After an eye-opening tour, Adam Jacot de Boinod defies anyone not to fall in love with the tropical idyll that is Sri Lanka.
I have to go back. It’s so uplifting to be part of this harmonious triangle of mankind, animal and nature. And, of all the tropical islands I have visited, Sri Lanka has the most heady mix of exoticism. I arrived at my first hotel, the Wallawwa (thewallawwa.com), which calls itself “my house near Colombo”. It’s a great hideaway and resting spot being only 15 minutes drive from the airport.
The next morning and off to Ratnapura, the home of Sri Lankan jewellery, in search of gems. Then down south to the fishing town of Tangalle and the coast that meets the Indian Ocean. Along this strip is the new Anantara resort (www.tangalle.anantara.com), where guests get a theatrical welcome with traditional blessings. A bearded man in full costume blows his conch and three girls alternate between singing and drumming.
I felt a real delight in witnessing the source of my food as manual workers, up to their knees in mud in the paddy fields, left behind them immaculate rows of rice. And to taste their rice that evening made me appreciate my food all the more.
A stone’s throw away from Anantara or five minutes in a tuk-tuk is Amanwella (aman.com/resorts/amanwella), a meticulously stunning hotel, tucked away in a cove. Amanwella means “peace and beach”. It’s a signature Aman hotel enhancing what’s already in the environment with the lines and colours, spaces and angles of the buildings. I found myself stopping in my tracks to appreciate fully the brilliance of the design.
On I go, past the famous temple at Dikwella and the large sprawl that is Matara, past the beautiful half-moon bay at Mirissa and the already developed Weligama. Finally up inland to Lake Koggolo and on to my next hotel, the Kahanda Kanda (www.kahandakanda.com). Five miles from Galle, this style-conscious hotel looks down from its hilltop perch over a 12-acre tea plantation. Most of the movement within the complex is along or across a saffron wall and the colour, along with the abbreviation KK, is the hotel’s slick brand and motif. It’s all designed to be reassuringly familiar for a principally British clientele with scattered Country Life magazines in the lobby-cum-library.
My next treat was to be at the nearby Maliga Kandy (thehideawaysclub.com). It’s part of the Hideaways Club Classic Collection portfolio with properties all around the world. It’s perfect for someone who doesn’t want to be restricted to one location or have the hassle of maintenance. Meaning Mountain Palace, Maliga Kanda is perched on a hill. There’s music in the jungle here, especially with the dawn chorus. Colourful birds abound, peacocks strut upon their stage while fireflies shine out like mini stars and I was soon a twitcher, straining to spot the cormorants, eagles, kingfishers, blue pigeons and grosbeaks.
I took the most wonderful of all walks down through the village where I felt all of the island’s innocence and timeless charm. Dogs sit out by day to protect the houses and lie on the road at night to enjoy the tarmac’s warmth. A washerwoman by the stream thinks twice about agreeing to be photographed among her laundry. Elderly ladies parade in pairs beneath their vivid-coloured parasols. Old men stick their legs out at right angles on old bicycles that cause them to adopt staunch, upright postures.
I was next to experience the period charm of a bygone era, at the Amangalla Hotel (aman.com/resorts/amangalla). I sensed the residual authenticity. It’s full of character with triangular stairwells and wonky tiles. When I dined at the restaurant I chose well: an avocado gazpacho, a “salami-thin” beetroot and quinoa salad, followed by seared scallops beside an aubergine ravioli.
The library is like a museum with fusty old prints of Ceylon, backgammon sets and back-broken atlases, objects in glass cases and most symbolically a Union Flag folded away in the corner.
I was to spend my last night at a lovely boutique hotel called Maniumpathy (maniumpathy.com). In its own little world, off the main road and secure behind a grand façade and porch, it features lattice artwork and has columns lifted to prevent the threat of the monsoon floods. The interior houses an old-fashioned dining room with a lovely long ebony table and a sitting room that is cosy and convivial. Teak and mahogany are also much in evidence.
I picked up a copy of the Sinhala dictionary, the language spoken by Sri Lanka’s largest ethnic group in. It has some wonderful vocabulary, especially those alluding to physical characteristics such as “kadadat” meaning to possess only half of your original teeth; “tivili” for a person with three dents in his belly (from fatness); and my favourite, “miyulesa”, for a woman with the eyes of a deer.
Unlike other popular tropical destinations, Sri Lanka remains relatively unspoilt. The war is finished, the tsunami is a decade past and the highways now connect the island efficiently. With tourism rates projected to explode over the next few years, now is the perfect time to visit.
Adam travelled with the Holiday Place, which offers a wide range of holidays to Sri Lanka starting from £699, including flights, accommodation and transfers. Call 020 7644 1770 and let the experts tailor-make your holiday or visit http://holidayplace.co.uk to book.