Sunday 27 November 2016

Sri Lanka, the pearl of the Indian Ocean by Anne Johnstone

Set in the Indian Ocean in South Asia, the tropical island nation of Sri Lanka has a history dating back to the birth of time.  It is a place where the original soul of Buddhism still flourishes and where nature’s beauty remains abundant and unspoilt.

Few places in the world can offer the traveller such a remarkable combination of stunning landscapes, pristine beaches, captivating cultural heritage and unique experiences within such a compact location.  Within a mere area of  65,610 kilometres lie 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, 1,330 kilometres of coastline - much of it pristine beach - 15 national parks showcasing an abundance of wildlife, nearly 500,000 acres of lush tea estates, 250 acres of botanical gardens, 350 waterfalls, 25,000 water bodies, to a culture that extends back to over 2,500 years. 

This October I was lucky enough to visit a handful of exclusive resorts on the Island with luxury travel provider Elegant Resorts. Our six night trip began with an overnight stay in Colombo at the Retro-chic boutique hotel Casa Colombo. With only 12 suites, each with its own distinct colour hues, layout and character, this 200 year old Moorish mansion offers clients an ideal base from which to explore. Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, has a long history as a port on ancient east-west trade routes, ruled successively by the Portuguese, Dutch and British. That heritage is reflected in its architecture, mixing colonial buildings with high-rises and shopping malls. From Colombo we took a short flight to Mattala in the Deep South. Nestled among dunes and trees at the ocean’s edge was our second destination, Chena Huts, opened in 2015.  Here we enjoyed a marvellous safari adventure; daily game drives will get you close up and personal with elephants, exotic bird life and most likely leopards. You’re also within walking distance of the beach and a lake (where you might be lucky enough to see elephants bathing). When not out and about on a wildlife quest you can relax in your plush accommodation in one of the 14 elegant cabins, each designed with earthy interiors and sumptuous soft furnishings. Each cabin has its own private deck and plunge pool but for me, travelling alone, I was not brave enough to take the plunge in case the local wildlife joined me! By day three I was ready for some rest and relaxation at the stunning beach hotel Amanwella located in Tangalle. Each spacious suite – built on the gentle palm-shaded hillside – benefits from a host of luxurious amenities including a contemporary living space, a spacious terrace and a sparkling aqua plunge pool. With coconut palms swaying above the golden sandy beach, what better way to relax than enjoying the view from their infinity pool.

 By day four we were back on the road enjoying a cultural visit to a local potters studio where I even had the opportunity to throw a pot of my own. In the afternoon we visited the Mulgirigala Rock Temple, dangling off a rocky crag 16km northwest of Tangalla and nestled away among a green forest of coconut. I would recommend visitors try to go early when it's not so humid as the climb was tough going. It is well worth visiting with amazing colours within a series of seven cleft-like caves on five different terraced levels. 

Our last night concluded with a stay at Amangalla an immaculately restored, impeccably managed 150-year-old landmark hotel, presiding over Galle’s historic fort. Decorated with period antiques including four-poster beds, pettagama chests and planter’s chairs, the rooms overlook the Fort’s quaint lanes, ramparts or the hotel’s 200-year-old gardens. With beautiful beaches, great food, shopping and stunning scenery this Sri Lankan city makes for a revitalising getaway.

There is so much to see, experience and explore on this fascinating island. April and September offer the best odds for good weather countrywide. A twin centre break is an excellent way to take in the culture and wildlife that Sri Lanka has to offer. If, on the other hand, you wish to delve deeper I would recommend a guided tour company to ensure your experience is as comprehensive and comfortable as possible. Do not hesitate to pop in to talk to me about my trip if you are considering visiting Sri Lanka and would like to find out more.


Chena Huts

 Beach hotel Amanwella

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