Sri Lanka.
The name “Eraeliya,” is translated from Sinhala, meaning “the light of the sun”. The inspiration came to me from the sunlight which pours from the endless sky here, from the ocean’s smooth surface, the glossy leaves of the garden, and the smiles of the local Sri Lankans.
I created and transformed this new space for myself. I designed it, built it, decorated it, and even planted the gardens. I studied traditional cuisine and experimented with fusion cooking.
Eraeliya began as a single house with a hundred years of history – Villa Walauwa. The reconstruction was very carefully completed in order to preserve the spirit of the building, its tranquility, coolness and silence.
Almost everything here remains as it was, including the elements of colonial architecture, the arrangement of rooms, the enormous trees.
There were only two bedrooms in the original layout of Walauwa, but I wanted to share my home with the many friends I had from around the world. So, I decided to build a second dwelling, Muhudu Bella, which translates to “seashell.”
The name choice was no accident, as Muhudu Bella is designed in the shape of a spiral. My inspiration to create such a home was the traditional Sinhalese earthen huts built by the native people of Sri Lanka.
As a professional decorator, I was interested in the distinct and varied architecture of Ceylon. The colonial buildings are of different eras. There are Buddhist pagodas and stupas on the island, as well as the traditional village houses.
A huge discovery for me was Geoffrey Bawa, one of the greatest architects in Asia. His work focuses on the symbiosis between nature and architecture as when the garden, water and sunlight enter into a living space. His principles turned out to be very close to my own aesthetics. I decided to organize the space of Eraeliya, based on the simple yet sublime magic Bawa executed at his estate, Lunuganga. I listened to the voice of nature, taking into account the distinctive landscape and lighting, and managed to keep all the mature trees on the property intact.
Villa Bawana is my vision of the perfect home on the ocean. Every element was thought out with love and attention to the peculiarities of the local climate: from the incredibly deep pool to the nine-meter vaulted ceilings.
Vintage Portuguese tiles, teak and mahogany wood, antique furniture and massive doors give the villa a genuine colonial feeling.
Next to Villa Bawana stands the garden house Nelum, translated from the Sinhalese word for “lotus”. The path to Nelum leads through a tropical garden saturated with the smells of aralia and jasmine.
Thanks to the stone steps, which lead from the front entrance and rise towards the pool with its vibrant goldfish, the villa truly resembles the sacred flower, resting on the surface of the water in the depths of a magical garden.
Further on the property, conceived as a small piece of Bali in Sri Lanka, there is another magical space – Ambalama Pavilion. To adorn Ambalama, I found grand old doors and columns amongst local ruins.
I built the pavilion walls using massive glass panels and antique wood. Thus, an air-conditioned villa with an open-air bathroom, vaulted ceilings and a huge Hemingway style writing desk was born.
In the end, when these 5 spaces, conceived as a whole, were finally completed, we opened up as a boutique hotel. Our venture was successful. We received positive reviews in the Telegraph, Insight Guides, and National Geographic. Lonely Planet called Eraeliya the best place in Weligama.
However, for us, the number of loyal guests who continue to return here, as if coming home, speaks of the hotel better than any review in a guidebook.
Eraeliya Garden Villa
299 Kapparatota Road
Mobile: +94 77 771 6779 (Whatsapp)