There’s more to ÀNI Sri Lanka than meets the eye

Behind impeccable service and a multitude of offerings, luxury travel accommodation ÀNI Sri Lanka has a deep story to tell

Editor’s note: See other Escape Plan stories here.

Imagine my surprise when I discover that the private beachfront resort I am staying in was initially conceived as an art academy. It is not that the two-hectare property with its 15 villa suites, two 25m infinity pools, and full-sized tennis court previously sat as a school—nor was it designed to be one. Allow me to go back to the beginning of my experience at Àni Sri Lanka for context.

A three-hour drive from Colombo‘s Bandaranaike International Airport to the southernmost, palm-fringed tip of the country certainly sets the scene for an idyllic coastal retreat. The first encounter upon arrival treats the senses to the views and sounds of powerful waves on the Indian Ocean. Paths wind to the villas, which are split into Classic, Family and Split-Level suites, with some connected via a shared entrance to enable flexible sleeping arrangements. This is where it gets interesting.

One of eight Split-Level Suites. Photo by Àni Sri Lanka

What’s special about the Àni experience is that it is solely reserved for one guest group, accommodating anywhere between six and 30 guests in a single booking. The understated luxury is further expressed in the individual plunge pools and outdoor rain showers many of the rooms are equipped with, alongside expansive private terraces fitted with daybeds.

The same tropical modernism of dark wood, brass rod and woven- bamboo runs across seamless open-air areas. Framed by verdant foliage and cooled by the sea breeze, there’s an atmosphere of calm and domestic comfort. You come to realise that not only is the estate private, in that you don’t share the grounds with random tourists, but that it is tailor-made for one to find personal respite.

A dining pavilion. Photo by Ben Richards

However, in the spirit of creating social memories, the all-inclusive vacation entails an Ayurvedic spa, yoga classes, tennis lessons, aqua aerobics and fitness training at the gym. This naturally encompasses dining, which extends to a free-flow of drinks-alcoholic or otherwise-freshly baked pastries and delicious homemade sorbet.

You are spoilt on where to spend mealtimes as Àni makes an occasion of every menu. Complete with decor unique to each location that rivals picturesque wedding set-ups, your choice of set up could be by the open kitchen, banquet-style under a pergola, al fresco on the broad lawn or even in the pool. Lit candles and dinnerware shimmering off a rippled reflection, I’ll admit, is great for social media.

After the feast? Indulge in supper by moonlight at an outdoor movie screening, a round of snooker at the games room or get competitive on the shuffleboard court-cocktail in hand.

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served in different settings across the resort, with every menu tailored by a private chef according to the preferences of each guest. Photo by Ben Richards

Besides wellness, additional activities can be arranged. Take a tuk tuk tour past paddy fields to the weekend market, discover the intricacies of Sri Lankan cuisine at a cooking class or simply borrow a mountain bike to explore the surroundings at your own pace. The evening cultural show with live instrumental music is a favourite among guests.

The whole process is so hassle-free and that’s a likely outcome of having stellar service. Sure, there’s a pool butler team on standby, speedy laundry returns garments cleaned, pressed and hung in the wardrobe, and luggage packing or unpacking services can be requested. And fret not about the little ones; if the waterslides aren’t enough to keep them entertained, a dedicated children’s programme and babysitting service are available up to eight hours daily. Yet, it’s truly the warm hospitality the staff exude that trumps all.

The epitome of luxury is not extravagance, but the substance beyond fancy smoke and mirrors. Quality service manifests in intuitive nuances; the endless supply of refreshing cold towels and coolers presented with a shy, tireless smile, to knowing you by name, matched with your suite and preferences.

Àni Art Academies is a 10-minute drive from Àni Sri Lanka. Photo by Ben Richards

With all that going on, it’s almost enough to make you forget about the art academy tale I began with. It is actually at the heart of the Àni brand.

While established in the same year, Àni was originally conceptualised as non-profit art academies by philanthropist Tim Reynolds. Inspired by Irving Stone’s biographical novels about Michelangelo and Vincent van Gogh, specifically the discourse that both men were diligent achievers rather than innate geniuses, it ignited his desire to provide educational opportunities to those who otherwise had none.

An intensive, multi-year curriculum developed by artist Anthony J Waichulis (who also taught Reynolds) is offered to local aspiring artists with zero fees. From Dominican Republic to Anguilla, every Àni resort is within proximity to its art academy, where each property is built to serve the community. A visit to the academy is a revelation of the discipline driving the craft, giving depth to the pieces exhibited at the resort. When any of the meaningful artworks are purchased, full proceeds go directly to the artist.

Finally, to answer your unspoken query, Àni comes from the Swahili word andjani for ‘the journey ahead’. An apt name for the purposed collective and the countless creative minds it empowers to forge a future with.