Louisa revisits her favourite country: Sri Lanka
By Louisa Buchanan, Ampersand's adventure and luxury-loving Office Manager, reporting back on her tour of Sri Lanka
I thought Sri Lanka couldn’t get any better, but I was wrong. This year I mostly stayed in places that I didn’t stay at last year: Ulagalla, Aditya, Amangalla and Cinnamon Wild at Yala National Park. First stop was Ulagalla, which was magical. There are 20 private ecologically-built chalets across 58 beautiful acres of land so you feel as though you are a million miles from anyone. Each chalet has its own private outside Jacuzzi, perfect for enjoying a few gin and tonics under the stars! A short bicycle ride away is the 150 year old mansion which houses the restaurant, bar and swimming pool. I cannot find any faults at Ulagalla; the swimming pool is huge and perfectly heated, the chalets incredibly comfortable and luxurious and there are no set meal times so you can eat whenever suits and the food is delicious! There are plenty of things to do including archery, jungle kayaking and horse riding to name a few. I could have easily stayed a week, if not more at Ulagalla… it was the perfect start.
The days I spent in the cultural triangle were jam packed full of excursions and activities. On the first day I walked around historical Polonnaruwa followed by one of my favourite sites, the Dambulla Cave Temples and then on to Minneriya National Park. I had been told that April was a good time to visit Minneriya to see the elephant gathering and indeed it was; I saw at least 100 elephants including three with tusks and one two week old calf. I was completely transfixed watching them happily getting on with their business until one decided that we had overstayed our welcome and started to charge at us! The driver was prepared for this and made a very quick u-turn manoeuvre and we soon found ourselves amongst some much calmer elephants.
The following day our driver took us to have an Ayurvedic Massage where natural oils and techniques are used to help harmonise the mind, body and spirit. This was heaven and a great way to relax our muscles before our hike up Sigiriya rock. King Kasyapa took seven years to build his palace on top of the rock to protect himself from attack by his brother after he killed his father and declared himself King. Sigiriya was not just an ingeniously designed military fortress; between the moats and the rock are water gardens, complete with fountains that still work during heavy rains, as well as miniature rivers and swimming pools with polished walls. There are caves with beautiful frescos of bare-breasted celestial maidens and a mirror wall covered with ancient graffiti – some of which date from the 7th Century. The view from the top, 360 metres above sea level, is definitely worth the climb. On one side the King's gardens stretch away to the jungle fringes, on the other side is the Sigiriya tank (a man-made lake) which once supplied the fortress and palace with its water.
Next on my itinerary was the Tea Trails via The Temple of the Tooth in Kandy. Tea Trails has to be one of my favourite places in Sri Lanka – it is not to be missed! I stayed first in Castlereagh bungalow, which sits on the reservoir surrounded by rolling hills, and then at Tientsin, with its beautiful gardens. The food here is incredible; it is like eating in a Michelin star restaurant and the service is outstanding – if you want to feel pampered and spoiled there is no better place to be!
Yala National Park was another highlight. I went on two game drives, one of which started at the crack of dawn, but the fact that I saw a leopard in a tree with its kill definitely made up for the lack of sleep! There were plenty of other wildlife too – elephants, buffalo, wild boar, jackals, crocodiles and a huge variety of birds.
I was lucky enough to stay for one night in Amangalla in Galle. If I were to build my dream house I would style it just like this. The hotel has a real freshness mixed with old style features such as polished-aged floors and four poster beds. I spent most of my time here by the pool relaxing in one of the pavilions and taking full advantage of the pool side service. Later, I organised a private dinner by the pool complete with hanging lanterns, candles and a couple of musicians – it really was an experience to remember.
Last stop was Aditya, which sits back from a lovely sandy, clean beach. As this would be my last few days in the sun I had a special ‘after sun massage and wrap’ which gave the previous massage a run for its money. The final journey was to be by train from Galle to Colombo, which was a beautiful route along the coast and I would definitely recommend it. Supper that evening was at The Ministry of Crab in the Old Dutch Fort which was a lot of fun, although – controversially – I thought the prawns were even better than the crab!
Sri Lanka has something for everyone – from its rich history and beautiful scenery to its huge variety of wildlife and places to stay and, best of all, its friendly, warm and welcoming people.
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