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Bentota began life as a settlement built around a small Portuguese fort on the estuary of the Bentota River. In the 19th century, the British converted the fort into a rest house, where civil servants would come to relax in the grounds under the shade of the tamarind trees. Still welcoming those who crave a break, it’s now one of Sri Lanka’s most popular beach resorts.

Bentota is spread along Sri Lanka’s west coast, with a cluster of hotels to the north that gradually thin out as you travel south. The lengthy stretches of golden sand are shaded by corkscrew palms, the occasional granite outcrop, and little else.

While this is a popular beach resort, there are no beach bars or restaurants lining the sand, just hotels, villas and luxury resorts tucked behind the palms at discrete distances from each other.

Club Villa, BentotaTake a long walk along the beach and you might notice that many of the buildings share similar aesthetics. They’re the work of Geoffrey Bawa, a Sri Lankan architect who created tropical modernism, a blend of modern minimalism and traditional design.

The 17-room Club Villa is one of Bawa’s works, designed to feel like a home away from home. Bawa sought to reduce the barrier between the indoors and outdoors, which you’ll see here in a series of alfresco terraces, balconies and courtyards mediating between the rooms and gardens.

Lunuganga Estate, Bawa’s country retreat, is a short drive inland. The house is a series of modernist cubes, arranged within a series of courtyards and ambitiously landscaped gardens (he cut the top off a nearby hill to give himself a better view). The gardens are open to visitors by appointment.

You can also visit the home of his brother, Bevis Bawa, who, in his retirement from civil servitude, also had a stab at design. Featuring playful artworks and a statue that’s a little too pleased to see you, his gardens take a more fantastical, relaxed approach.

Saman Villas, BentotaThe hotels along Bentota’s beach range from the small, relaxed Club Villa to expansive resorts offering water sports and activities galore. The selection of exclusive luxury options includes Saman Villas, a collection of two-storey villas, each with its own plunge pool and butler.

While the beaches themselves are relatively quiet, there’s a collection of restaurants, cafés and shops inland. You can eat Sri Lankan curries in candlelit courtyards, at Indian restaurants set in old shophouses and homemade ice cream served in coffee shops.

Your main reason to come here is for rest and relaxation, but there are some activities available. You could kayak along the Bentota River or visit some of the region’s traditional mask-making workshops.

Much of Sri Lanka’s toddy is tapped here, and brewed into arrack, a fiery spirit. Toddy is the extracted flower sap of palm trees, and you’ll often see the head of someone collecting it poking up from the crown of a tree.

Because it’s only two hours south of Colombo, Bentota works well if you’re after a place to charge your batteries at the beginning of a trip or somewhere to unwind at the end. It’s also about an hour from the Dutch fortress city of Galle, with its terracotta-tiled buildings, churches and artisan boutiques.

Best time to visit Bentota

Generally, the best time to go to Bentota is from October to April, when it’s warm and dry — although, be prepared for the occasional shower. May and June are quieter and better value, albeit with a few more showers. July is when the east-coast monsoon rains hit, which tail off in September.

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