Sansa was just six months old but had been on two overnight trips already. But this was the first time we traveled after she started eating solid food, her first two night stay at a hotel, and the first time she was going outside the southern province. With many firsts like that, it is understandable we were a little anxious when we decided that we wanted to do this anyway.
For those of you who don’t know us, we are keen birdwatchers, with over 200 birds each in out bird counts in Sri Lanka, (for non-bird watchers, that is just above average in a country with the total is little less than 400 species and some 100 of that no one had ever seen) Kitulgala is always on the top of our must-go places.
But the destiny has it, we never actually made it. So when we came across a promotional price (mind you we were not paid or offered a free stay to write this review) for Palmstone retreat, we were more than pleased to take the chance. Even though we always knew we are not the adventure duo, we used to be with baby Sansa, but we took our chances anyway.
First of all, let me get this thing straight. Traveling to Kitulgala is not easy. The roads are narrow with many bends. And if you are someone who gets motion sickness, you may want to swallow all your vomit pills before you get into your vehicle. But that is just the fun part, wait till you turn from the main road and head up the bumpy road through the rubber estate to get to the hotel. This road is not suitable for the vehicles with lower ground clearance, and if you are driving one, you can park your car in a place in the primary way and travel by the pickup of the Palmstone retreat.
We went in our X-trail (though everyone else thinks that I should sell this old jeep – it’s a T30 – without spending a fortune on maintaining it), and I was delighted we did. The moment we turned off the main track, we encountered this massive thunderstone that it was virtually impossible to see more than a few feet ahead.
The X-trail held up well, and after another bumpy ride, we arrived at the hotel. The first thing we noticed was how isolated these places were, but how modern and luxurious it looked from the primary site. The staff was super friendly from the moment we set foot there, and they arranged a tuk-tuk to take us and our luggage to our chalet.
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If you are coming from the Colombo side, you have to use the Colombo Hatton main road. The distance is only 105km, but the narrow and winding roads will take you some 3 hours to get to the property with the final 5km taking you off the main street in a bumpy yet scenic road through a rubber plantation.
Palmstone retreat has only three chalets, each built along the stream that flows by the bottom of the property. The cottages are away from one another that you cannot see the balcony of one from another, ensuring total privacy.
Each chalet has two adjoint suites, which are connected by a small corridor, separated by a locked door. The two suites in each cottage are of two types, one called the Araliya suite, and the other requested the Nelum suite. The bedrooms are the same, but the Araliya suite has a plunge pool on the balcony where there is only a seating area in the Nelum suite. The significant two-person jacuzzi in the Nelum suite has a sauna in the Araliya suite, spearing the two types.
If you are staying more than one night, we recommend you to try both types, as moving from one to the other is easy as opening the middle door. And if two couples are staying together, we also recommend you to book the two-room types in one chelate so you can move through the doorway from one room to the other.
We stayed for two nights, and for the first night, we booked the Nelum suite, and the next the Araliya suite. The bedroom comes with a full-length glass pain overlooking the forest and the stream. There is a large seating area, which we sued as a play area for baby Sansa. The bed was large enough for three of us and was super comfortable that we slept so well on both nights.
The bathrooms were large, modern, and spotlessly clean like the rest of the room. There were two washbasins and mirrors, leaving no room to guess that this place is for romantic couples. And we highly recommend you to try this out for a honeymoon or a romantic getaway, but with the slight difficulty in access, we believe its best to stay more than one night.
On the starring end of the property s the lobby, which then opens to a dining area, that has a few tables and sofas to relax. The dining area opens to the main pool that overlooks the garden. The main adult pool has two smaller plunge pools on either side, which can be turned in to jacuzzis and also baby pools.
From the lobby, footpaths are leading up to the chalets. The trails are well paved with sand and are spacious enough to take the baby stroller. These paths illuminate at night. On either side of the tracks are large trees, which makes it feel like you are walking along a real rainforest.
To get a better idea of the setting, you can watch the following video done by Nicky De Silva.
Palmstone retreat will allow you to get away from your busy life back at home. The cellular signals are not all that strong – even though we managed to make a few calls using our Dialog sims – and the 4G networks are virtually none existent. You will get some 3G connection from Dialog – we did not try any other system – but it is not going to be anywhere as fast.
The Palmstone Retreat offers a lot of outdoor activities to its visitors. Understandably, we were not the best couple to ask for outdoor activities as we were mostly stuck indoors feeding baby Sansi. And in our defense, it rained the whole day on our first day of stay, and even on the second evening, there was a slight drizzle. Ya, we needed some excuses not to go out.
If you are a couple, we suggest you try out the waterfall hike to the Mannekathi Ella. Its some half an hour hike away from the hotel property, and you will get a guide to show you the way. The waterfall will be users, and you can have in the natural pool while enjoying the small picnic the hotel will arrange on your behalf.
Other than that, you can also try white water rafting – which is famous in Kitulgala – birdwatching, abseiling up a waterfall, jumping into natural pools, rainforest hike, canoeing, white water kayaking, and many more.
Inside the hotel, you can try the pool table located at the main building, or use the main pool, and cycle along the plantations.
We also recommend you to read the blog post by Marina Akurugoda, in which she mentions some of the activities available at Palmstone Retreat. You can read her blog here.
Having said all the good things about Palmstone retreat, if we have one complaint, it is the limited options in food. They do not offer buffets but instead will give you a set menu to choose from between two to three main meals and desserts. The soup and side dishes will have no options.
We had two lunches and two diners in our suit and went out to the main restaurant for breakfast on both days. Overall the food was of good quality, it tasted fine, and the portions were more than enough for the two of us. The local cuisine – rice and curry – was much better compared to some of the western dishes we tried, so we can recommend you to try the rice and curry.
We do not disqualify this hotel based on its food, but if the food is one of your number one concerns, you better be looking at some other property, as this is not going to worth the money you will be spending if you consider just food alone.
Staff and service
The team at the Palmstone retreat are few, but they offer an exceptional service. From the moment we stepped into the moment we left, they did their best to make us feel at home. All the staff members were super friendly, and I have to give a special thanks to them for taking the trouble to arrange a birthday cake for Dinee, with very little input on my side.
We do not mind talking to the hotel staff in English, as in most star class hotels they usually speak in English. But the staff at Palmstone Retreat were more than happy to stick to Sinhalese, and as natives, we do not have any problem talking to a fellow countryman in our native tongue. I may be a plus point to some and not so for others, but we love it when the staff takes it upon themselves to talk in Sinhalese, still be very polite and respectful to the customers.
We always got the food on time, and even for the small staff, there was still someone to answer the phone at the reception and the room service extension. The staff was super friendly on sight and over the phone, and we felt quite at ease.
Best time to visit
Kitulgala is in the heart of the wet zone. And Palmstone Retreat is in the middle of an actual rainforest. Therefore, you can always anticipate a downpour in these parts, and the weather is as unpredictable as it can be.
For us on our first day, it rained the whole day. When we had given up all hope on seeing sunlight, it was sunny for the most part pf the next two days. It was as if there was no rain on the first day. But having lived all our lives in the wet zone of Sri Lanka, we know we were quite lucky. When the monsoon hits, it can rain for days at times.
So the best months to visit will be the dry months of January to April. May to September in the southwestern monsoon, which brings heavy rains to Kitulgala. During the other times, there can be occasional rains, and in rainforests, it usually rains every day.
Overall we were impressed with the Palmstone retreat. We loved the heated plunge pool, the peaceful nature of the surroundings, and the superb service of the friendly staff. We would have loved to visit the waterfall or take a hike to see the birds, but with a six-month-old baby, I think we managed just subtle enough.
On the final verdict, we highly recommend this place for couples seeking a romantic escape. We can recommend this place for families with small children, but you must be seeking some tempering relaxation and not the kind of high adrenaline activities the Kitulgala is famous. Be a little mindful of the food, as you won’t get much of a selection expected of a five-star establishment.
Visit the official hotel website here.