Before I’d even arrived at my hotel I had 3 words playing through my mind that stuck with me all the way to the end – green, lush & exotic. I was in lust already! I’ve never seen so many palm trees and coconuts and throughout the next 6 days would include caves, temples, city, tea plantations, jungle safari and beaches. All in a country the size of Tassie!
Arriving off a flight via Kuala Lumpur a short transfer to the stunning Wallawwa, a totally secluded retreat surrounded by lush, green foliage and perfectly manicured gardens. Not your typical airport property but a perfect start while also making sense to begin a tailor made itinerary and leave the traffic mayhem of Colombo behind for the finish line. Sri Lanka currently with no major infrastructure, only a motorway or train connecting some of the country long days consisted of 3 – 4 hours by car. Or a sea plane!
This morning we were met by the delightful tour guide Chaminda from India Unbound and departed for Anuradhapura stopping at Dambulla Cave Temple, one of the country’s eight UNESCO World Heritage site with vast history inside dimly lit cave temples. Followed by a delicious Sri Lankan lunch at Kalundewa Retreat, a beautiful remote property for those wanting relaxation in the country while still having the historic sightseeing within reach.
After a big first day, we arrived at the first Uga property - Ulagalla. The serenity at this stunning eco resort - private pools, bicycles to explore and many activities only made us wish we had longer. The first of many Sri Lankan dinners together was by the infinity pool in the balmy air and a storm lingering hosted by the lovely Gitanjali, the General Manager with a history of working with Uga Escapes and COMO Hotels & Resorts and one of only two female general managers in Sri Lanka’s history. A statistic that will no doubt change with time.
Heading for Kandy we visited Sigiriya, another UNESCO World Heritage site known as Lion Rock. For those brave to make the climb to view the plains and villages, those happy to wait at the bottom lies a tranquillity in the gardens of this walled fortress.
Kandy, a charming city and although the lake is man made it adds a special touch to the second largest city. Aside from the Tooth Temple (another UNESCO site) and more history of the Buddha you can easily fill a day or so with a cooking class in an old manor or morning walks in the forest on the outskirts. We arrived to The Kandy House, no words to describe this stunning property just outside the city. As it started to rain and the mist set in, this only added to the whole experience of this regal manor. Another delicious “curry night” set dinner hosted by another inspiring and interesting GM who was also female!
We took an early morning train to Dickoya, travelling comfortably in 2nd class and playing with local children and enjoying local treats and delicacies to fill time we arrived to Dickoya before transferring to Relais & Chateaux Resort, Tea Trails. Each of the bungalows are just mesmerising, all so very different while tying in with the concept of the varied landscape. An afternoon stroll through a tea plantation and factory tour before some free time to enjoy the serenity.
The following morning we boarded a private charter flight taking off on water in tea country but landing in the jungle less than an hour later! The only way to ease travel time, particularly when incorporating the east coast. The stunning Chena Huts by Uga Escapes, our private huts flanked with ocean and white sandy beaches one side and tropical jungle the other.
Our last full day in Sri Lanka included a few site inspections of varied standards, after having many incredible meals at these stunning properties we were treated to lunch at a local restaurant, an experience we were all craving which didn’t disappoint! Part of travelling for me is being exposed to the people and the culture. Imagine their faces when a group of Aussies walked into their local restaurant for lunch to line up at the buffet. Our meal was a whole AUD$ 3 each! Off we set and arrived to Cape Weligama, a luxurious resort perched high on the cliff tops that opened in 2014. The afternoon was a treat, swimming in our private pools and infinity pool with a stunning view of the Indian Ocean and our last fabulous hosted dinner with yet another interesting GM. In general you some of the best conversations when travelling and for travel agents on these work “fam” trips especially with the people we meet who have been in the hotel industry for many years working all over the world for different hotel groups makes for some very interesting conversation in the ever changing travel world.
Today we would say goodbye to Sri Lanka with a traditional “egg hopper” breakfast which basically consists of a fried egg inside a dish made of rice flour, coconut milk & spices surrounded by different curries. On our way back to Colombo we would travel via Galle, a port city rich in history with the Dutch, Portuguese and Arabs all contributing heavily to this walled city. If only we had more time to explore, I really loved the vibe from the limited time we had on our walking tour. We had a cool drink at the “Prince Of Galle” infamous for it’s iced tea & coffee but also a small family owned hotel with the owner and his young family residing from Melbourne. Hearing his vision and story behind the hotel he actually discovered in the process that there were Sri Lankan roots tied to his Dutch history all of which he has incorporated into the theme of the hotel. As a result it has a real intimate feel as opposed to the huge luxurious properties that we had been exposed to thus far and it was just gorgeous. I hope to send the right clients there one day but recommend anyone to visit for a cold drink to take shelter from that sweltering heat and to pass on some footy scores for him and his children!
Our last feast & site inspection at the luxurious Aman Amangalla property before the commute to Colombo with a farewell dinner at Rare at Residence, one of Colombo’s finest restaurants and a new direct flight to Melbourne with Sri Lankan Airlines who are part of the Oneworld Alliance.
The scenery, the diversity, the incredible food, the mostly unknown until now, the calmness without the tourists (yet!) and the beautiful, curious faces as we passed through villages still play vividly in my mind. For those that have mastered the challenges of Asia but aren’t quite ready for India, it’s the perfect stepping stone. And now direct flights with Sri Lankan Airlines making it more accessible than ever for Melbourne, the secret is well and truly out!
A huge thank you to India Unbound for the incredible opportunity to experience yet another fabulous country that certainly isn’t ticked off the done list... it’s only left me curious to see more!
BLOG WRITTEN BY - Kendall Roberts