We’d heard about The Kip long before we visited: this elusive creative space in Sri Lanka’s Southern Province; a soulful, artisanal guest house in a restored colonial villa. Sporadic pictures shared between friends, and the whispers of international Yoga teachers making Sri Lanka their home promised a bohemian haven: a beautiful, soul-enriching paradise. We couldn’t be sure the rumors were true until we arrived, and felt the all-consuming warmth of The Kip’s embrace.
From handmade terra cotta pots, native plants stretch over vintage chairs and woven cushions; a classic push bike leans against the pale pink wall next to a trunk of coconuts, just under the shade of the tiled roof which opens up to the Moroccan riad-style courtyard. Through two curved doorways, beyond low leather chairs and the thick white pillars which line the edge of the verandah, garden tables fill with rustic boards overflowing with dark rye bread, charcoal breakfast buns and jewelled bowls of overnight oats. The air hums with morning energy and contented conversation.
A graceful, linen-clad woman floats dynamically through the garden, waving warm hello’s to tables of familiar faces. Along with her husband Seddy – a beautiful Italian man who was working as a barista at the cafe under her Melbourne home when they met – Phoebe is the force behind The Kip. Though technically accurate, the word visionary seems too clinical, too calculated, too contrived. The Kip is not just a project they have brought to life; it’s an organic, evolving expression of their passions and ideas, of their kind hearts and creative minds.
“True to our values” is a phrase companies love to throw around, but at The Kip it’s entirely, endemically true. From the old dogs who roam the grounds – lazing in the afternoon sun and chasing their tails under the warm candlelight of the garden restaurant – to their approach to alcohol, everything that Phoebe and Seddy do at The Kip is an honest and beautiful expression of consideration and care for their community. Phoebe found Delilah, Rubie and Foxie while she was volunteering at a local dog shelter, and chose to adopt them not for their puppy-sweetness but because (as older dogs) they otherwise would never be given a home. While serving alcohol would bring in huge revenue at their Italian garden restaurant, Phoebe and Seddy have decided to remain alcohol-free as a mark of respect to their quiet, village community.
“We want to tread lightly in this community.” Phoebe tells us over breakfast, as Seddy chats with a group of salt-drenched surfers. “We didn’t have a sign on the main road for a year, and only put it there because people were complaining that they couldn’t find us, but we didn’t want to be the foreigners who came in to this quiet neighbourhood and started a hotel. We thought long term about how we could be less offensive in the community, and that’s also by not serving alcohol. We could serve it, but it’s not appropriate in a neighbourhood like this, to be throwing parties and flaunting the aspects of our culture that are even slightly at odds with theirs.”
There’s something simultaneously ethereal and grounded about Phoebe’s energy: her otherworldly beauty paired with her dry, self-referential sense of humour. We met as the Sri Lankan sun beat warm on the stones, casting shadows of banana leaves long across the courtyard. She’d hugged me immediately and embraced me with her electric, engaging eyes. I could tell by the way she spoke to her team, with such kindness and equality, and from the way she bent to move a pot plant that was slightly out of place, that her care for The Kip stretches beyond the standard hotel-owner relationship.
One of four beautifully curated, rustic rooms, the studio sits in a stand alone stone hut at the bottom of the garden. Our bags are carried for us by a boy who smiles with genuine warmth, and returns minutes later with two cool coconuts and water in a terra cotta carafe. Woven wooden lampshades hang from the ceiling on either side of our bed, and at the end of long, slow days in the ocean, the cotton sheets are cool on our sun-kissed skin.
We wake to the sound of monkeys playing in the trees, and meditate on the cushioned roof of the water tower, up the dark wood ladder that weaves through the palms above the waterfall shower. The sun rises slowly over low red rooftops. Barefoot, we walk to the beach and swim in the silent waters. On our way back for breakfast, the couple at the coconut stand insist that we sit down for at a table on the sand “We haven’t brought our money!” we contest, but they bring us coconuts and plates of banana drizzled in honey regardless.
We spend our days at The Kip in a quietly elated haze: wandering back and forth along the dusty path to the beach. When the sun begins to set behind the island south of the surf break, we climb to the top floor of The Lighthouse: a hotel/ bar that looks out over the ocean. We drink wine and watch the sunset, and walk back past tuk tuks and roaming peacocks. As the sky over the quiet village turns dark, the garden of The Kip is lit with candlelight and conversation. Guests at The Kip are welcome to bring their own alcohol, but (miraculously) our sober dinner doesn’t feel like it’s lacking anything. We eat handmade pink tortellini and home-grown gotu kola salad under the warm light of flame torches dotted amongst the palms. Portions are perfectly sized, and we’re on holiday, so we order vegan cakes and ice-cream cookie sandwiches for dessert before taking the garden path to bed.
“We moved here because we wanted to create a life that was conducive to us being the best versions of ourselves” Phoebe tells us, explaining what led her and Seddy to leave behind their corporate lives in busy, buzzy Melbourne.
“I realized that I’m not meant for corporate life… the higher up I got in terms of roles, the more unhappy I got. I was tired and burnt out and I suffered really bad anxiety and I just realised I couldn’t do it anymore. We came on an extended holiday and that was the catalyst. We took four months off and I slept for a month, I couldn’t get out of bed I was just so tired. We were about to buy a new house, and buy a new car so we had a shorter drive to work, and then we just stood back and took stock and thought: what are we actually doing? We realised that if we didn’t do something then, we’d never do it, so we packed everything up and came here. As soon as we changed paths, everything fell into place.”
The curation of The Kip started before Phoebe and Seddy moved to Sri Lanka – they’d find things in foreign cities that they couldn’t leave: a terracotta pot or a piece of inspiring artwork. And, organically and slowly, The Kip continues to evolve. The intimate Italian restaurant wasn’t part of the original plan, but it’s garden supper clubs and handmade pasta have made it a south coast institution. When a ceramicist came to stay, The Kip hosted a ceramics workshop, and when they noticed the amount of unnecessary waste produced in Sri Lanka, they decided to set up a zero waste store.
“Sri Lanka has an energy where people think anything is possible, I think it breeds that kind of energy” Phoebe tells us, taking a sip from her latte.
“I truly believe that everyone needs to take some time off at some point in their life: six months to redirect and regain their perspective. When we’re caught up in the day to day, we don’t have time to think about what we’re doing. Seddy and I went through the Vipassana together, and it just made us look at everything and gave us clarity: what are we doing in the world, what is our purpose? Sustainability came up a lot, and so did creativity. So those are really the pillars that we built on, and that we keep building on because it’s always growing and we’re always learning. Creativity, community, slow living and sustainability: those are at our core. We had people telling us we couldn’t have a vegetarian menu, and that we had to have investors, and that we had to serve alcohol; and those options would have been financially better but we know we have to stick to our values.”
From a wooden table in the garden restaurant, we drink coffee from handmade ceramic mugs and fill out the brown paper menu, selecting the tapas we want to form our breakfast boards. Through the banana leaves that shade the garden, the heat of the day is gentle, and even the Parcels song floating out from the speakers seems slower tempo. I ask Phoebe if it’s a remix and she tells me it’s the only version she knows: a tangible demonstration of The Kip’s across-the-board, island-living ethos.
To learn more about The Kip and book your stay, click here.
This conscious travel story was contributed by Winnie Stubbs.