Feature / Asia / Sri Lanka / Sri Lanka
Just back from Sri Lanka
There are several different itineraries for first time visitors to Sri Lanka. We chose, and highly recommend, the 8-night tea plantations, beach and the Galle itinerary which served as a wonderful entree into the charms of Sri Lanka. The next visit will include the Cultural sites.
Most itineraries will whisk you in and out of Colombo pretty quickly which will horrify aficionados of the city, but if you aren't in Sri Lanka for long, judging by driving around for a few hours, it does seem like the right choice.
Day 1: Stay at Tintagel (image 1) (65 Rosmead Place, Colombo 7, Sri Lanka; T (94) 4602121 / 4602060) which is fabulous and highly recommended and in the evening have supper at the Gallery (image 2) which is a fun restaurant with excellent food with a menu spanning most cuisines.
En route to the restaurant stop at Paradise Road which is the best shop we came across on the trip. It has a little bit of everything - nothing special but some nice-ish gifts.
Day 2: Travel up to the tea country. It's a long 4.5/5 hr drive and in truth pretty scenically boring till the last hour since, as the roads are the commercial/residential lifeblood of the nation, you'll find yourself driving through a non-stop poster hoarding.
So you may despair wondering why you opted for this leg of the journey but when you reach the Bogawantalawa Valley you'll be enchanted.
Stay at Castlereagh which is one of four smallish converted tea planters houses. As we only saw two of the four (Summerville and Castlereagh, which was much nicer,) we can't be certain which is the best but as the other two houses don't have views of the lake, we reckon we won the accommodation prize. And it really was lovely with excellent accommodation and superb food.
Two nights is probably the right length of stay. You'll arrive in the afternoon of Day 1 so you'll only really have one full day.
There's not much to do other than walk through the tea plantations and read , but do say yes to a 2.5 hour guided tour of the Tea Factory even if you'd normally shy away from this kind of thing. It's absolutely fascinating and highly recommended. Watching the process and seeing the beautiful old machinery used is riveting. (No pun intended).
Day 4/6: make a very early start and drive 7 hours to Tangalle on the sea. As with the journey up to the tea plantations, there are long tracts when it's scenically really dull but the first three hours driving through the tea plantations is gorgeous and makes it worthwhile - just!
Arriving in Tangalle, you might despair a little as the drive along the seashore is rather ugly and then accessing the narrow drive to the Amanwella (Bodhi Mawatha, Wella Mawatha, Godellawela, Tangalle; Tel: (94) 47 224 1333) might increase your despair even more as to whether you'd made the right choice, but the moment you arrive at the hotel, particularly if you like Aman properties, you'll love it. The rooms are fabulous though subject to budget opt for the rooms directly looking on to the sea rather than staying in the second row of villas. And the setting is divine.
It's perfect for a three night/two full days. We've no special recommendations other than to organize on one evening Private Dining on the beach which is very romantic. And if you're with children or simply adore elephants to visit the Uda Walawe National Park 1.5 hours away. Please note though that the whole elephant watching trip takes around 6 hours so if its sunny you might want to hang around the pool or the beach.
Do note though that however lovely the hotel is we'd only recommend staying there as part of a trip round Sri Lanka not as a 7-night beach destination in its own right in which case we'd recommend in preference the Maldives.
Finally the Aman recommends a few restaurants nearby such as Maya, Buckingham Palace!! and the Last House but if you're only there for two full days and given how excellent the food is at the hotel, you mightn't want to venture out.
Day7/8: Leave early i.e 5am if you want to go whale-watching. (How many other hotels in the world will the manager be up at this hour to say goodbye?) It's not very far to catch the boat and quite fun to do but you are at sea for about 4 hours and with the sightings of whales and dolphins lasting about 3/5 minutes if that, the pain/pleasure ratio argues for sticking to Planet Earth for seeing whales.
If you pass on whale watching then drive straight to Galle and stay there for two nights. Again as with most of the driving round the parts of Sri Lanka we visited its not a very pretty drive but it's thankfully only a couple of hours or so up the coast.
Arriving in the old Fort stay without question at the Amangalla (10 Church Street, Fort Galle; Tel (94) 91 223 3388). It's absolutely lovely and brilliantly managed by Olivia Richli. The rooms are superb ,the food pretty good though not in the same league as elsewhere on the trip and the pool with its hugely comfortable beds a great way to unwind.
Galle is an enchanting Colonial town- hippy central judging by many of the Europeans wandering around. It's absolutely gorgeous and wandering around the town and walking along the ramparts is a real delight.
More prosaically on the restaurant and shopping front, Galle is crammed with boutiques and cafes but if you're coming from the Jaipur Literary Festival to attend the Galle Festival you're best off stocking up with textiles in Jaipur as Galle shopping isn't that exciting. Restaurant wise the main recommendation, which we didn't personally try, is outside the Fort at Geoffrey Dobbs's The Sun House.
Day 9: Off to the airport. If you're not flying to Colombo then even though there's a new motorway connecting Galle and Colombo, it takes ages to drive to the airport. Our advice is add an hour to whatever time guidelines you are given.
A great trip though not suitable for everyone mainly because of the travelling involved but on arrival everywhere we stayed (brilliantly organised by James Jayasundera at Ampersand Travel - T: 020 7289 6100) was superb. And gastronomically it couldn't have been bettered. Finally for those of our Members, and there are several, who don't really enjoy India and think of Sri Lanka in the same vein, the atmosphere is completely different so don't be deterred by any sub-continent prejudice. Sri Lanka is really magical.