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Rob Drummond

TOMO Hotelier

What do you consider your team’s greatest achievement?
Designing and running the hotel along sustainable principles. The masterplan, building locations, designs and dimensions were all suggested by a contour survey and carried out to minimise the impact on the local environment. To blend in. Choice of materials, finishes, furniture deigns and build - all local - likewise the menus, staffing and service. This is an ongoing process and there is still much to do as we continuously seek new ways to improve and regenerate.

What do you most value in a hotel for your own holidays?
A great location, especially for a destination hotel. Something that sets it apart like beauty or uniqueness.

A sense of escape is important and especially the feeling of contrast to everyday life.

The ability to discover something truly new and different is always a plus. Doing new things or going to new places is one of the most vital things to keep life interesting and slow down the passage of time. Traditional hotel metrics such as good food, service and facilities are of course important too, though not my overriding concern.

What is one place nearby that every one of your guests should discover?
Koggala Lake and its surroundings. There is a timeless tropical beauty to Sri Lanka’s largest natural lake. Fishermen glide by through the day making their catch: fish, crabs, prawns, even oysters. Getting out onto the water in a boat trip or visiting one of the quiet islands that dot it gives a great firsthand experience.

There’s often an unbelievable stillness to the lake at dawn. The beauty of the lake edge is at its most breathtaking then, and photographers can go on a tour in our boat to capture the world slowly coming to life.

Biking along tracks that skirt the edge also gives great access to the amazing flora and fauna, as well as a real feel for quiet village life that’s usually out of sight. The sweet heady aroma of cinnamon plantations or jak fruit bursting with ripeness can almost overwhelm the senses.

Nature lovers are charmed by the variety of birds and other wildlife, in some parts the numbers of monitors lizards sunning themselves can make it feel jurassic.

Many tourists hardly stray from the coast, but once venturing inland a more authentic and often much more untouched world awaits. Koggala Lake and its surroundings are one such place.

What is your dream journey?
The importance of location for a hotel means it's also a top consideration for a dream journey. I am naturally drawn to places with exceptional settings, beautiful surroundings.

By extension I’m also attracted by wilderness. There’s a magic to remote and unspoilt places that seem increasingly rare in today’s world. Proximity to untouched natural beauty gives a feeling of otherworldliness that can be transformative. The trend of pop-up hotels or lodges in remote places is exciting, giving people the chance to experience this first hand without the usual footprint.

Physical activities and the ability to get out there are crucial, perhaps in the form of a challenge or mission while there. This can add a sense of adventure and satisfaction on top of merely being an observer.

What local dish do you never tire of eating?
Sri Lankan rice and curry. It’s so varied and I love discovering a new dish with vegetables or other weird and wonderful ingredients I’ve never seen before. I mainly eat vegetarian and the mix between cooked and raw makes it so deliciously balanced. Occasionally I have our mixed seafood curry which is a particular treat. I always choose traditional red rice over white rice alternatives as I find it tastier and more nutritious (higher fibre, plus magnesium, selenium and more antioxidants).

Tri is situated in the country’s cinnamon heartlands so it’s no surprise that cinnamon features significantly in our cuisine (and also has a number of health benefits). If you’re lucky enough to eat in a village home the curry is usually cooked in clay pots fuelled with cinnamon wood. This imbues it with extra flavour. The cinnamon wood sticks are the by-product of cinnamon harvesting, and are used extensively in Tri’s architecture.

What motivated you to become a hotelier?
I didn’t plan to be a hotelier, I evolved into one… was ten years after I discovered and secured this magical location that construction of Tri began.
Initially I spent time in a mud hut at the top of the hill, slowly becoming acquainted with the site. Beyond its intense natural beauty it was the pervasive serene energy that made me realise that others also needed to experience what I had found.

Initial thoughts were for a yoga retreat centre. My love of contemporary architecture and somewhat self-indulgent desire to create something iconic yet very site-specific led me down the path of becoming a hotelier. My biggest satisfaction is seeing the pleasure a visit to Tri gives others.

What was your greatest extravagance in creating your hotel?
The architecture. It would have been considerably cheaper and easier to build a more standard series of spaces. Suites cascading down slopes, our shala and library floating in a bamboo grove, our main pool stretching out towards the lake, the nine metre cantilever on our living roof: none of them simple……but all well worth it.

It would certainly have been less difficult to build Tri close to a main road (although it’s only 15 minutes from the highway) but it would lose a lot of what makes it special if it felt less remote and unspoilt.

Where do you feel happiest on your property?
There are a number places on site with a special look, feel or view. The rooms of course have all been designed to frame a wonderful lake view, so sitting on your balcony is a uniquely beautiful and peaceful experience. Getting down to the water’s edge is different but equally satisfying with its unique flora and fauna and timeless energy. A group of fish eagles swooping playfully over the lake at dawn is an amazing spectacle if you’re lucky enough to be there on the right day.

If I had to choose it would be at the crown - the grassy top of our small hill - sitting under the banyan tree, with a circle of mature trees all around and far-reaching views over the lake. I could honestly sit there all day and watch the changing light and life of the lake unfold. But perhaps it’s best early evening as the various daily migrations occur: egrets followed closely by shrill groups of parakeets and lastly the silent squadrons of fruit bats drifting home to roost for the night.

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