Niyagama House review | holistic hideaway, Sri Lanka
Aerial yoga & wellbeing villa in a lush tea plantation
In a nutshell: Niyagama House is a gorgeous healthy hideaway, the home of German yoga teacher Elke and her Sri Lankan husband Chaminda who built their elegant villa with its own tea plantation as a retreat where they could share yoga, wellbeing and nature with their guests. Elke’s background in dance and architecture are present throughout the house and the activities on offer, and Niyagama stays true to Sri Lankan style, employs local people and has its own tea plantation. Less than 10km inland from the fortified city of Galle, it’s easy to reach yet feels far away from the often bustling, busy energy of the south coast. Stay B&B, half or full board and drop into hatha vinyasa or aerial yoga classes, meditation and book massage, or join one of Elke’s 3 or 6 night retreats which include classes, treatments and other feel good treats.
Who it’s best for: Niyagama will appeal to anyone seeking a relaxed approach to yoga and wellness in Sri Lanka. The 3 night/4 day retreats are great for anyone who has travelled around the island and wants to recoup and relax before heading home with access wellbeing, a super outdoor pool, nature trails and a well thought out healthy Sri Lankan Asian menu. Those not already exhausted by the subject of tea will enjoy the experience of the plantation setting and the opportunity to learn more about the process. We met couples, solo travellers and friends in twos; ex-pats living in the Asia and the Middle East, and professionals from Colombo in their 30’s upwards.
Who it’s not for: Anyone looking for more serious Ayurveda or who wants to stay at an uber hotel such as Aman or Anantara. Families with children under 12.
What you can do: Get up for a sunrise meditation with Elke on the roof terrace, where sleeping monkeys are often cradled at eye-level in the tree tops opposite. Then there’s a short break before yoga when you can have ginger tea (or whatever tea you fancy) sent to your room before you head down to the lovely light-filled studio for a 90 minute yoga class. Breakfast is served until 10.30am, so you have time for a dip beforehand and can take your time over the splendid menu.
Spend the day relaxing by the pool – the copper-silver ionisation system in the pool purifies the water without using chlorine, leaving it soft, odourless and tasteless. Venture out for the easy but gorgeous 5km circuit around the plantation, take a tuk-tuk into nearby Galle (a UNESCO site) for shopping or go to the beach at Unawatuna. It’s also worth taking the official tour of Niyagama House’s plantation where tea, pineapple, red chilli, peppercorn and cinnamon are growing. Tea pickers can be heard rustling through the plants and colourful birds play in the trees. The 4pm class might be aerial or yin yoga, a mindful self compassion session or even conscious dance, and a massage can be fit in anytime before dinner.
Where you stay: Niyagama House is certainly stylish and elegant, but it’s easy to feel at home here as Elke herself is a relaxed and friendly host, and lives onsite with her husband, who takes a ‘behind-the-scenes’ role. There are seven guest rooms set around an atrium, inside and outside dining areas, a relaxation space with sofas and books opening onto a deep balcony, and a landscaped garden that seems to blend right into the surrounding jungle. Bedrooms are light, spacious and graciously decorated, with comfortable beds and all the Link Natural Ayurveda bathroom products you might need. There’s an overall feeling of careful attention to detail and quality throughout with brightly coloured hand-woven Sri Lankan-made fabrics coming from the to-die-for store Barefoot.
How was it for us: Ours was a mother and daughter trip, a three-night retreat half way through a two week trip through Sri Lanka. The island is bigger than you might imagine and can involve long train and car rides, so it felt great to take some time out from moving and sight-seeing to simply stay put and indulge ourselves in a healthy way. We loved ‘just being’ at the villa, taking Elke’s well taught and fun classes together and generally feeling looked after. The informative plantation tour was a highlight; we tasted, touched and learnt about the growing process of the different plants, and got closer than before to the aged tea-pickers with their lovely gapped toothed smiles who we’d been intrigued by throughout our trip. We slept and ate well, and both felt that we could have stayed a few days more to do some more hikes and generally hang around in our sarongs reading, pondering over the dinner menu and spotting monkeys.
What we took home: A desire to practice more aerial yoga, and perhaps even return for a aerial yoga teacher training which are being held yearly. We went onwards feeling pampered, healthy and lifted from the experience.
Would we go back: If I find myself in Sri Lanka again I’ll certainly drop in for a few days to ‘fly’ in those aerial silks and swim lengths in the gorgeous pool as tropical birds swoop above me. Elke’s hospitality made us feel like old friends who’d always be welcome at her home, which is an important factor for a queenly stay.
Food view: Simply delish. Elke contracted a Luxembourg chef based in Vietnam to come to Niyagama House and give a two week training programme to her kitchen team, and there is plenty of choice on the Sri Lankan Asian fusion Ayurvedic inspired menu, each dish creatively presented and the quantities served just right.
I would start my ‘break feast’ with a fresh green juice and houmous with veggie sticks or local fruits and then switch between homemade granola with buffalo curd, and eggs with a small selection of their freshly baked breads. Each day there were Sri Lankan specials to be tried such as Pittu – small cylinders of steamed red rice flour and coconut, served with a spicy sambol – perfect for kapha types like me who benefit from some fire in the morning!
Similarly at dinner you can choose from the standard menu, the daily changing menu or additional specials. We could have eaten our weight in any of the salads we tried and the tea infused fish was one of our favourite main courses. After two plates we felt so satisfied that dessert was just not required!
What’s queenly: What’s truly special here is that you feel like you are on retreat without being in a group, so you really feel able to eat alone and just do exactly as you please.
What’s lowly: If we left our window open at night we could hear air-con units, slightly overpowering the comforting night-time sounds of the forest. The outside dining area would benefit from more lights, and also softer ones, in the evening.
Insider tip: Take advantage of their driver for transfers and tuk-tuk for local visits. Bear in mind that if you say yes to the masseuse massaging your chest, your breasts will get a good going over!
Price with a companion: From USD75 per person per night, sharing a double room, including breakfast, service charge and taxes in low season. A three night retreat costs from USD398 per person, including yoga and meditation, and goodies such as a 20 minute welcome massage and treatment discounts.
Price going solo: From USD150 per room per night in low season, including breakfast, service charge and taxes.
Value for Money: Excellent, for the location, quality of the venue and teaching. If you fancy a retreat but your travel partner doesn’t, then they pay the ‘non-yoga buddy’ rate rather than the full retreat price.
Reviewed by Sarah Garbett
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