Blissful Bey!

Thursday, 21 February 2013 00:10 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Marianne David and Cassandra Mascarenhas

The new baby on the John Keells Hotels Group’s block is Cinnamon Bey, Beruwala – and this is one really big baby! An ambitious endeavour, the sprawling 5-star hotel, located on a 10 acre property and built with an investment of Rs. 3 billion, boasts 200 rooms and extensive beach frontage.

Cinnamon Bey was opened to guests in October last year and has proven to be quite the success in its short span of operation, despite some initial teething problems – nothing unexpected given the sheer size of the hotel and the above-average indulgences that the group offers.

Located just one hour away from the city of Colombo, it’s no surprise that this hotel is proving to be a hit among not just foreigners but locals too, with guests comprising one-third Sri Lankans at any given time.

It’s quite difficult to get an idea of how big and beautiful Cinnamon Bey is, given how it extends over vast open spaces, with all of its rooms facing the beach. This place really sprawls, stretching out in parallel with the sea, and was built amalgamating the two properties of the former Beach Hotel Bayroo and Confifi.

The hotel has two Suites with their own terraces and Jacuzzis, located in a separate wing, with a secluded private swimming pool, restaurant and bar, in addition to 28 Deluxe rooms. The remaining 170 rooms are Superior rooms, featuring all amenities in line with its 5-star standing. The entire property is accessible to the differently-abled.


Architectural heritage

Designed by Architect Channa Daswatte and featuring his distinctive style, Cinnamon Bey pays significant tribute to its location. With the history of Beruwala going back to the 10th century, when the first permanent Arab settlements in Sri Lanka were recorded, the hotel is inspired by Turkish architecture and is named in reference to this history, with ‘Bey’ being the term used to address provincial noblemen of the Turkish Empire. Lattice work and hand-made patterned tiles inspired by this architectural heritage appear extensively across the property.

However, as you walk in through the vast entrance area, the hotel doesn’t seem the most appealing place to be, with too much concrete and not enough colour meeting the eye, which you would expect at a beach destination hotel. This initial impression is erased as you pass through the lobby/reception area and walk out to where the place suddenly opens out onto the beach, and you realise there’s a whole lot more than the vast expanse of concrete that first greets you.

From the beautiful gazebos to the alluring sparkling pool, the wide open areas and the greenery, this is a place designed purely for relaxation, with many spaces and places to relax and enjoy stunning views of the ocean – especially the setting sun.

As the hotel’s charismatic General Manager Christine Chevalaz pointed out in an interview with the Daily FT: “The hotel was designed by Channa Daswatte, a student of Geoffrey Bawa, so you will find the Bawa touch here. You can really see the hotel open onto the ocean and there are lots of areas to be outside. The architect has looked at the history of the area while creating the hotel. The lattice work and mosaics recreate a touch of the history of the place and the Ottoman Empire’s influence has been incorporated into the concept of the hotel.”


Focus on food

So what’s Bey really all about? Firstly, it’s about food. This place is a gourmand’s dream come true, with a heavy emphasis on serving up fabulous food in varied forms, with the many restaurants offering up everything from fusion food and Arabic cuisine to American style rustic meals and succulent sashimi. It goes without saying that the hotel serves up extensive buffets, which include sumptuous Sri Lankan spreads, in addition to just about everything else, and the signature action stations to top it all off.

All eight dining areas also feature views of the sea and cater to diverse palettes, featuring cuisine from many cultures and countries. Commenting on the hotel’s food facilities, Chevalaz said: “We have a large variety of outlets – that’s our strength. Guests who stay for a few days can really enjoy various concepts of food and a relaxed dining experience.”

There’s even more good news for foodies: the hotel plans to introduce cooking classes within a few weeks at rocksalt, büfe and mezz2. “If you want to learn about cooking, come to Bey!” asserted Chevalaz.


Dining options

“This is probably the first resort in the country that offers such a wide variety of dining experiences. Bey’s main highlight is its food and the cuisine offered at each restaurant is unique, ensuring that guests get to sample a fusion of cultures in their food,” explained Regional Executive Chef Jeevendra Wijethunge.

“You name it, we do it,” was how Chevalaz described the Bey’s main restaurant, büfe, which can accommodate 220 people in a single sitting and this seating capacity certainly comes in handy when serving breakfast to the hotel’s clientele every morning. Featuring live cooking stations, a Sri Lankan corner, Indian, Asian fusion and Western cuisine, a vast spread of salads, a cold buffet, and a range of breads and desserts, büfe caters to every possible craving you may need satisfied before loping to the poolside to bask in the sun.

Over the weekend, when the hotel generally experiences a rush of visitors, breakfast is also served at the a la carte restaurant, fire, which generally operates on a semi-fine dining basis. Guests can choose to dine indoors in air-conditioned comfort or out on the patio alongside the restaurant on which a set of gazebos have been erected, ideal for private dining or even a relaxed drink in the evening while lounging on the plush sofas, watching a spectacular fiery sunset. The enthusiastic staff also organises romantic lobster dinners in the privacy of the gazebos on request, making it a very memorable experience.

Feel like preparing your own meal? Head over to rocksalt for an experience that cannot be had anywhere else on the island, where lava stones heated up to 400 degrees are placed in front of you, along with platters of raw steak, seafood and condiments. Proceed to cook your own meal right at the table while the chef keeps a careful eye on the thoroughly enjoyable hubbub that ensues as you attempt to direct a freshly cooked prawn into your mouth with one hand while trying to flip a sizzling slice of steak with the other.

rocksalt primarily features Asian fusion cuisine and is also served by raw, the seafood bar located on the terrace of the main bar. A speciality sushi chef churns out platters of delectable delights – the perfect accompaniment to one of the 250 cocktails served at the grain bar and lounge. For those who are not fans of cocktails, grain features over 300 varieties of exclusive wines, 20 varieties of champagne, over 50 types of vodka, and over 20 varieties of single malt whiskies.

Cocktails are concocted using modern mixology methods and more adventurous guests also have the option of whipping up their own cocktails. The hotel’s signature cocktail is the Bey Special, which changes according to seasonal requirements.

For some Middle Eastern flavours, head to mezz2, the Arabic lounge and grill, open from 4 p.m. onwards. Set up on an outdoor terrace, plush gazebos protect diners from the elements as the fruity fumes of shisha envelop the surroundings. Feast on breads, hummus and grilled seafood and meats prepared at the fusion bar and kitchen set up alongside the gazebos, with the sunset creating the perfect backdrop to the meal.

“This again is a new concept, the merging of the kitchen and bar,” noted Chef Wijethunge. “Food and drink go hand-in-hand and so we decided to set this up. My next intention is to teach the cook some flaring techniques for cooking is not merely about the preparation of food, it’s also about showmanship.”

The wood fire restaurant and bar, 800 degrees, serving up lighter fare such as pizza, burgers and salads, is only open for lunch and dinner and offers guests the option of dining in a quiet, relaxed environment. The restaurant is available for private dinner functions, celebrations and barbeques.

Bey also houses Tranquillity, a bar that serves salads, juices and energy boosters as well as I.C.E., an ice cream bar strategically located just by the pool, serving up over 40 varieties of creamy homemade ice creams, perfect for beating the noontime heat. The ever-courteous staff also serve up drinks from the pool bar as guests stretch out on pool loungers, drying off after a dip in the sea.


MICE tourism

Food aside, the hotel’s other main focus is MICE tourism, with many top companies – both local and foreign – selecting the hotel for their corporate events. Kutlama (celebration) is the hotel’s ballroom plus conference hall, which is able to hold up to 250 people, and given the hotel’s popularity as a MICE destination, this is one place that is heavily frequented.

As the hotel’s dynamic Resident Manager Rajeeva Rajapakse told the Daily FT: “Bey’s main attractions are its dining options, MICE facilities, its location, and being the newest kid in town. These are the key reasons why people are here.” After a luxurious and indulgent two-day stay, the highpoints of which were the varied dining experiences we dove into, this is our verdict on Bey: It’s a fabulous place to take a blissful break and indulge yourself in every possible way!


CSR focus

Commenting on Cinnamon Bey’s initiatives in relation to the local community, Resident Manager Rajeeva Rajapakse revealed that the hotel will be developing a special partnership with beach operators. “A six-month training program will commence in the first week of March with Responsible Tourism Partnership, Sri Lanka Tourist Board and Cinnamon Bey, where we will educate them on responsible tourism and integrate them into our culture.  At the moment there is a gap between us and them and our intention is to bridge this gap, bring them to our standards, and develop their livelihoods,” he explained.


Things to do at Bey

Something happens at Cinnamon Bey every day. There are cultural evenings featuring ’70s and ’80s music, paduru parties, a saxophonist and violinist playing regularly at the hotel, and live performances by bands. Going forward there are plans to introduce local wood carvers, cinnamon peelers and various artistes to promote local arts and crafts, while the hotel currently holds an exhibition every week featuring local painters as well. The hotel has three pools plus a baby pool, a gym, badminton and volleyball courts, and also offers rifle shooting and archery. Plans are in the pipeline to develop a tennis court. Excursions to indulge in courtesy of JKH’s Nature Trails include The Madu River Quest, extreme sports, marine mammal safaris, and conservation/culture related outings such as a visit to the Kosgoda Turtle Sanctuary and Ambalangoda Mask Museum. In association with Mongoose Adventures, the hotel provides snuba, scuba diving, jet skis, catamaran sailing, wind surfing, kite surfing, sea kayaks, body boarding, and much more.


Azmaara Spas: An amazing experience

For the ultimate decadent experience, stroll down to the Azmaara Spas hidden within the interior of Bey, and be pampered beyond belief by one of their four trained therapists from Indonesia and Nepal. Sip on a cool lemon draught and let the scent of lemongrass and eucalyptus lead you to one of the four private villas where a blend of hot and cool oils liberally applied and massaged into you by the expert masseuses relaxes you and relieves all pain. The spa features massage rooms, steam rooms and a sauna and is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.