Sri Lanka is brimming with maritime adventures, high-end stays and culinary treats
Long weekends have us conjuring thoughts of a rested getaway, adventure-filled mornings and culinary-led days, and that’s exactly what Sri Lanka offers. The country is hailed for its tea trails, coastal areas, mountainous regions, biking adventures, hikes and plenty more. Exploring the various cities and towns can take anywhere between weeks to months, so if you don’t have the luxury of time, here’s a four-day itinerary to get the most out of your short stay.
Day 1: The city of Colombo
The country’s capital is crowded, with bustling parks and streets. However, we’ve been told it has its own charm. Our holiday began with a visit to the Gangaramaya Temple on what happened to be Poya Day (a public holiday celebrated in Sri Lanka every full moon).
Contemporary architecture, gold structures and a man selling candles and lotus bouquets, to place as offerings, meets the eye at first glance. Pick up a candle to light at one of the grottos and explore the temple’s collection of vintage cameras and items that have been gifted to the monks. If you’re there on Poya Day, one of the worshippers will most likely tie a white band around your wrist as a blessing, truly exemplifying their compassionate selves.
To enjoy Colombo the way the locals do, visit Galle Face Green – a strip flanked by the ocean, dotted with food carts. Here you can tuck into one of the country’s favourite street snacks, kothu roti (pieces of flatbread shredded and mixed with eggs and veggies). The city is home to museums, casinos and parks, and in every nook and corner, property development takes place – Dusit Thani residences have made their entry, targeting a bevy of expats migrating to the country.
The sole purpose of me visiting Colombo was mainly to dine at Ministry of Crab (listed in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list) owned by Sri Lankan cricketing legends Mahela Jayawardane and Kumar Sangakkara. Nestled at a 400-year-old former Dutch hospital, the hotspot makes for an intimate dinner with dim lighting, striking chandeliers and windows that allow a cool breeze to make its way through the restaurant and the outdoor courtyard. Dharshan Munidasa – one of the country’s most celebrated chefs – is at the helm of the kitchen, serving sustainably-fished export-quality crabs for crustacean lovers. We tucked into a plate of tender shrimp doused in butter to whet our appetite, followed by a garlic chilli crab and wood-fired traditional kade bread to soak up the moreish juices. A side of crisp garlic fried rice perfectly complemented the sweet, fleshy crab meat, living up to its hype and making the visit to the city worthwhile on every account.
Day 2 and 3: Koggala and Galle Fort
Koggala (the country’s largest natural lake, pictured here) is surrounded by guest houses, hotels and temples. From here, you can visit Galle Fort (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) sited at the Bay of Galle on the southwest coast of Sri Lanka. It harks back to 1588, when it was first built by the Portuguese and further fortified by the Dutch during the Seventeenth century (from 1649). The fort’s ambience isn’t anything like we have experienced around Sri Lanka. In fact, it’s almost similar to Europe, with street-side bars, a mix of traditional and international eateries, gemstone shops, five-star hotels for high tea, coupled with nurseries and universities (housed in buildings) along the way. To explore the area and fully immerse yourself with a tipple or two, you will need a few hours. We highly recommend visiting Tap House and Sugar Bistro & Wine bar for breakfast, lunch and creative concoctions. Those craving an authentic Sri Lankan curry, can head to Galle Things Roti for spicy prawn, chicken and meat dishes. Most hotels can arrange a tuk-tuk ride to and fro.
Stay at: Tri Lanka
You may have spotted this sustainable resort on Instagram, known for its infinity pool that looks out to the lush hills and Koggala lake. Perched atop a hill, with cinnamon trees and rice paddy fields dotted along the trail, this luxury design hotel is built on the premise of catering to those looking for tranquility. With just 11 suites comprising rooms in the central water tower, and villas with a private pool, the spot is ideal for those who want to catch up on reading, laze by the pool, pack in a yoga session, and literally do absolutely nothing for days.
Wellbeing is placed at the forefront, with a sustainable philosophy carried throughout – from the tropical surroundings, to the rooms and dining experiences. Our days were spent by the private pool in the villa, with a quick trip to the library nestled amongst foliage for a coffee and lazy afternoon reading session. Group yoga takes place a few mornings per week, and you can add on various excursions and activities including whale watching, a visit to cinnamon island and a cooking demonstration. Due to weather conditions, we opted for an authentic Sri Lankan culinary class which took place by the lakeside – instead of under the banyan tree. Sri Lankan meals are quite healthy with fruit and vegetables we don’t even come across in the UAE, used for cooking. We interacted with the chef, assisted with vegetable slicing and indulged in a banana blossom curry, passion fruit leaves salad, dhal and green bean coconut gravy with red rice.
The expansive villas feature a day bed, open-style bathroom, private pool and terrace complete with a coffee table. Draw the drapes before you sleep, as you will want to wake up to the sounds of birds chirping and serene view of the lake. On Poya Day, you will be able to hear soothing chants from the nearby temple. Note, the hotel rooms aren’t equipped with a TV, so make sure to carry a book along. When heading to the city, don’t forget to take the provided mobile along.
Room service isn’t available for breakfast, so no dining in bed here. However, with a stunning landscape to relish while tucking into a feast for a breakfast, we didn’t mind the walk to the hotel’s restaurant. The meal begins with fresh exotic fruit, granola and frozen curd ice cream, followed by coffee and pastries, a comforting kurakkan (red millet) porridge and your choice of dish from the a la carte menu – we ate egg curry with string hoppers and sambol (a chutney condiment). A nutritious smoothie is served as an energy booster, apt for those who are about to venture off on a cycling tour or surfing adventure. Dinner takes place at the same restaurant and is served as a multi-course menu comprising seasonal ingredients with mango showcased in a curry with green bean fry, quail eggs with miso and tofu, and grilled spiced fish with rice.
The hotel is approximately 30-40 minutes away from Galle Fort. If you are looking for a tucked-away abode –almost a forest escape – that offers great hospitality with magnificent food to complement, you can’t go wrong at Tri Lanka. Those who’ve explored Sri Lanka prior to this trip, and have more time on hand, can indulge in an Ayurvedic massage and private yoga sessions.
Day 4: Weligama
Popular with surfers and sunbathers, this coastal town on the southern part of the country – in Matara district – is one bustling with character. Weligama is perhaps best described as a fishing town and beach resort destination where you can indulge in a bit of shopping, surf all day and meander around town on a bike or tuk tuk. Begin the trip by stopping by the Kushta Raja Gala sculpture carved into a rock between the 7-9th centuries. According to forklore, a foreign king who suffered from a skin diseases was treated by a doctor in Weligama bay, and when restored back to his original strength, had a sculpture of himself (the Kushta king) carved into the rock. Another version states the King made an offering to a certain God when he was sick, and then made a statue of the God he believed in, as a gift for his cure. The most common belief, however, is that the statue represents the “Awalokitha” or the “Avalokiteshvara” Bodhisattva of the Mahayana Buddhism, due to the four meditating Buddha figures on his head dress and the lotus in the hand. “Avalokiteshvara” Bodhisattva is one of the most powerful bodhisattvas of the Mahayana Buddhism, thought to be one of the most significant healers of mankind.
Our hotel was around a 15 minute tuk-tuk ride to the beach and most of the attractions. And we must admit, after a day in the city, it feels great retreating to a villa with all the comforts.
Stay at: Cape Weligama
Palm trees line the shore of this expansive resort that pays homage to legendary explorers such as Marco Polo, Ibn Batuta, Robert Knox and plenty more, with clusters of villas and rooms available within each explorer’s unit. Just under 30 minutes away from Koggala, this hotel from the Relais & Chateaux group, sprawls over 12 acres and is nestled 40 metres above the Indian Ocean. Children will love this resort, with its family pool and manicured lawns. Similarly, couples can enjoy complete tranquility at the vantage viewpoints during sunrise and sunset, by the 60-metre crescent-shaped infinity pool and within the villas that are quite spaced out, making you feel as though you are the only guests within the premises.
Walking up and down the cobbled path, within the resort, packs in a bit of a workout as you head to the pool bar for a cocktail, a quick dip, or the gym complete with a sauna and steam room. Each room is equipped with Tiffany-coloured umbrellas for rainy walks to the facilities and restaurants nearby.
Epicurean offerings on offer suit all taste buds, with Ocean Terrace for authentic and international-inspired dishes that complement the views of the shimmering waters. Ocean Grill for those looking for a memorable dining experience at the live-cooking Teppanyaki station and Cape Club for afternoon tea. We dined at Ocean Terrace, as the sea breeze beckoned on the first night, and tucked into a spicy ramen broth with chicken, and Sri Lankan curry (which usually comprises of four to five curries including dhal and green bean fry). The prawn curry is mouthwatering, and definitely one of the best dishes we tried on the trip, with a hint of coconut and flavours that linger on your palate. We loved the curry so much, that we even ordered it for breakfast the next morning with Appa (a crisp, concaved rice batter bread). You can also order a plate of fresh fruit for breakfast and egg specialties, which arrive with croissants and fresh juice.
The ocean-view and garden villas for couples are large enough to fit a family of four, stretching from a bedroom and outdoor terrace towards one corner, moving to the walk-in closet, bathroom with steam facilities, and bath tub with views of the outdoors towards the other corner of the villa. Novels and history books act as accessories around the room, and make for a great read, while postcards on the desk allow you to send a memorable souvenir to loved ones back home.
To make our trip all the more noteworthy, we were gifted a Dilmah tea box, filled with specialties from the region – the hotel is owned by the founder of Dilmah, and is under the Resplendent Ceylon chain of luxury resorts in Sri Lanka.