With travel's comeback in full swing, we're waving goodbye to solo trips and embracing big group getaways to reconnect with the friends and family we've longed to see IRL for the last couple of years.
Yet planning a full-blown family affair is tricky. You need to ensure there's no fighting over bedrooms, people are well fed and the wine is free-flowing. Gran needs something to occupy her days, your room needs to be as far away from your mother-in-law's as possible and your youngest siblings need to be kept busy, so that they won't keep pushing you off the lilo every five minutes.
Enter ÀNI, a hotel-private-home hybrid whose fully staffed villas are located in some of the most beautiful beachside locations in the world. Our pick? ÀNI Sri Lanka.
Sleeping up to 30 across 15 suites, with a team of 30 - including spa therapists, tennis coaches, renowned chefs and personal trainers - coming as standard, the sprawling villas haven't scrimped on size, service or luxury. The sprawling grounds, overlooking a prime slice of Sri Lanka southern coast real estate, conceal gyms, tennis courts, four swimming pools, barbecue areas, yoga pavilions and serene al fresco dining spots, all punctuated by clusters of swaying palm trees, babbling streams and gushing waterfalls.
If finding a tropical crash pad suitable for your nearest and dearest is on the horizon, then point your compass in this direction. Your every wish will be met by the superb crew, evening entertainment comes easily and the (largely) locavore food offering deserves a standing ovation.
You'll be hard-pressed to think of something that hasn't been thought of - from the swift unpacking of suitcases to the refreshing fresh juices pressed into sweaty palms, impromptu palm readings, sunrise yoga classes, spontaneous tennis tournaments and farewell fire show and gala dinner. The only problem? How will any future family getaway ever measure up? Fear not: there are a further three ÀNI locations to explore down the line…
Not rooms, full-blown suites. All 15 are decorated with teak wood, lots of authentic, local artefacts and complimentary mini bars stacked with healthy snacks (think cashews, dried fruit and oat cookies). Our room, 105, was next to the yoga pavilion and, thanks to being slightly removed from the other suites, offered bundles of privacy, making it ideal for morning dips in the buff in our plunge pool and lengthy outdoor showers. The emperor-sized bed - with its silk-worm-soft sheets (Soho Home, who?) - looked out onto the luscious grounds, and came complete with a remote control ready to let the morning sunlight stream in, while the bathroom possessed a bathtub so big that we wouldn't be surprised if Tom Daley trained for the Olympics in it.
What's for breakfast?
What's not for breakfast? Fuel up on an array of fresh-out-the-oven pastries that traverse the globe - doughnuts, croissants, cream-piped delights - bowls laden with just-picked fruit, countless breads, preserves, cheeses and cold meats. Oh, and if that stomach-bursting banquet isn't enough for you, there's an order-what-you-like breakfast policy that covers everything from omelettes to eggs benedict and full-on fry-ups.
How about lunch and dinner?
Nightly three-course affairs are each worthy of their own Michelin star. Chef Cyril Human cut his teeth at Soneva Fushi and Aman's Amanwella, and his Asian-influenced menus show both talent and a flair for bold flavours. Every meal seemed to, somehow, surpass the last, with highlights including full-blown barbecue banquets featuring tables laden with expertly charred meat and fish - the plump lobster tail with fennel slaw was faultless - and Sri Lankan curries ranging from fiery dahl, cashew curry and seared snapper to rolled-fresh sushi and bowls of piled-high pad thai.
Is there a bar?
Of course. Several, in fact. Our favourite, and our chosen spot for downtime days (read: every day), enjoyed while flitting between pool and sun lounger, was the sunken pool bar with chess board. We don't play, but it looked great on our camera roll.
There is certainly no shortage of things to occupy even the fussiest of family members. Are you ready? Count four infinity pools, one of which has a slide (and that's not including the individual room plunge pools), tennis courts, basketball hoops, table tennis, pool tables, a cinema room, wine cellars, a spa with two nimble-fingered masseuses, a professional telescope for stargazing and - need more? - an outdoor shuffleboard court that a win on will help you claim bragging rights for the rest of your stay.
How about their green credentials?
Guests are handed refillable water bottles on arrival, while cocktails, smoothies and ice coffees all benefit from alternative-to-plastic straws. Single-use plastic is barely in evidence. Beach clean-ups occur every morning and, in turtle-hatching season (October to April), the staff make considerable efforts to ensure safe passage for the newborn babies.
What about accessibility?
Good, with gentle slopes, ramps and a lift in the common areas to accommodate.
How to get there?
We'll never get bored of the smug settling-in face we unashamedly pull when we've been upgraded or have been lucky enough to be bumped up to business. Yet when we laid eyes on Qatar's Airways' new Qsuite category on the London-to-Doha leg of the journey, our grins went from self-satisfied to Cheshire Cat. Akin to a boutique hotel in the sky, this is much more than just a flat-lay bed. These contraptions can be turned into double beds for couples, configured into a quadrant for business meetings or arranged to accommodate family mealtimes.
And the food? Standout. Forget lukewarm chicken or beef ready meals: we're talking a full-blown, dine-on-demand tasting menu that takes you on a gastronomic journey. If that doesn't take your fancy (it will), there's a "Stadium Snack" menu, in honour of the upcoming World Cup, dishing up the likes of fish and chips and cheeseburgers. Helping you slip into a restful slumber is a set of White Company PJs (yours to keep), plus slippers, a light duvet and a dreamy massage option. We're quite sure we never want to fly any other way again.
Things I should know
Properties are luxe and the team - each and every one of the 30-strong ensemble - went above and beyond, continuously. Hot towels were swiftly handed out after execurisons; sunglasses were spritzed, polished and cleaned while their owners lounged by the pool; morning coffee orders remembered and delivered without a single syllable being uttered; fresh mint smoothies provided in time for morning beach walks; palm readers arranged for our troupe of curious guests. Our every whim was indulged: monkeys shooed, air-con on, towels laid out and Spotify playlist cued up, all in time for our morning workout
Within a short walk I can find
Head to the wooden steps hidden by bushy palms: they will lead you down to the vast, virtually empty (except for a gaggle of fisherman searching for their morning's catch) sandy beach. This is the stereotypical Sri Lankan landscape you've spent months lusting over on Instagram/ Pinterest/TikTok (delete as appropriate), and it's well worth visiting at sunrise, when the skies turn the colour of coconut ice.
A short drive away, you'll find the ÀNI Art Academy. Students apply from all over the country, eager for the opportunity to hone their skills. Materials, housing and food are all provided, and many of the graduates go on to run galleries, sell artworks or become teachers themselves. Founder Tim Reynolds is a keen philanthropist and has opened an art foundation in each of ÀNI's destinations: Anguilla, Dominican Republic, Thailand and, of course, Sri Lanka.
Rates start from a minimum of 6 suites (12 guests) at £12,000 per night, including all meals, premium wines and soft drinks, in-house activities. Find out more at aniprivateresorts.com/srilanka/
Experience true luxury travel with Qatar Airways, ranked "Airline of the Year" for an unprecedented sixth time by Skytrax. Round-trip fares from London to Colombo start at £805 in economy and £2,695 in business, where you can enjoy the airline's award-winning Qsuite. Book your tickets now via qatarairways.com.