Meet the Swedish couple who surfed into Sri Lanka and never left.
Linn Lundgren and Petter Torealm were meant to complete their college thesis in Sri Lanka before returning home to Sweden. When they found their dream house in Weligama, a town on the country’s southern coast, they decided to supplement their short- term rental by hosting friends and family—visitors who unfortunately never came. So in a pinch to make ends meet, they posted on their travel blog, Sunshine Stories, that they were open to guests. Readers responded immediately, and from there the couple’s home was booked straight through the rest of the season. Before they knew it, they were hiring staff, teaching yoga classes, and surfing alongside strangers who had been following their adventurous lives for the previous seven years.
It’s typical for Europeans to take a gap year, but Lundgren and Torealm took three, traveling to around 20 countries, each for a month or more at a time, and recording their lives on their blog. “It started to get a bit awkward when people were like, ‘So, when are you starting university?’” says Lundgren. Eventually, they decided to take advantage of Sweden’s free education and become, in their words, “normal.” But normal to them still included yearly trips to Sri Lanka, which was was inexpensive to travel to, with cheap food, great beaches, and perfect, mellow waves—a fantastic place to visit, even after decades of turmoil.
“In 2009, when we first visited [immediately after the war], people would just be sitting outside their houses, unhappy. No one had jobs,” says Lundgren. “It was depressing.”
But they could see the country’s potential. “It’s an untouched place,” says Torealm. “The war and the colonialism and the tsunami, everything has pulled back the development a lot. It’s like going back in time. We thought it was amazing to be a part of the change.” Adds Lundgren, “You also see the good things—the family values, the fact that you take care of your elders. We think we’re so ahead of everything, but actually, we’ve lost some really important bits.”
And then came their house-turned-accidental-hotel.
With demand growing, the duo opened Sunshine Stories, the retreat, in 2015, offering structured weekly stays with a complete schedule of meals, surf lessons, and yoga. “I was answering e-mails from my phone, like, ‘I’ll invoice you later, but you’re booked!’” says Torealm. “We were fully booked the first week.” The Sunday-to-Sunday concept is an immersive experience, and Lundgren and Torealm also wanted to appeal to guests with less vacation time on their hands. They launched Ceylon Sliders in December 2016 as a traditional hotel concept, where visitors can stay for as long or as little as they like, or drop by for corn fritters at the café, yoga on the roof, or to shop for a new swimsuit in their boutique.
The angular, three-story concrete building is inspired by Geoffrey Bawa, the grandfather of tropical modernism, with carefully placed ferns and wicker chairs. It’s the backdrop for pieces from visiting artists, like Sean Spellman from New York, Nina Brooke from the UK, and California’s Bree Port, who all use the hotel as studio space when they’re in Sri Lanka.
“Our mission is to be a venue where people can come and make stuff and make things happen,” says Torealm.
And as for that college thesis? “We didn’t finish it,” says Torealm. “I could sit down for four weeks and finish my degree—but I don’t have four weeks, I haven’t had that since we started. It’s just been crazy.”