You can tell from the moment you arrive at Talalla Wellness Retreat that the resort is run like a community rather than a hotel. The founder, Australian native Laurie Rose, has created a beachside boutique health resort that oozes the friendly Sri Lankan charm he fell in love with over a decade before. This community spirit is built into the resort’s core ethos: Talalla Retreat led fundraising and support efforts after the devastating effects of the 2004 tsunami on the community and continues to provide assistance via the Talalla Support Group. Incorporating these mindful and sustainable practices into their retreat experiences, Talalla’s six-night wellness programme offers an active mix of pilates, yoga and surf retreat that also incorporates meditation, writing exercises and cultural activities. Personal trainer, avid runner and CompareRetreats.com editor Rebecca Cairns checked into the resort to experience a week of sun, sea and sweat for herself – and found that improved fitness wasn’t the only perk on this wellness retreat.
Talalla’s location delivers on all the requirements of a relaxed tropical beach holiday. The resort, set among thriving jungle gardens home to grey langur monkeys and monitor lizards, offers direct beach access to the beautiful Talalla Beach. On Sri Lanka’s south coast, Talalla is about a four-hour drive from Bandaranaike International Airport (CMB) in Negombo, and transfers can be arranged.
The resort’s facilities include an open-air covered restaurant with open kitchen, outdoor pool area, spa with male and female masseuses, and three yoga shalas across the jungle-filled grounds. While the resort is large, it doesn’t feel sprawling, and despite being there at peak season when the resort was filled to capacity, it never felt busy. The resort opens onto Talalla beach, where there are more hammocks and sun loungers. Currently being added are a shop and wellness juice bar. The resort does allow children but encourages guests to be mindful of one another. The resort has 24-hour security patrolling the grounds and a manned gate, to ensure peace, privacy and safety.
In addition to the wellness retreat programme, the resort hosts yoga retreat programmes, surf camps, and yoga teacher training (hosted independently), as well as being open as a hotel to guests not on retreat programmes. The resort is very open and you spend a lot of time outdoors on this retreat, so be prepared to get close to your wild neighbours and pack a good bug spray.
The resort’s accommodation encourages a back-to-nature experience, with various room types depending on exactly how ‘wild’ you want to go. I stayed in a first-floor Deluxe Room, which offers the full open-air experience: two outer walls replaced with bamboo blinds and a private en-suite open-air bathroom. I thought that bugs/geckos/chipmunks would bother me, but except three furry guests on my first day, I didn’t have any problems with the natural element of the accommodation and the mosquito net kept me bite-free overnight. The king-size bed was very comfortable, and I enjoyed the flow created by the open design of the room. There was no air-con, but the ceiling fan worked wonders and I found the nights relatively cool anyway.
The room additionally had plenty of locking wardrobe storage space (essential so that any visiting monkeys don’t get hands on your things), a safety deposit box, a writing desk and chair, and a sofa and coffee table on a balcony overlooking the pool.
If you want something less exposed to the elements, the en-suite ground-floor Deluxe Rooms offer more privacy (a.k.a, walls) and air-conditioning: ask for a Sea View room if you want to wake up to a view of the waves.
The retreat includes all meals, from lunch on the day of arrival to breakfast on the last. Breakfast and dinner operate as a buffet, while lunch is a la carte. The menu also includes a comprehensive range of fresh fruit juices, fruit sodas, and wellness smoothies. The retreat programme includes two non-alcoholic beverages per day, in addition to filter coffee or tea in the morning.
Breakfast serves up freshly made pancakes and eggs cooked to order, in addition to Sri Lankan dishes like lentil dahl, rice, and coconut sambal, Western favourites like muesli and toast with jam, as well as fresh fruit and buffalo curd. The comprehensive lunch menu features salads, sandwiches, burgers, tacos, rice and noodle dishes, or the Sri Lankan curry bowl of the day – my personal favourite was the Talalla Land Salad with fresh grilled prawns and mango. The dinner options usually include grilled chicken or fish on the day (cooked to order: the medium-rare tuna was perfect), Sri Lankan curry dishes and sambals, white or red rice, and Western dishes such as mashed potato, baked aubergine, and pasta of the day. Desserts include cakes, fresh fruit, and buffalo curd, and on occasion, Sri Lankan sweets like pineapple crumble or sago pudding.
All of the food was delicious, but the culinary highlight was the cooking demo with the head chef and subsequent dinner. If you’re looking to detox and lose weight this is probably not the retreat for you, but ultimately it’s up to each guest to decide what and how much they eat. There was an abundance of vegetarian and vegan options, as well as gluten-free alternatives. The chefs use coconut oil and coconut milk in most of their dishes, which is another bonus if you’re looking for low-fat and lactose-free dishes. The diet included so many fruits and vegetables that I felt fresher and more lively from this alone.
Six-Night Wellness Retreat Programme
I experience the six-night wellness retreat programme, which includes yoga, pilates and surf for an active retreat experience. The retreat began with a wellness and postural consult, to help set personal goals for the week and correct any niggling physical issues.
The retreat programme provided plenty of structure, without depriving guests of free time to relax and enjoy the resort. Each day included yoga and pilates, while during the week there was one guided surf lesson for all levels and two more optional unguided surf sessions, various meditation sessions, Sri Lankan cooking demonstration, and a wellness writing workshop.
The retreat included all meals, one complimentary massage (though myself and my fellow retreat goers all booked ourselves in for more), and cultural activities such as excursions to a tea plantation, turtle hatchery, and a morning safari in Udawalawe National Park, which gave guests only visiting for a week the chance to experience Sri Lanka beyond the resort.
There were six of us on the retreat I experience, and the maximum number is 12. All elements on the retreat programme were optional, and Jenna, the programme designer and Head of Wellness at Talalla, and co-host Nid, were more than happy to change and adapt the schedule and programme contents to our needs. Activities were well paced, so I never felt tired out or bored. The pilates – a mix of mat and boxilates – was great for working up a sweat, although with the heat, even the yoga was a sweaty workout. The two-hour surf session, taught by Talalla Surf Camp instructor Liam, was well organised, with great support for novice surfers.
A sample schedule:
06:00 Guided meditation
07:30 Yoga (Vinyasa Flow)
10:00 Free time by the pool or for spa treatments
17:30 Sunset Drinks
20:00 Free time/Bed
From arrival to departure, I was made to feel welcome by the staff on the resort, and Jenna and Nid were always there to answer questions, guide us through the sessions, and chat with us over meals. The quality of tuition and contact time with wellness professionals on this retreat is what really sets it apart – it feels personalised and Jenna and Nid were constantly evaluating our needs and progress over the course of the week.
Upon finishing the retreat, I could see improvements in my yoga and increased core strength increase from the pilates sessions. I’ve always found meditation difficult, but the teachers were very patient and by the end of the week, I was getting into the rhythm of it.
I’m an active person, so I had been most looking forward to the fitness benefits of this retreat – but what surprised me most was how mentally and emotionally reset I felt after just six days. When I arrived at Talalla Retreat I was stressed and suffering from fatigue, but I left feeling recharged and energised.
This retreat is well suited to active people who also need a balanced, stress-free break to reset, and it’s ideal for solo travellers because of the community vibe. The resort created an effortlessly relaxed environment, while the retreat programme itself was flexible and personalised in all the right ways. If you’re visiting Sri Lanka, add this retreat to your list.