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Dreaming of an escape in nature? Then put Sri Lankan eco-hotel Una Bambu on your future holiday wish list

Photography By Egle Sidaraviciute

Found yourself craving more time in nature over the last year? 

Us too. As we daydream about new destinations to discover once the pause on international travel lifts, we’re increasingly drawn to places that connect us to nature and local cultures – like Una Bambu.

When Una Bambu founders Julien Bailly and Aoife O’Sullivan first mapped out plans to build an eco-hotel in Sri Lanka, they were looking for ways to make tourism more environmentally and socially responsible.

“We are focused on the idea of biophilic living spaces – spaces that are embedded in nature. These types of spaces will be more in demand in the future, where people seek open, healthy living environments and meaningful connections to the natural world,” Bailly, originally from France, and O’Sullivan, from Ireland, tell us.

Bailly and O’Sullivan are passionate travellers who over time, began to uncover a “darker side of the tourism industry and travel in general”. What they noticed was “businesses that are not of lasting benefit to local communities, creating pollution and environmental damage and putting massive pressure on precious local resources”.

They’ve countered this by taking a holistic approach with Una Bambu. First, they considered the hotel’s construction, delving into the use of sustainable materials. “We searched for locally available materials in Sri Lanka, like clay, iluk (grass thatch) and bamboo, which inevitably inspired research into the vernacular architecture of the country and the material nature of the traditional structures of old.

“Besides being aesthetically pleasing in their natural irregularity, these materials are far more suitable climactically to the tropical environment of Sri Lanka than, for example, cement and glass, which also contribute significantly to global CO2 emissions,” Bailly says.

Bailly and O’Sullivan see the potential in this approach to mitigate the need to import many building materials, simultaneously creating local jobs. While they don’t claim to be the first eco-hotel in Sri Lanka, they will be the first hotel in the country to be built using treated, native bamboo, not imported bamboo.

The masterplan for Una Bambu is a “fruit-filled, jungle plot of land” comprising six naturally ventilated, en suite bamboo villas. A large bamboo hall will house a lounge, bar, and restaurant serving food harvested directly from a permaculture home garden, while a multifunctional pavilion will host a range of workshops focused on nature-led design and sustainability.

“We wanted to create a place that was experiential, where the destination is the experience,” Bailly and O’Sullivan explain. “This means community is a big part of our ethos; making people feel at home while also experiencing the local culture and all that Sri Lanka has to offer.”

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