Family Hotel Review: The River House, nr Bentota & Galle, Sri Lanka
One of Sri Lanka’s most charming inland properties is this five-bedroom colonial-style villa that sits nestled on a bend of the Madhu Ganga River.
Best For: Life on the river; teens (but all ages welcome)
Reviewed by: A member of the globetotting community
Why You’ll Love It
One of Sri Lanka’s most charming inland properties can be found nestled on a bend of the Madhu Ganga River. This five-bedroom colonial-style villa is surrounded by seven acres of lush tropical gardens, has a fabulous swimming pool and access to a near-private strip of beach.
Four spacious suites are located in the main house and another one (popular with honeymooners) is positioned near the riverbank. It’s a very stylish place to stay; here you’ll find contemporary interiors paired with Sri Lankan colour and flair, vaulted ceilings, over-sized bathrooms and individual plunge pools and Jacuzzis. The overall feel is much more of a private villa than a hotel. Indeed, the property is available to rent in its entirety which is a good option for extended families or families travelling together.
Activities include exploring the Madhu Ganga by boat or, if you’re feeling suitably energetic, by kayak. Hundreds of colourful birds live in the gardens making bird watching an easy pastime – simply lie on your sun lounger with a pair of binoculars and see what flies past. The town of Bentota is also nearby for beach days and water sports on the lagoon. Or you could simply relax on your veranda and soak up the wonderful river views.
Why The Kids Will Love It
The River House is very much a grown up getaway but that’s not to say that this is not a family-friendly option. Kids of all ages are warmly welcomed and baby cots, extra beds and extremely helpful staff are all on hand. That said, owing to its position on the riverbank, the Kipling-esque gardens and its popularity with couples, we say that the hotel is best suited to teens.
Two suites, the Kala and Kirinda, are inter-connecting which works very well for families. These are the only two rooms without river views or a private plunge pool but this simply means that you’re likely to have the main swimming pool all to yourselves!
Activities for kids include boat rides along the river in search of water monitor lizards, baby crocodiles and hundreds of tropical birds. Kids can take kayaks out onto the river, visit the neighbouring fish farm home water monitor lizards, baby crocodiles, lobsters, crabs and more, and head to nearby Bentota Lagoon for water sports. Back at the hotel there are board games to play, cricket overs to bowl and lots of movies to watch.
With only five suites on offer the River House feels very much like your own private villa. In fact the property is available to rent in its entirety, which is perfect if you’re travelling with other families. The five suites are all spacious and boast kingsize beds, hardwood floors, comfy sofas, vaulted ceilings and large bathrooms complete with rain showers (no bathtubs). The décor is very contemporary with whitewashed walls offset by colourful artwork and furnishings. The suites are all named after rivers of Sri Lanka. All rooms come with AC, ceiling fans, tea and coffee making facilities, mini bars, DVD player and TV, Wifi access and telephone.
Garden View Suites – Kala & Kirinda These two suites are the smallest in the property and are the only ones that do not have a river view. Instead these two suites enjoy a private garden and entrance. These two rooms are inter-connecting making it a very good option for families.
River View Suites – Gin & Walawe Located on the ground floor near the lounge and dining area is the Gin Suite. This large room enjoys an outdoor shower and Jacuzzi, and semi-private garden with views of the Madhu Ganga. The Gin Suite also has a daybed that can be used as an extra single bed.
The Walawe Suite is located approximately 20 metres from the main hotel and comes with its own Jacuzzi and terrace with river views. The Walawe is popular with honeymooners.
Plunge Pool Suite – Menik This enormous suite comes with an equally generous private balcony complete with plunge pool and magical views of the river.
Best Rooms For Families: The Kala and Kirinda Suites can both accommodate one extra bed or a baby cot. These two rooms inter-connect making them an ideal choice for families. The River View Suites can accommodate one extra bed and a baby cot. The Walawe Suite can accommodate one extra bed or a baby cot. The Walawe is the least suited to families owing to its location away from the main villa.
The villa is available to rent in its entirety; please contact the hotel for details.
The food at The River House is very good and given the small size of the property meals times are very flexible. You can also choose where you would like to eat; the breezy dining area, your room, by the pool or in the lounge.
Breakfast: We always love a place that wakes you up with a cup of ‘bed tea’ and the River House is no different. Once you’ve enjoyed your morning brew then it’s simply a matter of choosing between the two breakfast menus. The ‘Not so healthy’ menu features bacon, eggs cooked to order and beans, the ‘Healthy’ menu offers homemade museli with yoghurt and fresh fruit and the ‘Healthiest’ menu offers a fresh fruit salad. Traditional Sri Lankan breakfasts of plain or egg hoppers (a type of pancake made with rice flour, coconut milk and an egg) are also available although you must order them the night before. Hoppers are usually served with kiribath (a light, coconut curry) and sambol (spicy onion relish).
Lunch & Dinner: The lunch menu includes delicious salads and sandwiches as well as a range of pasta dishes. Dinner is a more formal affair (the staff are very elegantly turned out) and includes a selection of Indian, Sri Lankan and Thai dishes. The mouth-watering Sri Lankan curry dinner is their speciality and consists of around 10 dishes – definitely one to share!
Afternoon Tea: Tea is served daily on the lawn with four different types of brew on offer plus lots of yummy cake.
For Kids: There is no dedicated kids menu but the main menu (particularly for lunch) is very kid-friendly with pastas and sandwiches on offer. The staff are also very accommodating and willing to tailor dishes to kids’ palates.
Activities for Parents
Take a boat safari along the Madhu Gang and witness life on the 64 islets found along the river. Bring your binoculars; the bird life is incredible.
Stop off at Cinnamon Island and see how Sri Lanka’s favourite spice is produced.
Borrow a kayak and enjoy the serene silence as you paddle your way around the mangroves fields.
Lie by the pool with a good book and then enjoy a relaxing Ayurvedic massage in the comfort of your own room.
Take a day trip to Bentota and enjoy an afternoon on the beach or, if you’re feeling more active, visit Bentota Lagoon where you can windsurf and water ski.
Pay a visit to the Brief Gardens in Bentota, a 25-acre estate created in 1929 by landscape artist Bevis Bawa, the brother of renowned architect Geoffrey Bawa.
Journey to the town of Ambalangoda where Sri Lanka’s brightly coloured traditional masks and puppets are made.
Activities for Kids
Take a kayak out onto the river and cruise through the lush mangrove fields.
Head towards Bentota and one of the turtle hatcheries; you may even get to release the baby turtles into the ocean.
Bring your binoculars for a boat ride along Madu Ganga and see how many birds you can spot.
Visit the neighbouring Fish Farm located in the shallow waters of the river. Here you can see water monitor lizards, baby crocodiles, lobsters, crabs and more.
Borrow some board games and settle back onto the veranda for a game of scrabble or carom.
Bowl an over or two in a game of cricket; the hotel has all the equipment you need.
Browse the DVD library and then enjoy a quiet afternoon watching a movie.
A/C, common areas, handful of baby cots available, doctor on call, the suites can accommodate one extra bed, inter-connecting suites, laundry, no hotel shop but shops nearby, no spa but massages available, swimming pool, travel desk, complimentary WiFi.
At the time of writing rates were as follows:
Garden Suite: from US $286 – 373 per night
Jacuzzi Suite: from US $311 – 404 per night
Plunge Pool Suite: from US $373 – 485 per night
Whole Villa: from US $1400 – 2039 / per night
Children & extra beds are charged as follows:
Baby 2 years and under in Baby Cot: free
Child 3 to 11 years in Extra Bed: US $31
Adult or Child 12+ years in Extra Bed: US $62
Rates vary according to date of travel. Please contact the hotel directly for an exact quote based on your family’s requirements.
When to go:
The most popular time of year to visit Sri Lanka is from December to April. During these months the days are sunny and the sea serene. From May onwards the humidity rises and the rain begins to fall in stormy bursts until June. A second monsoon passes through from October to November, although the rainfall is unpredictable and showers never last for long. Visit at this time of year and make the most of discounted hotel rates! Book well in advance if you plan to visit over the Christmas period. This strip of tropical Sri Lanka enjoys an average temperature of 27C.
Location & Travel:
The River House is located in Balapitiya, near Bentota, on the South West coast of Sri Lanka.
Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport is Sri Lanka’s only international airport. From here destinations include India, Dubai, Malaysia and Singapore. Sri Lankan Airlines operates a daily air taxi service from Colombo to Koggala Lake, near Galle (1 hr). It is 120 km (3.5 hrs) from the airport to The River House. The hotel can arrange transfers for an additional charge.
The closest railway station is Balapitiya Railway Station, 3 km away. Daily trains run from Colombo Fort (the main train station in Colombo) stopping in Balapitiya on their way south to Galle. Apart from a handful of journeys, you cannot book train tickets online. Reservations for trains with reserved seating such as InterCity Express trains open 10-14 days in advance. For those with ‘unreserved seats’ you simply buy your ticket at the time of travel.
Balapitiya is approximately 120 km from the airport and takes approximately 3.5 hours to travel. The tiny coastal Galle Road links the beachside towns along the west coast although the new E01 Expressway, the island’s first motorway that opened at the end of 2011, has cut down the journey time considerably. The motorway does not currently link to the airport so you still have to travel through the congested eastern suburbs of Colombo before you reach the open road.
Contact The Hotel
For more information or to make a booking enquiry, visit the hotel’s own website by following the link below:
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Reviewed by: A member of the globetotting community
A member of the globetotting team has not yet visited the property. This review is from a member of our globetotting community (see links to our social networks above)
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