01 Wednesday July, 2015
By Catriona Deredas, Ampersand's Sri Lanka specialist
Sri Lanka is a destination close to all our hearts here at Ampersand so we were very excited to make our annual visit. At the end of April, I left a cold and blustery London and arrived 11 hours later in a baking Colombo. Joined by Shalmali Rao Paterson and managing director James Jayasundera we drove over 3,000km and visited 80 hotels in just under three weeks – making it our most successful research trip to date.
It is clear that Sri Lanka is changing, but it is all in a positive direction. Infrastructure is being invested in, so quicker and less bumpy car journeys (!) and the Cinnamon Air domestic service is really helping visitors to access parts of the island which would otherwise take a good 5 or 6 hour car journey. There are also several new hotels opening and they are going to be great additions to an already fantastic collection on the island.
Based on our most recent trip, below you will find an example of one of the many fantastic tours that can be done in Sri Lanka.
Flying into Sri Lanka with Qatar Airways from London Heathrow is a fantastic and snappy way to reach Colombo. They also have amazing business class which serves delicious food, drink and fantastic service. The price is also very appealing and starts from £1,500.00 return in business class per person. I recommend taking the 3pm flight from Heathrow and arriving fresh faced into Colombo the following morning at 8am.
On arrival, drive or even fly up to Anuradhapura, the northern-most tip of the Cultural Triangle and relax. Ulagalla is a fantastic property which has everything and anything that you could want from private plunge pools to a golf range. I would take the first day here to relax and enjoy the sunshine. Ulagalla deliver all meals to your room at no extra cost so there really isn’t any reason to feel like you have to move! The private paddy field dinners (payable locally) that the hotel can arrange are a romantic and intimate way to finish the day when staying here. If you are planning a special occasion, I would certainly recommend it.
Day three and four:
Take these days to explore; there is so much to do nearby! The ancient city of Anuradhapura is fascinating and you could easily spend a day walking or even cycling around the sites visiting the stupas, man-made ponds, ruins of monasteries and even the hospital. There is also the fantastic site of Ritigala where you can climb through forest to discover the old monastery ruins as well as Mihintale where you can climb (again) up through a 300-metre mountain to reach a Buddhist pilgrimage site. If you are interested in wildlife, Minneriya is nearby and great for elephant spotting!
Drive down to the southern tip of the Cultural Triangle visiting Aukana (a fantastic 5th Century 40 feet tall statue of Buddha carved out of granite). On arrival, check in at Kandalama, one of the most iconic hotels in Sri Lanka. It is designed by architect guru Geoffrey Bawa and spans 1km into a cliff face overlooking the lake. In the afternoon, visit the Dambulla Cave Temples so see the hundreds of Buddha statues in the cave series.
This morning, visit the famous Sigiriya Rock Fortress. I would recommend an early start as otherwise it gets a bit busy and hot! The climb is also a great way to either burn off a heavy breakfast or to work up a serious appetite! I would then drive down to Kandy and visit the Temple of the Tooth, one of the most important religious sites in Sri Lanka before heading back to your hotel, Stone House which is on the edge of the city. It is a wonderful boutique property which has charm in a peaceful location.
Take a gorgeous drive down to the tea plantations and enjoy two nights in one of the Tea Trails bungalows. They are converted tea plantation manager bungalows and they ooze history and sophistication with views to die for. We don’t have a favourite here as each of the four bungalows is incredible. This year, they are due to open a fifth and we cannot wait! Food here is fantastic so sit back, indulge and eat a bit too much!
The tea factory tour is very good and led by a resident tea planter. I would recommend taking the tour and then popping to one of the other bungalows for lunch. Some of the bungalows are close to one another so if you are interested in a walk you could follow the trail home. Otherwise, there are bikes to help you on your way.
Take one of the most scenic drives to Galle. Ok, it is a little on the long side at six or seven hours but it is gorgeous (!!) and there are plenty of places to stop and take in the view. When you arrive in Galle fort, Amangalla will welcome you with open arms. It is my favourite hotel in the fort and has so much character and history. The suites are humongous and it is the perfect place to pop on the jazz music and to have a romantic dance with your partner.
People watch at breakfast from the Amangalla's veranda. There is so much going on around 8am from school children arriving in the hoards, couples posing for their wedding photos and locals walking to work. It really gives a sense of what it is like to live within the fort. During the day, take a walk through the fort and explore all the nooks and crannies. ‘The Tuna and The Crab’ restaurant in the Old Dutch Hospital is great for lunch!
Today I would drive up the coast to Bentota where you can relax by the beach. Rock Villa plays the perfect host and you can laze by their stunning pool or swing in a hammock with a good book. Sunset walks on the beach are a must as well as a refreshing morning swim in the ocean.
Relax, relax and relax!
Pay a visit to Lunuganga and the Brief Gardens. They offer a great morning of exploring and they couldn’t be more different from one another. You could always have lunch at Lunuganga too but let us know as this needs to be pre-booked.
Colombo is seriously underrated and it is time that it is appreciated for the fantastic city it is. Spend your last day and night stay at the stunning Tintagel and live like a local by spending the day like one. Pop into town, do some shopping at Paradise Road and then head to Barefoot for lunch followed by a browse of their impressive store. Head along to the National Museum for your final touch of history and then head to the Dilmah T-Lounge in the Dutch Square for a traditional cup of tea. The Pol Pani crepes are amazing and go well with a tinkiri tea! Aim to get to the Old Dutch Hospital for late afternoon where you can enjoy a fantastic foot massage. It will have been a busy day but a fun one! The best place to finish is the Gallery Café. The perfect place to reminisce about the best trip you have had!
Back to the airport and home. Again, Qatar’s flights offer snappy connections and a great service. Please try not to suffer from any holiday blues!
If you need any help or advise in planning your next Sri Lanka holiday, please do not hesitate to contact me on my direct dial +44 (0) 207 819 8905 or to drop me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. It would be a pleasure to help!