The Hotel Serendib, Bentota Beach

Before we go into details, here’s a short film that I made on arriving at the hotel. It’s not meant to be a glossy film showing the accomodation at it’s best, just an honest first impression on what the average visitor might encounter on arrival.

Location - The hotel is on the beach and less than 5 minutes walk from Bentota train station, which has regular connections to both Galle and Colombo. The bus terminal is less than a km away (2 minutes by tuk tuk taxi). The international airport is a 2 hour taxi drive/bus transfer to the north.

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Check In/Reception - The front of the Serendib looks quite ordinary – this is a hotel built to be viewed from the beach. But the lobby is spacious, flanking a large fish pool with trickling fountains, which, together with the cool towel and drink that was handed me as I checked in, helped me recover from my 3 hour train journey immediately.

The Room - From my room I looked down on the swimming pool beyond which, sheltered by palms, was the sandy beach (strewn with natural debris such as coconut palms) and the raging sea. Sometimes a chap from the village shinned up the trees to tap them for their toddy juice (which is then made into the local alcohol spirit).

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The room had wooden lattice window frames, wooden reclining chairs on the balcony and wood slatted doors and the feel of the place was ‘traditional’, although the interior and its appliances were modern. The power-points had UK-adapters already provided, and there was a flat screen TV and a DVD player (DVD’s could be requested at reception). My TV was often a bit jolty, missing half hour of the evening film/live football game at a time, and according to the French people wailing at the check in desk when I went to complain, channel 5 didn’t work either. It took a day or so for the TV to be sorted, but this wasn’t too much of a problem for me as the views were so good from my balcony I was just as happy sitting there; even at night it was wonderful just to sit there and listen to the waves roaring.

The bathroom was clean with constant hot water and plenty of towels, and the bed was very comfy and long enough for me (I am just over 6ft tall and often find my feet hanging over the edge of foriegn beds, but not here at the Serendib). A member of staff knocked at around 7pm every night to ask if I needed the room prepared for the evenings; mosquito net let down, sheets loosened, etc.

There was a fan and mosquito net so there were no real problems with insects at night, and also, the ceiling was high and the tops of the windows latticed and without glass so air could circulate, so even when it was around 30 degrees outside in the daytime, in the room it was cool.

There were also tea and coffee making facilities, and a mini bar. The fridge was useful; there’re plenty of local shops selling drinks and snacks for when the hotel drinks and snacks scene got boring.

I would say that mine was a very comfortable 3 star room, but with a 5 star location. 5 stars should also be awarded to the architects’ vision. The Hotel Serendib is nothing like the trashy beach hotels you find in many places, such as parts of the Gulf States and the West, where the sheer nastiness and total lack of imagination and creativity has to be seen to be believed. From the beach the Serendib really could be a 19th century tea-planters villa; it looks great and it feels comfy, cool and uncluttered with unnecessary extras.

The Restaurant & Pool - The buffet breakfast, laid out in the airy restaurant, was successful when it went ‘local’; there was an excellent coconut sambol and truly great fish curry with naan or dosa on offer.

There was good chocolate croissant, and a nice cup of tea too. But most other Western-style items were, compared to their local styple food, not a success. And the fruit was a disaster; passable papaya, ok pineapple, horrible mango. There were also soggy waffles, honey as thin as water, strawberry jam with a chemical taste, slimy scrambled eggs, hard sliced potatoes draped with lifeless onion, over-sweet baked beans, vegetables that were clearly leftovers from the previous nights dinner serving and the guy cooking the omelet’s had no clue of how to do it, so the outsides were burnt and the insides runny.

It was all so unnecessary. I often say this about hotels outside of the West, but why can’t they ignore the demands of a few unadventurous tourists (who want what they eat at home, everywhere they go, regardless of if it tastes any good or not) and shift from attempting Western food, badly, to doing a lot more local food, well? Sri Lankan dishes like string hoppers – locals eat them for breakfast all the time, so why can’t tourists? They taste great, and the local chefs will certainly know how to cook them properly, instead of attempting, and failing, at cooking baked beans, fried eggs and various other elements of the great British fry up. If I were running a hotel in Britain I wouldn’t try to serve desiccated coconut sambols, our regularly available supplies at home are such bad quality it wouldn’t be worth it. Instead I would concentrate on dishes I could get good fresh ingredients for, and that my chefs could actually cook. Decent fish and chips, Dover Sole, a fry up, a Sunday roast, etc. Perhaps hotels around the world should do the same and bring much more variation and quality back into the international dining experience.

If you’re staying here, I would suggest you forget the buffet and go a la carte sometimes, as the food is going to be better that way. Unfortunately there are few reliable, alternative dining options in Bentota village, and none I’d mention here save the excellent food at the LSR Nederland Hotel, which is about 2kms away on the lagoon, and for which you need to make a reservation if you are not staying there by turning up earlier in the day and speaking to the staff.

The pool was fantastic. Cleaned regularly, warm and wonderfully located. I loved it.

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General Notes and Impressions - The Hotel Serendib staff were friendly, introducing themselves discreetly when appropriate, and the hotels’ location was stunning. The beach is right there in front of the hotel, and it’s one of the best on the island. In season (December to April) the sea is very calm and watersports are on offer, such as diving and waterskiing, but when I was there in October the sea was rough and good only for paddling.

At sundown the beach was crowded with locals having picnics, a lovely friendly affair, with lots of good natured intermingling and sports action (cricket and football mostly). As a tourist you are welcomed and smiled at a lot, but not hassled.

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The swimming pool is of a good size and depth, and not overly chlorinely. The sunbeds are well maintained and there are plenty of them.

Bentota village, and the beach, seemed a very safe place to me. The hotel is not fenced from the beach side, although there is a security guard. I never felt threatened at all, and walked around all the time on my own at all hours of the day.

For the runner, there are quiet and scenic routes to be had over the main road and down into the Bentota village area. The hotel places maps of the area in each room so you can work out your route easily.

An hours walk along the beach from the hotel is the Turtle Sanctuary, where you can learn about sea turtles, handle them and donate money to help return young ones to the wild. Don’t be fooled by many places claiming to be the sanctuary, just walk past the first headland on the left of the hotel, and then walk almost to the next headland, about a mile away along the beach. Just before you reach it, and the hotel that crowns it, the sanctuary is on the left.

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The Hotel Serendib has been designed to let the air flow, so at times during the long storms that sweep in during October, as I sat on my veranda enjoying the downpours, the draft was such that I had to put my shirt on. It felt wonderful to be this cool in the tropics. The architect of the Hotel Serendib was Geoffrey Bawa, and I like what has come to be known as ‘The Bawa Style’, although the more snobbish Sri Lankans now sneer at it and refer to it as ‘more a lifestyle than architecture’. Well, that might be the case, and things are surely changing in Sri Lanka quickly, so maybe it’s going out of fashion, as things do, for no other reason than investors often demand change for the sake of change. They say that ‘The Bawa Style’ has been overdone, but I happen to like it’s look and functionality, and I like the lifestyle it represents. Perhaps that’s one of the reason that tourists come here, for the idea of the colonial lifestyle that they have in their mind, to stay in a hotel that is more than just another modern concrete block which, to be sure, a great many of the 5 star places are, however much they try to pretend otherwise (a huge glass frontage, marble foyer and exclusive spa area does not a great hotel make). The greatness of a hotel lies partly in the way that the structure interacts with the character of the local people. I think that Geoffrey Bawa judged the people here perfectly when he designed the Hotel Serendib, it fits in well with the look and feeling of Bentota.

Any Down Sides?
There was some train noise, first noticeable each day at around 6am, with the last one at around sundown. There are only about 8 trains per day but still, if you like a long lie in, bring ear plugs.

The sea here in October is almost never calm, and red ‘no swim’ flags dot the beach at all times. It will be the same at any beach you visit at this time on the island’s west coast. I went in up to my waist a few times and found the tide was terrifically strong; no good for any swimming.

In Summary - A truely superb location next to a lovely looking beach. More suited to couples and older people than young families, unless you want to get creative and leave the hotel often for day trips to places of interest (there seems to be little for youngsters to do on site). The western style buffet food isn’t great, so go a la carte if you can afford it. The hotel’s architecture is beautiful, and it’s probably one of the nicest sets of buildings you’ll see in the whole country. The rooms are comfy and well fitted out. In my opinion, the Hotel Serendib is definitely worth a stay.

To check out the Hotel Serendib and it’s current deals and prices please click below
http://www.serendibleisure.com/bookings/HotelSerendib.aspx

 

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