Where to stay
We tried four of the best hotels in the south-west of the island.
Close to Colombo airport, the 18-bedroom Wallawwa gently eases you into the country.
Kahanda Kanda came next. Raconteurial owner George Cooper tells this boutique hotel’s story best himself. Suffice it to say his determination to produce a seamless transition from inside (10 individually designed suites) to outside (luxuriant, tropical forest) has yielded a destination of the highest calibre.
A short – and colourful – tuk-tuk ride away, KK Beach is a new sister property that trades the forest for the beach. The prospect on arrival is exquisite: behind a large wooden door, a covered walkway takes you into a cool reception area that leads smoothly towards an infinity pool, palm trees and a sandy beach.
Twenty minutes up the road, Galle Fort has dominated the Bay of Galle since the 16th century. Portugese, Dutch and British powers left their mark, but it’s now indelibly Sri Lankan. Before visiting any of the gem shops or old churches, we checked straight into Fort Bazaar. Nine short years ago, it wasn’t much more than a pile of rubble. Today, it’s a fine townhouse hotel built around its own handsome courtyard.
What to do
The sprawling capital city, Colombo, deserves a day’s exploration if you have the time. Our walking tour with local architecture historian Mark Forbes focused on the Fort district. Off-limits to all but the military until just a few years ago, the area’s handsome colonial architecture is now accessible. Take lunch in the 17th-century Dutch hospital, newly repurposed as a cool – and cooling – shopping and eating destination.
For a new perspective on Galle Fort, walk its 300-year-old walls with local guides who exude genuine enthusiasm. Just make sure you have a drink in hand for the spectacular if fast-fading sunsets.
Head inland and, from Kahanda Kanda, you can explore the Handunugoda virgin white tea plantation (where gold-plated scissors keep the product pure), cycle the shores of Lake Koggala or take a boat to meet the working families of its Cinnamon Island.
Where to eat
It’s not something we’d normally do on holiday, but at KK Beach we went back three times for the lunchtime salad: catch-of-the-day tuna with an abundance of locally sourced superfoods (pumpkin, beets, pomegranate – we could go on). At breakfast, string hoppers with fish curry – trust us – renewed our sense of place each morning.
When to go
A couple of monsoons hit at different times around the island. Where we were, in the south-west, peak season is Christmas to Easter. Prices drop thereafter but – like us – you can still get very lucky with the weather.
The Ultimate Travel Company (020 3051 8098) tailor-makes luxury stays in Sri Lanka. Seven nights from £1,795pp, including flights from Heathrow, accommodation, transfers and guided sightseeing.
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