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10 Things We Love About Sri Lanka

10 Things We Love About Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka, the ‘Teardrop of the Indian Ocean', is without a doubt, one of the most captivating and fascinating places on the planet. Sri Lanka is both resilient and full of promise, and is making a comeback in its inimitable style. Reigning as one of the ‘must-see’ islands in the world, the former Ceylon has captured our hearts since we very first launched in 2003. Here, we highlight 10 reasons to visit this glorious destination now, whether a first-timer or a seasoned ‘Sri Lanka-phile’.

1). Beaches

Golden sands, swaying palms and hassle-free... Sri Lanka’s beaches are a paradise escape for any occasion, from honeymoons to the ultimate exotic winter sun. At its best between October and April, Bentota Beach is rated one of the country’s best, just 50 miles from Colombo. The long, hazy stretch of bliss has great swimming, sunbathing while the scenic Bentota River offers a beautiful boat ride surrounded by wildlife with a lagoon for kayaking and jet-skiing. Stay in style on a former coconut plantation at Villa Bentota. Other beaches to discover include Weligama (meaning ‘sandy village’), nestled on the southern coast and 30 minutes from the colonial jewel of Galle. This sweep of soft-sand heaven is dotted with vibrant fishing boats. Seek out the cove beaches and sink into Cape Weligama with its vast crescent-shaped infinity pool and set out like a traditional ‘Ceylon’ village. We also love the old Dutch town of Trincomalee with its whale watching and the nearly-deserted eastern Niveli beach.

2). Geoffrey Bawa

Less an architect and more a national figurehead, Geoffrey Bawa is Sri Lanka’s most celebrated design son. A trail through his unique properties must be one of the most fulfilling aesthetic experiences in the world. Begin in the most personal way by staying at Bawa’s own home in Colombo, Bawa House No 11. Here, in a balmy, genteel neighbourhood, the architect created many of his iconic designs and the townhouse’s museum brims with the master’s possessions. Sail along the Bentota River to Bawa’s former country estate, Lunuganga and enter heaven. Four suites and a two-bedroom cottage are filled with Dutch furniture and the designer’s unique style all surrounded by ravishing gardens. The Last House, Bawa’s final flourish, is a six-bedroom tropical beach villa close to the seaside town of Tangalle. It is perfectly located to visit the Mulkirigala Caves with a rock-carved temple and monastery.

3). Temples & Spirit

The story of religion in Sri Lanka is an ancient and intriguing one. The island is the third most religious country in the world according to polls and 99% of Sri Lankans say religion is an important part of their daily life. The vast majority of the population is Buddhist with a Hindu minority and a surprisingly small Christian community. Trace the story of faith through the temples and churches dotted around. Dambulla is home to the jaw-dropping Dambulla Cave Temple complex, intricately carved and depicting, across 80 caves, the life of Buddha and other scenes. Another UNESCO World Heritage site is The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic in Kandy, which houses what it says on the tin, golden roofed and a reverent atmosphere. The most dramatic sight in Sri Lanka is the Sigiriya, a mountain fort used as a Buddhist monastery until the 14th century and lined with spectacular frescos and a citadel built in the 5th century. Seek out the 1749 Wolvendaal Church in Colombo, built in the form of a Greek Cross and filled with Dutch furniture. This little-known Protestant treasure is in the midst of restoration.

4). Food of the Gods

Sri Lanka bursts with flavours. The many layers of trade and traditions across the island have resulted in a cuisine that encompasses many nuances and great depth. The love of the sea infuses many of the country’s greatest dishes. Some of our highlights include: Baked Crab and Black Pork Curry at The Paradise Road Gallery Cafe - THE place in Colombo to dine. The design was overseen by Bawa himself (it was his former office) and features local artwork as a backdrop. Ministry of Crab in the former Dutch Hospital boasts the biggest, most sublime crabs we have ever seen and a convivial atmosphere. One of Kandy’s hidden gems, Helga’s Folly, is a decadent confection serving romantic Sri Lankan cuisine to outside guests, worth a pilgrimage to. Church Street Social is Galle’s most happening dining spot, a colonial interior with contemporary notes - the food is equally refined and the Lagoon Crab salad here is a thing of beauty. Loved by the late Rose Gray, founder of The River Cafe, Fort Printers is another Galle hotspot. Housed in an old Dutch mansion, sit in its frangipani-scented courtyard and feast on fragrant mutton samosas and butter poached lobster.

5). Aman

From the historical ramparts of Galle Fort to an idyllic beach retreat, Sri Lanka is home to two fabulous Aman hotels. Set above a serene crescent-shaped bay, Amanwella in Tangalle is a triumph of tropical minimalism, inspired by Geoffry Bawa’s work. The 27 suites are spacious and calming with private sea-facing plunge pools. Tuck into Asian fusion cuisine on the terracewhich soaked in sunset views. Then there’s grande dame Amangalla. Housed in a 17th-century sensitively-converted building, wander around the exotic gardens, take a dip in the secluded courtyard pool before relaxing with a spine-tingling Ayurvedic treatment in the spa.

6). Hill Country Paradise

The Hill Country is the island at its most scenic – picture a beguilingly beautiful land of dramatic emerald peaks and stirring views with hillsides decorated with tea plantations and dazzling waterfalls. Hunker down in Ceylon Tea Trails – a quartet of restored planters’ bungalows, pure colonial style, complete with butler service, afternoon tea and lawn croquet. Nine Skies is another must-stay. More a private house than a hotel, it’s a thoroughly modern interpretation of a traditional tea bungalow with just five bedrooms, set in lush gardens, with marvellous views. In between, explore the mist-wrapped eternal kingdom of Kandy, ride a train soaking up the bewitching vistas, dance to the drumbeat of traditional dance before basking in silence on a mountaintop.

7). Ayurveda

Combining “ayuh” (life) with “veda” (science), Ayurveda is one of the world’s oldest holistic wellness systems based on restoring balance between mind, body and spirit. Passed down from generation to generation for 5,000 years in Sri Lanka, it makes for some seriously restorative downtime. Described by TIME as one of the ‘world’s greatest places’, Santani, near Kandy, is the island’s Ayurvedic big hitter. At one with nature, this sleek retreat, high in the hills, is geared towards achieving harmony – so switch off, practice yoga, zone out with an Ayurvedic massage and dine on deeply delicious meals, based on your dosha or body type.

8). Surfing

Surfing and Sri Lanka belong together. An equal to some of the great surfing destinations of the world, Sri Lanka boasts some of the greatest waves and beaches out there for anyone following their surfing bliss. The pattern of the rains makes the island a year-round surfing spot. Head down to Hikkaduwa, 20-km from Galle, for a legendary surf and party scene under an endless blue sky. Family surfing is found at palm-lined Unawatuna Bay - find THAT rope-swing, an instagram favourite, hike up to the Japanese Peace Pagoda and brunch at Skinny Tom’s when not hitting the breakers. Weligama is another slice of surfing paradise. The waves are fabulous and the area sports many reputed surf schools. Other sights include the nearby Elephant Safari and the tea plantations of Ella. Sri Lanka really does have it all!

9). Culture

There is a thriving arts and cultural scene in Sri Lanka - both refined and vibrant. Fly in for the Galle Literary Festival held each January and attracting an international audience - this year saw Sir David Hare, Anthony Horowitz and Fatima Bhutto among others speaking. Dive into an artistic melting pot at Colomboscope with its smorgasboard of local and global writers, artists and poets. Art lovers should head to Colombo’s avant-garde Barefoot Gallery, while deep in the suburbs, lies the fabulous Art Way Gallery, housed in an historic manor and championing Sri Lankan art worldwide. Anoushka Hempel’s eponymous galleries in Colombo and Galle are worth visiting. History is found at Colombo’s The Dutch Museum, once the home of Count August Van Ranzow, the transporting Mask Museum Ambalangoda and the Buddhist-centred Sri Dalada Museum in Kandy filled with an eclectic array of gifts presented to the Sacred Tooth Relic.

10). Shopping

Sri Lanka has its own aesthetic and it is one that you will fall in love with. Clean lines, harmonious colours and a serene understanding of form in a spice-scented tropical setting. Colombo’s Paradise Road Studios is the epitome of this style - modern furniture (they ship everywhere), ceramics and glassware are all covetable. Batik is one of the island’s imported designs - go to young designer INDI for delicious silk batik clothing and Swanee for clothes and homewares. Saturday mornings can be spent picking up eco-friendly and organic products at Good Market, mostly in Colombo but also Kandy and Galle. Don’t leave without buying some Dilmah Tea - the finest Ceylon blend.

For more information or to start planning your tailor-made holiday to Sri Lanka, please contact us: // +44 (0) 207 819 9770

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- Matthew Annable, Rajasthan, India
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- Anonymous, 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!
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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.
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