Is it truly possible for the sky to splinter into so many colours? Perched on the movable wooden pool deck at Villa Vista in Mirissa, Sri Lanka, overlooking the arch of Weligama Bay, sunset is a daily exhibit of nature's vivid cornucopia here. This villa truly has the most extraordinary vista; one of the many reasons why it is the perfect spot to call home when visiting this popular beach destination in the Southern Province of the island nation.
Travelling from India, one might ask, why a villa, or to be more precise, why this villa in particular. We’re glad you asked. It’s a plausible question, given how seasoned beach seekers might already be accustomed to the villa life, from their various travels to homegrown sandier shores in Goa or to more exotic atolls in the Indian Ocean.
But have they ever lived in a home designed by the Pritzker Architecture Prize-winning Japanese architect Shigeru Ban? Most likely not. Ban has been the architect of incredible structures across the world such as the Cardboard Cathedral in Christchurch, New Zealand, the Paper Dome in Taiwan, the Centre Pompidou-Metz museum in Metz, France, and the Bamboo Furniture House at the Great Wall in China. How Koenraad Pringiers, the owner of Villa Vista (he’s Flemish, and has been living in Sri Lanka for over four decades), convinced Ban to come on board is a story best told over beers. Preferably, Lion — an excellent Sinhalese brew — while Koenraad himself tells what can only be described as a serendipitous story. His parents, incidentally, live in the villa that commands the adjacent cliff top. A villa that was designed by fellow Japanese architect — the revered Tadao Ando. The Pringiers family has incredible taste, clearly.
Ban is known as the father of “paper architecture” — a moniker derived from the materials used for design, aka paper and its derivatives (cardboard, etc), and a focus on sustainable form. His canvas, back then, was the bare expanse of a hillock overlooking Weligama Bay. Prime real estate that was, at the time, an eight-acre blank canvas, with fearsome memories — the tsunami of 2004 that swept its destruction in the town below.
The beauty of Ban’s creation and the respect it so clearly holds for nature — a harmonious partnership with the elements of the sky, land, water, flora and fauna — is both a balm and a boon. If one were to look at the fact sheet, you’d read: expansive three-bedroom villa with ensuite bathrooms with glorious rain showers and bathtubs. A guest cottage. Chef-catered meals. Wonderful staff. A private, infinity pool with panoramic views. A gymnasium. All amenities included, as is expected. A private, winding driveway. A location that overlooks the picturesque beachfront of Mirissa, giving you the benefit of luxurious privacy, while still being in the thick of things. But to live here, even for a few days, is so much more.
Ban’s architecture plays with space, natural light and the wind. Locally-sourced wood and coconut leaves have been used in its creation, making this a completely unique blend of Sri Lankan style and modern construction. The towering structure is split over three segueing levels that flow into each other, housed under a woven teak ceiling, with a massive lattice of shutters on one end.
On the other, a glass front opens to the long, infinity pool and the elements. On the hottest of days, under the equatorial sun, there is no air conditioning required due the constant cooling cross-ventilation. The middle section is akin to a long, wide runway scattered with sectional sofas and lounge beds — the bedrooms on either side are boxed out by doors and short staircases for absolute privacy; you’re quite literally kings, queens and everyone in between, in your castle here. There are no columns or pillars. Everything is airy, vast, chic yet comfortable, and the stunning decor has been put together through the eye of an experienced artist — Koenraad’s mother. '
There’s lush wilderness surrounding the property and a private walkway that cuts through the greenery and terraces down to an open-air vantage point and to a secluded section of the beach. And the food — oh, food, glorious food. Freshly cooked and hospitably served, many different styles are offered, whether Sri Lankan (hoppers for brekkie!) or hearty Italian, should your palate crave some.
The bedrooms are more spartan in terms of decor — because who needs a distraction from the view? There’s a television, which will most likely never come on because you’ll be too busy lazing on a daybed, or in the pool. The beds, pristine, white and downy, will invite you to sink your sun-drenched body into them every night. A good soak in the wide tub will ease your muscles, just in case you chose a surfing lesson or two (many schools are just a short drive down.) But, more importantly — and take this from an insomniac journalist with a caffeine and screen addiction — you will sleep, beautifully. It’s the sort of rest that comes to, one would imagine, the most content soul with unclouded thoughts.
So, again. Why Villa Vista? Because where else would you want to be? If your heart and mind long for something that will evolve into a story you will tell for years, this is where your journey begins and ends. Preferably with a chilled Lion in your grasp.
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