Kissed by tropical seas, the ‘Teardrop of India’ is about as mesmerising and magical as it gets. And if you like mixing jungle with beach, this is it. This sizeable island in the Indian Ocean is a rugged land of rainforest, with diverse wildlife, endless beaches AND the birthplace of the world’s best tea. And we all love tea.
WHERE TO STAY
Built on the strip of land where Elephants move from one habitat to another, this isn’t your average hotel. Opening out to sweeping views of scenic marshlands, this captivating hideaway in the centre of the Minneriya and Sigiriya National Parks will have you trumpeting with delight. Suites designed for royalty (and you are Royal darling), delicious food and a plunge pool for post sight-seeing – and all in the surrounds of the jungle. This is one location you won’t need a bottle of Herbal Essences to take you away from it all. Step outside to see the Elephants walking by, visit the nearby temples or just laze by the pool. You’re on holiday after all.
Where else in the world can you stay in a converted tea factory, pluck your own tea and take it home with you as a souvenir? At 2km above sea level, this citadel has views over the lush green organic plantations as the sun mingles with the mist. Rudyard Kipling would have been a fan. A restaurant in a restored train carriage provides good food (they also add to the effect by playing train noises and rock the carriage – so avoid the soup).
Surrounded by coconut trees and set alongside an 800-metre sweep of the Amanwella Beach, this hip hotel is quite the indulgence it looks. Located near the seaside town of Tangalle with space, views and indulgence in huge scrumptous dollops. The beach and jungle-edged villages nearby offer plenty of reasons to drag yourself off the sun bed and set out to explore. They have a complimentary babysitting service too (YAY). Endless plunge pools and banquettes mean you will always have somewhere to snooze – and we highly recommend Suites 110 and 112 which are private and right by the beach.
To quote Helga this is “NOT a boutique or starred emporium. If expecting a regular hotel experience. Best look elsewhere” – and she’s right. Ten minutes stroll from the ancient city of Kandy, this is a kitsch haven filled to the brim with vivid silks, ‘antiques’, family portraits, film sets, huge candles and relics. It. Is. AMAZING. Boasting an impressive celeb filled visitors book – from Sir Laurence Olivier to Vivian Leigh. Monkeys roam the garden and you can dip in the pool surrounded by child size silver fairies – obviously. Drink the night away with Helga and enjoy her incredible stories. This has to be the most over-the-top and truly extraordinary hotel in Sri Lanka. You might wonder what’s in the water.
WHERE TO EAT
Street Food | Mandatory Dining
Your Great Aunt might not agree but Sri Lankans say you can’t properly taste the flavours unless you eat with your fingers. And street-food is available in abundance Try Hoppers (our verdict, a very good alternative to Cheese Straws), the crepe/crumpet/pancake can be fried or steamed and are served either sweet or savoury – they are delicious and best eaten straight from the pan. We like ours soaked in treacle. You can also find salty fried chickpeas – a perfect accompaniment with drinks. If liquids are more your thing, Saruwath are the brightly coloured drinks you will see dotted around – syrupy and jelly like in sweetness, they will cool you down and simultaneously give you a much needed sugar hit. Try Kottu (see photo) which is basically a mix of veg, meat and egg – and goes well with the Vader (a crumbly lentil patty) – we could go on. But will restrain ourselves. You have to try it. That is all.
Okay, so this isn’t actually in Sri Lanka – but it is the best Sri Lankan restaurant in London and will suffice to either get you mega psyched for your impending trip – or act to soften the TERRIBLE blow of being back home. Feast on Hoppers (of course) but also a tantalising taste bud combo.. work yourself through the menu and wash it down with as many Kandy Gunpowders (Amrut Single Malt, Green Peppercorns, Passion Fruit & Fino Sherry) as you can manage/remember.
WHAT TO SEE
The iconic rocky outcrop of Sigiriya is perhaps Sri Lanka’s single most dramatic site. Near-vertical walls soar to a flat-topped summit that contains the ruins of an ancient civilization. It must have been hell getting back up there after a night out. The surrounding landscape – lily-pad-covered moats, water gardens and quiet shrines – and the excellent site museum, only add to Sigiriya’s rock-star appeal.
Kandy Esala Perahera
One of Asia’s most spectacular festivals, with huge processions of magnificent elephants, traditional dancers, drummers and torchbearers all honouring the Sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha. He is quite a guy because this is quite the festival.
Southern Beaches | Lifes a beach
Whether it’s a dawn visit to a fishing village to see the fishermen’s nightly spoils or unwinding on a golden sandy beach enjoying the sunset – there are more beaches than you can shake a Cornwall holiday stick at. And these are considerably more appealing both in temperature and company.
WHAT TO DO
This is one island where the best things are seen in stages. Going to Sri Lanka will give you the same feeling as a Fox in a Hen House. A lot to get your teeth into but limited time. Pick your places and leave some for the second visit.
Combining the zen of yoga with the soul of surfing – a week here will have you feeling fitter than a fiddle. Large (apparently harmless) lizards guard the grounds surrounded by lush tropical greenery in a stunning clifftop location. Its all inclusive (well, except the usual things) and you get a beautiful room, all classes and the most delicious food – lots of curries, fish, spices (healthy but really tasty). And after a busy days surfing and eating – in whichever order you decide, you can indulge in a relaxing massage too. If the whole speaking to others isn’t your thing, you may need to take your meals elsewhere, but for the rest of us, everyone sits with each other to eat, making it an easy and sociable place to visit tout seul. Early morning surfs, afternoon yoga and topped off with a sunset surf before enjoying a cocktail on the beach. And if you are lucky you may see a turtle or two. Now you have to feel smug after that!
Rock Shopping | From the source
If you know your stuff, this is the place to invest in some large rocks. The most famous Ceylon Sapphire is found here (a prettier blue than any other sapphire) as well as other fabulous jewels. Marco Polo famously said that Sri Lanka had the best Sapphires, Topazes, Amethysts and other Gemstones in the world – he was spot on. Rumour has it that the Queen of Sheba was given a Ceylon Ruby by King Solomon – and our British Crown features a whopping 400carat sapphire – too big to even explain but lets just say that the usual size of a sapphire is single figure carat. Make sure you go to a reputable place though – or you might have invested in the most expensive fancy dress accessory of the century.
Ella, Hatton & Adam’s Peak.
Ella – or locally known as “Little England”, is a must-go place to visit – and a great base for exploring the rich green mountains and lush acres of plantations. Its worth spending a few days here so you can have time for walks through the tea plantations, temples and waterfalls. From here, take the 7 hour train to Hatton – no chance for reading or snoozing (if thats your usual train plan) – turn and look our the window and you wont look away. Breathtaking views of the jungle, exotic forests, woodlands and endless miles of Ceylon tea plantations – it is unimaginable. When you arrive in Hatton you can take a short bus to Adam’s peak – this is one of Sri Lanka’s main pilgrimage sites. A vast summit that is believed to have the Buddha’s footprint. From here you will get better views that you can even imagine – and if you can climb in time for sunrise, all the better. Its worth the early start we promise.
Don’t even consider renting a car – splash out and get a driver. As Sri Lankans say, in order to drive around the island you’ll need three things: “good horn, good brakes and good luck”.
Be adventurous with your food – you won’t regret it. .
We don’t tolerate rushing. Nor do Sri Lankan’s. If it happens, act surprised.
Go long on hotels – they are worth it.
Air conditioning is essential – no matter when you go, its always hot baby.
The roads are only just roads. Leave plenty of time.
Tipping is encouraged.
Contributors: A big thanks to: Francesca Pool (who honeymooned here), Marina Banks (just back from a MONTHS sabbatical and frankly too brown to look at or talk to) and (unknowingly) Mr Banks, a London restaurant finder extraordinaire.
Image credits: Paradises.com, Aman.com, ltdexperience.com, for91days.com, Squaremeal.com, Srilankan.co, angelstravels.com, i.telegraph.co.uk, theguardian.com, gia.edu, holidaysrilankatour.com