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As I trudged my achy legs up the stairs to the lobby of Aliya Resort & Spa, I prepared for what would be my grand entrance. Sweaty, jet-lagged and fresh off a full-day hike up to Sri Lanka’s nearby Sigiriya fortress, I was anything but a sight for sore eyes.
But what was waiting at the top of the stairs sent a new surge of energy through my tired body — I was suddenly face to face with a massive, multicolored Sri Lankan elephant.
Though not a living, breathing creature, this elephant — perched on the wall as it kept watch over the sprawling, open-air lobby — was no less majestic than the real thing.
Wild elephants are ubiquitous in the south Asian country, and Aliya (which is Sinhalese for “elephant”) pays homage to them through its elephant-themed property.
Case in point: The minimal design of my two-bedroom, two-bathroom suite featured a black-and-white color palette punctuated with elephant-theme pillows, blankets and artwork. Despite tempting in-suite amenities — among them a full minibar, a home theater system and a sauna — I was drawn outdoors by the private plunge pool and the sprawling backyard.
In addition to suites, which can accommodate up to five guests, the property features Deluxe Rooms, Deluxe Twin Rooms, Deluxe Attic Rooms and 18 Luxury Tents that are situated on wooden platforms and camouflaged within the thick foliage.
Make sure clients leave themselves ample time to splash in the hotel’s infinity pool, which — thanks to some strategically placed underwater lights — glitters under a starry sky after sunset.
In addition to Chinese restaurant Makara, guests can enjoy authentic Sri Lankan cuisine at two other restaurants — Alaka and Nagula — or sip a latte at Migara, the on-site coffee shop and bar.
And if travelers are looking to get off property, the Sigiriya rock fortress and Polonnaruwa archaeological ruins are both just a short drive away.
But if it’s real elephants that clients seek, advise they head to nearby Minneriya National Park, which is home to hundreds of the wiggly-trunked residents during the dry season.