A Welcome Return to Sri Lanka

Whilst in Sri Lanka we heard the news that Sri Lanka has been given the title of Destination of 2015 by the Sunday Times.  It really didn’t come as a great surprise – being on the top of our list for a long time. Our most recent visit just confirmed it.

We have previously travelled extensively around Sri Lanka; covering the Cultural Triangle, the Central Highlands as well as the West and South Coast. We decided, due to the increasing demand to travel to Sri Lanka at all times of year, that we should complete the picture and visit in September when the East Coast is at its very best whilst the West and South Coast have their share of monsoons. With war a distant memory, the whole of the east coast is opening up into a fascinating destination which makes Sri Lanka a year-round attraction.

Starting in Colombo (where we have driven through before but never stayed) there are an increasing number of boutique hotels which are well worth a visit.  We were very spoilt, as our first night was spent in Tintagel a lovely historic boutique hotel where Prince Charles, the Blairs and – whilst we were there – Mrs Clooney have stayed. We also managed to get a table at the Ministry of Crab, a very buzzy restaurant opened by two famous Sri Lankan cricketers – well worth a visit.

Next morning after a delicious breakfast we travelled north to Wilapattu National Park, which on our visit was quiet, but apparently one of the other vehicles did see Leopard. Continuing East, stopping for one night to break the journey at Anuradhupura with its sacred temples and ancient ruins; the journey itself is fascinating as we paused to watch rafters being carved from palm trunks by hand at the roadside and palm flower sap being tapped from the trees by men swinging form trunk to trunk on thin ropes. Having been to Anuradhupura before we nevertheless felt it worthwhile to revisit some of the sites and were really pleased that we did so, even if it is just to people watch – it is a fascinating spectacle. Eventually, on our way to Trincomalee, stopping enroute to drink freshly cut King coconut juice, intrigued by the road side stalls, and everyday life it didn’t seem to take long to get to the Coast.

Walking into Chaaya Blu, where we were to stay for 4 nights, we were bowled over by the lovely view from the foyer as it looked out on the bluest of blue swimming pools which seemed to melt into the sea beyond, how lucky were we!! We took the opportunity whilst we were there, to visit Uga Jungle Beach and Anilana Beach at Nilaveli just close by to Trincomalee; both of which we would definitely recommend. As we had a few days there we also took the time to enjoy some local activities such as a snorkeling trip, whale/dolphin watching and a visit to Fort Frederick all great fun. Back on the road again we followed the coast down to Pasikudah, during the journey our driver gave us information about the areas we were travelling through, so the journey passed incredibly quickly.

On arrival at the Uga Bay hotel, where we stayed for 3 nights, we were again completely taken aback by the wonderful view on entering their reception. Impeccable lawns interspersed by coconut palms leading you down to the beautiful beach and blue sea – its just such a wonderful welcome. The stay there didn’t disappoint as we were incredibly impressed with attention to detail, friendliness of the staff and our beautiful room with views out towards the ocean.

We spent one day inspecting some of the other hotels along the beautiful crescent beach, with its natural protection of a coral barrier reef. Maalu Maalu, Anilana and Sun Aqua were the ones that stood out for presentation, their unusual rooms and locations but Uga Bay was definitely our favourite.

We were now coming to the end of our trip so travelled back through the centre of the Island to Sigiriya, staying in the Jet Wing Vil Uyana. Another stunning hotel with its unique thatched wooden dwellings linked with walkways nestled amongst the paddy fields and ponds, exceptional food and attentive service. One could almost feel as though you’re in a luxury Ashram, such is the peace and tranquillity of this hotel.

Whilst we were in this area we also took the opportunity to visit Minneriya National Park as the dry season of August and September is the best time to see the ‘Elephant Gathering’.  So called because when water is in short supply elsewhere large herds return each year to the man-made water tanks which are a reliable source. As the day cools groups of elephants of all ages, emerge from the tree cover in large numbers to make their way to the edges, to drink the water and graze on the fresh green shoots of grass exposed when the water recedes. Some mingle sociably others fight for the best places – a truly fantastic spectacle.

On our last day we had time to take part in a village experience, going by bullock cart and boat to a traditional village, where we were given a demonstration of how to prepare food by one the ladies. She cut, grated and mixed fresh coconut and then milled, kneaded and cooked the roti bread to eat it with – so incredibly tasty – we devoured the lot. So to our last night at Negombo and then an early start to fly to Mumbai where we were staying in yet another of our favourite hotels – The Taj Mahal Palace – for two nights.  We spent our time exploring some of the wonderful cloth, flower, food and antique markets where you can buy almost anything.  As well as an intriguing walk into the Dharavi Slums where you’ll find potters, dhobi wallahs and recycling industries within any one of the thousands of tiny rooms and narrow alleyways.

We had the ability to walk away from it and go back to our hotel but it does make you wonder how these families exist day in, day out. So to the end of our wonderful stay in both Sri Lanka and India but we know we will return soon as we can’t seem to stay away.

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