What struck me most about our visit to Sri Lanka was the enormous variety of places to stay within a week-long journey. To travel from lakes and mystic historical sights to tea plantations down to the tropical coast and over to the stunning old Dutch fort town of Galle is a classic itinerary and for good reason.
Our trip started at the Wallawa, a lovely hidden hotel. As you drive down a track barely big enough for the vehicle you do wonder where you are being taken but pop out into a clearing with Frangipani trees and a stunning house. It makes a lot of sense to have a re-charge here before heading off for three hours up into the cultural area. This was the most modestly priced accommodation but stunning rooms and the best food of the trip. It is often used as a post flight stop off but I think it is far better than this and for clients on a relaxed time frame I would suggest a two-night stay.
The next morning we were taken to the Kandy House. This is another very special old colonial house. The infinity pool overlooks a rice paddy field with water buffalo roaming about. Monkeys are watching from up in the trees and it is certainly the most amazing setting for an infinity pool I have seen. Dinner is delicious and arranged on the small verandah and in the gardens. It has always been a highlight for clients I have sent there and now I know why.
The lake in Kandy and Temple of the Tooth are fantastic to see. The town itself is a bit frenetic but with your guide it is easy to get about. It is so important in Sri Lanka to use the right ground agent. Often it does not matter with a simple single centre beach holiday and a taxi will suffice but here your driver and guide make the entire trip. I only work with the best team locally so know the vehicles and guides are the best there are.
Then came the train! We often use the train between Kandy and Hatton as it is a great experience to watch the countryside pass by for a couple of hours. You are met at the other end by your car and driver but they have made the hairpin journey for you with your bags. Here you need two nights in Kandy to take the fast morning train up to Hatton and then it is a 30-minute drive to your bungalow.
For years everyone I have sent to the Tea Trails has adored it and I know why. There are four houses with six bedrooms and staff and each one has its own character. I am happy to recommend which is the right one to request although it is always just a request for a specific bungalow. From the moment you arrive the staff are subtle, efficient and look after you without you knowing it. The all-inclusive set up makes you feel like a house guest rather than staying in a hotel and the food is really lovely.
It has a very special feeling up in the tea plantations and this was the place we all relaxed and enjoyed the most. We had a day of heavy rain but even that did not affect us. We did a superb tour around a tea factory with Andrew. I will not go into too much detail about this brilliant man but if you take a tour of his factory this is the man to ask for and I’ll be doing this for all my clients.
From the Tea Trails we headed to Tangalle on the south coast. This is a long travelling day but again with the right guide and driver the day is enjoyable rather than something to be dealt with. We met the last remaining original Sri Lankan cast member of Bridge over the River Kwai and his extremely proud wife en route.
We then arrived at Amanwella. The modern welcome and reception of this property is in stark contrast to the smaller places we stayed in before and it did not sit perfectly for me on this kind of tour. I felt people who were doing this kind of adventurous journey may not settle into the luxurious beach front feel as quickly as the smaller more personal properties. If you want a beach break on the south coast this certainly has the name and reputation but it is to be booked carefully as it isn’t for everyone.
Our last stop was a short drive along the coast to Galle, a UNESCO protected town. We stopped on the way to watch the stilt fishermen and met the oldest, most photographed of the fishermen who was happy to oblige our tourist questions and cameras. Galle is a stunning well-kept Old Dutch fort town and bursting with history. We stayed at Amangalla, which was a huge highlight for me. The sense of history of the old barracks and antiques around the property transported me to a really special place and I’d have stayed another couple of days for sure if time permitted. The restaurants in Galle are also really wonderful. There is a specific guide who lives there who I will be booking for my clients as she is an English lady who has had books published about the place. She is a whirlwind of knowledge and stories and even our short tour with her was just brilliant.
Then sadly we left to take the fast new motorway back to the airport and our flight home. It had been an adventure, relaxing, exciting and certainly a feast for the senses. A week in the Maldives to unwind would have been perfect but I’ll have to leave that to my clients this time.