Go Back
At first glance, ANI Private Villas Sri Lanka looks like a typical Insta-perfect luxury resort. But the surprising reality is that a stay here offers rewards on a far deeper level.

In a simple concrete hut in the southern Sri Lankan district of Matara, a line of students sit at their desks, intense concentration etched on their faces as they move their pencils across the page.

Shading with rhythmic precision, they conjure shapes so realistic, they look ready to be picked straight off the paper.

Inscribed on the wall are the words ‘Effort creates talent’, concisely summing up the approach at ANI Art Academies Sri Lanka.

Here, the goal is to teach these ambitious kids, from all over the country, the fundamentals of drawing.

Once they master this particular skill, they will progress to the next, tackling increasingly intricate images until they graduate. Each receives a full scholarship, along with room and board if required.

As Dean Tim Jahn explains, some will become artists, some teachers and some graphic designers.

Even if they go on to do something entirely unrelated, they will still have developed those valuable skills of focus, attention to detail and self-discipline.

The school in Sri Lanka is one of a six ANI Art Academies in locations around the world co-founded by Jahn, Curriculum Developer Anthony Waichulis and Tim Reynolds, the Founder and President of ANI Private Villas.

And while the techniques employed may look mechanical, it’s a tried-and-tested method that clearly delivers results.

In the evening, we are visited by a handful of students who conduct a life drawing exercise at the villas.

After they determinedly sketch their stock-still subject, their work is put on display in an elegant gallery-style setting for us to ponder with a freshly shaken cocktail in hand.

Meaningful Connections

Far more than a crowd-pleasing add-on, the academies were established at the same time as the private villas in 2010, with both intrinsically interlinked.

The academies are financially supported by the nearby luxurious private resorts, which have been carefully designed as dedicated spaces for the affluent to spend quality time with their favorite people.

In return, resort guests can visit the local schools, meet the aspiring artists and view their art. They can even commission artworks – the ultimate holiday souvenir.

A dawn stroll along the shore delivers sightings of vast turtle tracks and fishermen who cast their nets out to sea from the shallows.

It’s a concept born of the art lessons former Wall Street trader Reynolds took under Jahn and of his desire to enable a new generation of creative talent. In 2012, Reynolds retired from the trading firm he had founded to concentrate on ANI.

Book out a minimum of six villas (the resort sleeps up to 30 guests), and the entire resort is yours, along with a wide range of inclusions.

At ANI Sri Lanka, that includes everything from cocktails, fine cuisine and cooking classes whipped up by versatile chef Cyril Human and his team, to ayurvedic treatments from in-house wellness expert Manjula Wijekoon and tennis lessons, yoga or personal training sessions with Nilantha Kumarage.

A Unique Location

This stretch of the southern Sri Lankan coastline was ravaged by a tsunami in 2004, with many of the local villages relocated as a result of the destruction.

Today, it remains pristine and wild. A dawn stroll along the shore delivers sightings of vast turtle tracks and fishermen who cast their nets out to sea from the shallows, while traditional wooden fishing boats return with the morning’s catch. Tourists are few and far between.

Lanky coconut palms fringe the coastline almost defiantly, claiming the wilderness as their own. But a reminder of humankind’s constant interference comes in the form of the washed up plastic bottles, stranded by waves that crash haphazardly against the shore, revealing a palette of rusty hues as they wash away.

As day fades into night, the wild roar of the ocean against a backdrop of intense darkness provides a hypnotic lullaby.

It’s rough, but swimmable in certain spots – although General Manager Dinesh warns us against swimming unaccompanied.

The juicy sunsets are best enjoyed from my private plunge pool, sucking on the fresh coconut that was thoughtfully placed in my mini bar earlier.

As day fades into night, the wild roar of the ocean against a backdrop of intense darkness provides a hypnotic lullaby.

In the mornings, being awakened from my huge bed by the sun coming up over the Indian Ocean, stretching endlessly away toward distant Antarctica with nothing in between, is an alarm clock like no other.

Local Exploration

It would be easy never to leave this tropical sanctuary, with its two pools, waterslides, libraries and even shuffleboards, but that wouldn’t be in the true spirit of travel.

Before it gets too hot, we wander along the sand to the nearby Buddhist temple on the waterfront where the priest blesses us and ties a white blessing thread around our wrists under the watchful gaze of brightly painted stone statues of both Buddha and Hindu deity Hanuman.

We meet Buddha once again near Dikwella – a short tuk-tuk ride from the resort. Only this time he is 50 meters high, making him the largest seated Buddha in Sri Lanka.

But even more fascinating are the dilapidated effigies crammed into the crumbling temple beside him, dating back more than 250 years.

Another tuk-tuk ride takes us into the nearby village to stock up on local produce for our cooking class later. Chef Cyril guides us around the small selection of stalls, taking care to point out any local fruits and vegetables that we may not have encountered before.

Stocked up, we head back to the resort, where he shows us how to prepare a Sri Lankan chicken curry before talking us through a feast of local specialities, which we greedily devour.

Kicking Back

For the rest of our stay, the experiences come to us. A local cinnamon peeler demonstrates how he nimbly strips back the bark from the branches to produce aromatic quills.

We take turns with a palmist who takes an intriguing look into our futures, delivering mostly good news among a few stern warnings.

By night, dancers take to the lawn in traditional costume and masks, using vigorous drumming and flaming batons in a cultural showcase.

Occasionally monkeys gather up high on the villa roofs, watching us mischievously. An elegant peacock stalks the grounds.

For many, the joy of travel lies largely in its creation of connection to a place, to its people or to a purpose. And on all those fronts, this place certainly delivers.

At ANI Private Villas Sri Lanka, we are cloistered away in an enclave of pure indulgence and natural beauty, but the sense of place is very much present. That is due, in no small part, to the people that work here who bring the resort to life.

Modern luxury is no longer simply about flash trimmings and idle excess. Today’s well-heeled traveler wants authenticity and immersion too, even if they don’t necessarily want the risks and uncertainty that can often come with it.

For many, the joy of travel lies largely in its creation of connection to a place, to its people or to a purpose. And on all those fronts, this place certainly delivers – with a liberal dose of barefoot luxury.

Tourism Bouncing Back

Sri Lanka’s tourism industry is showing signs of a recovery after visitor numbers were obliterated by the economic crisis, with operators hopeful it will gather momentum as travelers realize the destination is open for business.

April arrivals were 67.5 percent higher than the same month last year, climbing to 105,498 visitors, according to Sri Lanka Tourism.

Henry Fitch, CEO of Teardrop Hotels, tells The CEO Magazine that while positive signs are being seen, they are coming at a much slower rate than hoped.

“There’s still a perception that it’s unsafe, but as you travel around, you see that is really not the case,” he says.

Teardrop has a number of properties across the destination including Wallawwa on the outskirts of Colombo and Fort Bazaar in Galle.

Group Sales Manager Manoj Devaraj agrees that occupancies are headed in the right direction, but he highlights the need to get the word out. He reveals that Teardop is predominantly targeting Asian markets, with nearby India in particular.

Back to top