Barberyn Reef Ayurveda Resort, Sri Lanka
Charmingly carried out ayurveda by the beach
Best for: Solitary types serious about dealing with hard-to-shift health issues and prepared for a full body overhaul from the inside out.
Not for: Anyone looking for luxury, who doesn’t like their own company, or who is shy about revealing their issues or getting semi-naked with their therapist.
Sri Lanka’s first Ayurvedic retreat set up in 1968, Barberyn Reef is a leafy, coastal resort filled with trees of all shapes and descriptions that offers on-site twice-daily Sivananda yoga classes, all inclusive meals and a wonderful swimming pool set on beautiful Moragalla beach near Beruwala in the south of Sri Lanka, just an hour and a half north of historic Galle. Come here to relax and enjoy highly professional, individually tailored ayurvedic programmes at the functional clinic, which has a long and respected pedigree in healing and preventative traditional medicine and where all the treatments, medicine giving and activities run like clockwork. Doctor and therapists, all of whom seem to genuinely care about you, treat you like a beloved relative for whom they can’t do enough.
Effective, caring and thorough ayurvedic treatments, medicines and food, administered with friendly courtesy, and with as much explanation as you want.
The Sivananda group yoga classes won’t suit more experienced practitioners looking for an inspirational practice. If yoga is an important focus for you on an ayurveda retreat, book when visiting yoga teachers come to give more more dedicated yoga classes.
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Come here for highly effective ayurvedic programmes tailored to your needs, supported by optional but encouraged twice daily 90 minute yoga classes. Between times, rest by the pool, on the beach or in your room and give into the effects of the cure. There are also organised trips off site for the energetic and curious. Special group retreats run here from time to time.
Ayurveda programmes are the resort’s raison d’etre and the main purpose for coming here – On Ayuverda. Prioritising prevention as much as cure, your programme will be tailored to whatever you would like to focus on. Some people just want to feel better in themselves, and like the idea of cleansing and boosting their immune system in the hope of finding more energy or easing tension and lowering blood pressure. Others have more deep rooted or severe ailments – anything from infertility, arthritis, Parkinsons to cancer, dementia and more can be helped without the need for prescription drugs. Ideally the minimum amount of time you would stay would be two weeks, but they will accept guests with less time on their hands, and they definitely encourage you to stay even longer if you have long standing serious issues.
On your first morning you will see a doctor who will take a detailed physical and emotional history from you, and make an assessment of your overall health by examining your eyes, tongue, body type, hair, skin, pulse and blood pressure. Once the diagnosis is made, you embark on the personalised treatment plan devised by the team – a daily combination of massages, wraps, baths, and acupuncture, which takes up most of the morning, and occasionally some of the afternoon. After your individual massage you will often be laid out to dry, soak or marinade in the herb garden, an attractive leafy space where you will lie lined up in a row alongside your fellow guests similarly clad in their robes, eyes cucumbered, swaddled, and preparing for the next stage of their treatment.
The team will also give you various pills and potions to be taken at different times of the day. Everything is completely personalised and all the medication, powders and oils are pounded into their various forms just before being smeared on you or given to you to swallow. If you should get a cold or any other detox like symptoms, they will immediately tailor your treatments accordingly – for instance adding a steam bath or honey-infused anti-cold powders, and adjusting the type of massage you might experience that day. Any ayurveda programme can feel quite full on and may cause lethargy, headaches and other detox-type symptoms as the cure starts to take effect, so come prepared to rest and give in to the process. There are occasional lectures and demonstrations on the science of Ayurveda, and a well stocked library if you want to research it further.
The sciences of ayurveda and yoga are intricately linked philosophically, and attendance at the twice daily 90 minute group yoga classes is highly encouraged to support and intensify the effects of your other treatments. The 6am class is for all levels, while in the evening beginners and intermediates are catered for in separate classes. The style is Sivananda, a gentle, introductory approach, taught methodically, safely and with good attention to alignment to keep the restful, low energy atmosphere that the treatments engende. This is good practice and great for beginners, but might feel slightly repetitive and uninspiring to those with more experience. Visiting yoga teachers occasionally come to offer a week or ten days of more dedicated yoga classes so if yoga is really your focus, make sure you book for those dates.
The resort is right on a truly stunning, long, wide beach and also has a huge salt water pool, so swimming opportunities are plentiful and wonderful, although discouraged directly after the treatments, as is direct sunlight – this is far from being a sunbathing and beach type holiday. Go for walks along the beach, watching the surf and surfers. If you choose to join them, plenty of beach stalls will rent you a surf or boogy board. Take a mask and snorkel – there’s a small reef and a few interesting fish in the small lagoon right in front of the resort.
There are live music or dance performances during mealtimes, performed by local musicians to immerse you in the whole Sri Lankan vibe, while the film nights which take place a few nights a week allow you to get your fix of Hollywood blockbusters if that is more your thing. You are also free to watch films from their dvd collection at any point. Every few days the resort also lays on bus trips to nearby attractions such as the fascinating Dutch colonial fortress city of Galle for shopping and history, wildlife-spotting boat trips through mangrove forests, or aah-inducing visits to the local turtle hatchery. Most of these are complimentary and are generally timed to fit round the ayurvedic schedule so you won’t miss out.
To treat yourself, an on site tailor can run you up a new outfit, or copy an old one, using local cottons and silks. Each guest gets one free beauty treatment per week alongside the daily Ayurvedic massages and wraps. The list of options is not long but you can choose from a facial, mani, pedi, threading or reflexology. The products, like those used in your medical treatments, are all grown on site and mixed by hand. You can always pay for more if you can find time amongst all your other treatments.
There are four room types to choose from, categorised really on how good a view you get – whether that be of the garden, pool or ocean – and whether you get your own terrace with chairs and/or sun lounger. The single storey rooms closest to the beach have wonderful views from their private terraces, while the three or four storey buildings behind peek over their heads, also getting a vista, but not all these have balconies on which to sit and linger. Most rooms are spacious and scrupulously clean, with very comfortable wooden half canopied beds complete with mosquito net, plain grey floor tiles, bare white walls and solid wooden furniture – a desk, coffee table, some wicker-seated easy chairs. It’s good quality and you have everything you need, but it feels slightly spartan, with functionality trumping design. The beautiful, traditional wooden doors and overhead ceiling fan nod towards colonial times and local craftwork, so you won’t forget you are in Sri Lanka. Some rooms feel harshly lit or gloomy – ask for one with plenty of natural light. You are unlikely to spend a huge amount of time in your rooms, but if you’re after sumptuous luxury this is not the place to find it. Wifi is intermittent.
The basic ensuite shower rooms have plain white walls and white tiles. Nothing is lacking, everything works, there is enough space to arrange toiletries and the shower is pretty powerful, but the towels are on the thin side, and the shower curtain is the old fashioned kind that tends to billow in and stick to you whilst you shower. It’s all perfectly clean and comfortable, but not a place you’ll want to linger. You are provided with shower gel, shampoo and soap, all of which come in little re-fillable earthenware pots and have been created on site. You will need to bring your own conditioner – and this is actually very important as your hair will take quite a beating, what with all the oil massages and salt water swimming.
Other spaces to be:
There are plenty of sun loungers throughout the resort, some in quiet, shady spots where you can be alone, others more sociably grouped together and facing the beach or the pool.
Take lots of old pairs of knickers as they will get oil-soaked and ruined during the treatments. Bring lots of good books to read, or things to do that make you happy and better able to while away the time. Mug up on precious stones before you go, for Sri Lanka is renowned for them and different jewellers showcase their wares each night in the resort – it’s worth knowing what you want, and what you might pay at home in order to compare quality and price.
When to Go
November to April is the Sri Lankan winter and generally considered the best time to visit, as the summer months can get very hot and humid. May to August is the monsoon season.
The restaurant is a long, oblong building with a low ceiling and space for the live musicians at one end and buffet tables at the other. You eat at wooden, tablecloth-clad and formally laid tables lined up in neat rows, served by fairly silent waiters. It all feels rather like a school cafeteria and isn’t a place to linger – most people come to eat alone and leave swiftly after.
Food is tasty, almost completely vegetarian, apart from one fish dish at the buffet, and everything is meticulously labelled with its ayurvedic qualities so you can make educated choices as to what suits you. Impressively, two Ayurvedic doctors sit alongside the buffet ready to advise and answer questions should you need them. Breakfast and lunch are buffet style, as are Wednesday and Saturday evenings. Other nights of the week you will be served a three course meal of their choosing, depending on your treatment programme.
You’ll always find chutneys and sambols (flavoursome salsa-type Sri Lankan specialities) and loads of veggies raw and cooked, and a different range of tasty curries at every meal, breakfast included. If you can’t face the curry at breakfast, there is also porridge, toast and jam, and fruits. At lunch there are also deserts, but if you are on one of the weight loss diets you will be warned off these, and on the non-buffet dinner nights you will be given fruit instead of desert. The food served on the non-buffet nights is slightly more Western – veggie lasagne or veggie burger for instance – but this is rather less successful in execution than when they stick to the more traditional Sri Lankan food of the buffets.
There is no alcohol, and no caffeine other than green tea. A few of the dishes contain dairy, and there is some cheese available on the buffet, the occasional pasta dish and some bread at breakfast, but it’s all easily avoidable if you are trying to go dairy or gluten free. Between 10.30 and 11.30 a fruit juice is served by the pool, and from 3.30 to 5 there is tea and cake in a smaller pavilion overlooking the ocean. The rest of the time there is a herbal tea always on the go in the lobby, and you are given big flasks of hot water in your room if you’d like to make your own (take your own teabags though).
Barberyn Reef grows its own organic fruit and veg for the restaurant, as well as the medicinal plants used in the treatments.
Their philosophy is that “sustainability goes beyond the economic, social, and environmental pillars, and encompasses the sanctity of life, human consciousness and inner peace”. All the staff are local, many locally trained by the Barberyn’s own Institute of Ayurveda.
Barberyn Reef Ayurveda Resort, 6th Lane, Beruwala, Sri Lanka