At Helga’s Folly, a boutique hotel in historic Kandy, central Sri Lanka, amateur artists add to the distinctive murals – and get free bed and board via the Workaway website. Plus: 5 more places where skills can be swapped for stays
For almost 30 years, Helga de Silva Blow Perera, the flamboyantly attired owner of Helga’s Folly, a 30-room boutique hotel overlooking the Sri Lankan city of Kandy, has covered the walls of her estate with frenetic and dreamlike murals. In 1988, she began painting the hotel – at that time, run by her parents – after divorcing her second husband, and while still in recovery from the suicide of her first, British writer and historian Jonathan Blow.
“My father suggested that I ‘doodle it out’,” Helga said, referring to her grief. She painted one room black. Her next project was a trio of gold and shimmering “hear, see, speak no evil” monkeys. True to her father’s word, Helga discovered a form of self-healing in art. Walls soon glittered floor-to-ceiling with psychedelic flowers, suited animals, skulking devils and spinning folk dancers.