Blue Sky Thinking: Sri Lanka [House & Garden Destinations]

01/01/2016

Blue Sky Thinking: Sri Lanka, The essential inspiration for your travels in 2016

Southern Sri Lanka

Beyond the beaches, 2016 is the year to see Sri Lanka through fresh eyes, be that by hiking in the Knuckles range north of Kandy, boogie boarding or surfing off the southern tip or doing tree-top yoga in the new Tri eco resort beside Koggala Lake. Travel throughout the country has become quicker and easier thanks to an expanded network from privately owned ‘air taxi’ service Cinnamon Air.

Stretching along the south-east coast, Kumana National Park has all the wildlife and drama of Yala, without the crowds. Leopard sightings are close-up and lingering; birdlife is prolific. Specialist tour operator Ampersand Travel has launched a secret mobile safari with the park, including fly-camps on beaches and riverbeds. Ampersand’s founder James Jayasundera recommends visiting off season. “People think rain is bad, but in the tropics, the rain is warm, dramatic and short-lived. To swim in the sea when it’s raining, when the see is like a warm bath, is a euphoric experience.” A new way to discover Sri Lanka indeed.

The Honeymoon Equation: Sri Lanka [Elle Wedding]

15/04/2015

Can’t decide between hotels or hiking, city or beach? Here are three ways to have it all. Colonial elegance + hill walking x beachside bliss + urban cool = Sri Lanka

This small tropical island boasts romantic, colonial-era tea estates, beautiful lakes and hills, fabulous beaches and a thriving capital with cool restaurants, galleries and shops.

Part I: The Hill Country

The Central Highland of Sri Lanka’s Hill Country must be one of the most beautiful places on earth, an area of vast lakes, towering peaks, deep ravines and dramatic waterfalls. Quiet country roads wind between rolling hills carpeted with neat rows of tea bushes, shaded by mango trees and banana leaves. Early morning mists are burnt off by the sun to reveal a sweeping landscape dotted with neat rows of tea bushes, shaded by mango trees and banana leaves. Early morning mists are burnt are burnt off by the sun to reveal a sweeping landscape dotted with ancient Anglican churches and tea planter’s bungalows.

This is just the place to hole up with a good book on the verandah of a colonial cottage, or to trek through a tea estate, where women in bright saris pluck the required bud and two leaves from every bush to make your cuppa.

Stay Ceylon Tea Trails arranges stays in four pretty, converted tea planter’s bungalows scattered around the Bogawantalawa Valley. Two of them, Summerville and Castlereagh, are on the shore of a peaceful lake, the other two, Norwood and Tientsin, are on working tea plantations. All have swimming pools, lovely rooms with log fires and antique furniture, ornate gardens and in-room spa treatments. Days  begin with ‘bed tea’ delivered to your room by your butler, followed by a full English or traditional Sri Lankan breakfast on the verandah. Between then and your four-course, candlelit, gourmet dinner, you have to fit in a three-course lunch, afternoon cream tea and pre-dinner cocktails.

Part II: The Tropical Coast

With miles of white sand, coconut palms and warm clear waters of the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka’s south coast is hard to beat. The ancient sea fort of Galle is the island’s oldest living city, inland from which there are cinnamon plantations, and jungles with wild elephants and leopards. As a port trading in spices and gems, with origins dating back to King Solomon, Galle was expanded by the Portuguese, then captured by the Dutch and embellished with ornate public buildings and churches. Today is a living museum of spice godowns (warehouses), narrow cobbled streets of merchants’ houses and grand municipal buildings in among the trendy cafes, cutting-edge boutiques and antiques dealers. To the south, the wild beaches of Weligama are lined with stilt fishermen balancing on flimsy poles out at sea.

Stay The most stylish option on this coast is the brand new Cape Weligama. On a rocky promontory flanked by arcs of wild Indian Ocean beach, the resort’s centrepiece is a stunning, clifftop, crescent-shaped infinity pool. The seriously luxurious villa suites all have sea views, in-room saunas and butler service. If relaxing is on the agenda – and it should be – the contemporary designed indoor/outdoor living areas have plenty of space for lounging. At night, turn off the AC and enjoy the cooling sea breeze wafting through the shuttered windows. In-room treatment therapies use home-grown, tea-based natural products renowned for their antioxidants and anti-ageing properties. A daily fish, spice and vegetable market, held outside the open-plan clifftop restaurant, shows off the raw ingredients found on the menu.

For a night in Galle, Aman Resorts has converted the beautiful New Oriental Hotel and renamed it Amangalla. A wonderful blend of white linen and arched verandahs, all of the building’s antique charm has been retained.

Part III: Urban Cool

Colombo is the perfect place to end your trip. The whole city is buzzing with exciting new restaurants, cool gallery spaces and designer shops – many of them in beautifully restored Dutch and British-era colonial buildings. Don’t miss the atmospheric Gallery Café. It’s housed in the elegantly faded old haunt of renowned Sri Lankan architect, Geoffrey Bawa, and transforms into a cool, clubby place by night. For breakfast, try an egg hopper (fried eggs in a rice flour pancake) on the seafront terrace of the grand Galle Face Hotel. For supper, feast on freshly caught lagoon crabs at the funky Ministry of Crab.

Stay The central Tintagel Colombo is unbeatable in the style stakes. A small mansion built in classical style in the 1930s, its 10 suites get top marks for comfort and design. For a quieter location out of town, the Wallawwa is a gorgeous old colonial manor house. Now a 17-room boutique hotel set in tropical grounds, it features shuttered windows, whirring ceiling fans and vintage furniture mixed with modern design.  

Tip

The deep Indian Ocean trench, 25 kilometres off shore from Weligama, is home to the Blue Whale, the largest animal on the planet, as well as several other whales and dolphins.

The logistics

For the Hill Country and the south-west coast, the best time is November – April, as these are the driest and coolest months.

There are daily direct flights between London – Colombo with Sri Lankan Airlines; both Qatar and Emirates offer a daily service via Doha or Dubai. Sri Lankan Airlines flies from Heathrow to Colombo from £520 return.

Ampersand offers three-nights half-board at Cape Weligama, three-nights full-board at Tea Trails and two nights B&B at Tintagel from £2,770 pp including return flights and transfers. Buy visas in advance for £19 at eta.gov.lk

Oh so quiet in lombok [Sunday Times]

25/01/2015

Now that Bali’s too busy, chill out on its prettier, cheaper sister island, Lombok, says Susan d’Arcy



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Ampersand’s details preparation, attention to detail and interaction before and during our trip show exactly why good travel agents have a role in today’s internet/direct booking age. Shalmali was a delight to work with – before and during our trip.
- Mr David Wallace, North India
Difficult to articulate just how good the service from you and your team really was. We know you will continue to do well and hope we have the chance to seek your assistance again before long.
- Mr & Mrs Manson, North India
I had a very lovely time and was looked after splendidly. My first visit to India could not have been better, save for being longer! But I shall return at some point and I shall look to you to make the arrangements.
- Matthew Nicklin, North India
So many highlights to choose from! The hotels were amazing but Maya Villa was a highlight… I loved just hanging out in the hammock reading my book and watching the peacocks chase the cows!
- Krista Weir, Sri Lanka
Everything you did for us whilst we were away was hugely appreciated, and Ampersand has been exemplary in every way. I'll always recommend you!
- Mr Richard Stoughton, Sri Lanka
I thought the Ampersand team was outstanding. We couldn’t have hoped for anything more.
- Mr Geoffrey Johnson, India
We had a wonderful holiday - everything was perfect. Thank you for helping us to make a thoughtful plan to enjoy and make most out of our trip. The places we visited, the guides, the transportation and driver, the hotels selected... Everything was great!
- Jaime Benitez, South India
Without question, you put together the best trip I have ever taken. We were shown around like visiting dignitaries, the hotels were fantastic and the itinerary was just right. Everybody I know will hear about how amazing Ampersand is!
- Leslie Siben, India

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