Take to the hills in Sri Lanka

New boutique properties are offering visitors to Sri Lanka the warmest and most authentic of welcomes, their owners keen to show off the country's natural wonders and other attractions, Steve Hartridge discovers on a recent visit

I can hear it before I can see it, a clattery rumble that creeps ever louder. 

The mist is so thick not even the local cows are brave enough to cross the wooden sleepers today.

And then it is upon us, its arrival rousing a dozen or so listless stray dogs stalking the platform at Haputale station. 

Once we have clambered onboard we ‘stand like locals’ clutching the brass rails as the train shudders back into life. 

I move to the carriage’s open doorway and catch on the breeze the faint smell of lemongrass.

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Just 15 minutes later, our hopes of catching a glimpse of Sri Lanka’s famed scenic upcounty and its terraced tea plantations dashed by the pea-souper, we arrive at the timeless small Idalgashinna station, a stop on the popular scenic train route between Colombo and Badulla. 

This charming colonial leftover is perched high on a ridgeline 5,300 feet above sea level. On a clear day this is a land of emerald peaks and stupendous views that stretch all the way down to the coast.

We are greeted by more sleepy stray dogs and have our tickets hole-punched the old-fashioned way. Older UK visitors will find these small-town stations, with their signal boxes and old red semaphore signals very familiar.

My brief ‘taster experience’ on the train is one of several activities offered by Idal Villa, a new home from home hidden high in the hills about an hour or so from Nuwara Eliya, the popular central town known as ‘Little England’ due to its colder temperatures and wet weather. 

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Hidden among dense forest foliage and with spectacular views of battalions of cloud that roll down from the peaks that draw a jagged line on the horizon, Idal Villa is a “retirement project” for ex-banker Darshana and his wife Darshi who last year started offering a hosted home-style villa experience. 

Their newly-built modern home is five hours by road from Colombo but a world away from their former lifestyle in the country’s capital.

Darshi and Darshana join us on the train ride, which ends with a breakfast and then a gentle stroll back down to the villa, along a trail framed by yellow cassia (or golden shower) trees. We wend our way through pea-green tea plantations, where women are hunched forward by the weight of sacks heaving with tea leaves. A busy stream of tuk tuks take the results of their labor to the tea factories. 

Characterful guesthouses

Guests staying in one of Idal Villa’s five rooms for to nights can sign up to a complimentary activity. Among the options is a visit to historic Adisham House, which stands atop a cliff in Thangamale National Park. 

Once the home of English tea planter Sir Thomas Lester Villiers, today its houses a Benedictine monastery – which if our visit is anything to go by is a popular location for shooting movies and TV series.

Darshi and Darshana will also take you for a tasting at a tea factory, or to some of the many magnificent waterfalls in the area. They will also show you Lipton’s Seat, where the great colonial tealord once went to gaze down on his empire of tea plantations. 

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In-between the excursions they serve us an afternoon local tea of sponge cake, kavum (similar to brownies) and pastries, while dinner is an assortment of delicious curries that are what Darshi describes as “Sri Lankan street food done smartly”.

“The base of all our curries are garlic, onions, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, turmeric, chills, pepper and cloves,” she tells us. 

On each of my two mornings there I drift asleep to the sound of distant barking dogs and awakened to the incongruous sound of Beethoven’s Fur Elise drifting up from a road far below. This is, I am told, the standard tune of tuk tuk drivers delivering the morning’s fresh bread.

Sri Lanka’s central Hill Country is enjoying a wave of new characterful guesthouses, usually with 10 or fewer rooms, where the emphasis is offering a home-from-home experience, their owners motivated by a desire to show visitors an authentic side of Sri Lankan living. 

These are, of course, business enterprises too, but offered with the warmest of welcomes, the hosts often joining their guests for afternoon tea or dinner and keen to point them in the direction of local attractions and activities.

In the hills above Kandy, near the Ramboda Waterfall (at 109 metres high the 11th tallest watrfall in Sri Lanka) Floating Mountain Villa is the holiday home creation of British Sri Lanka Gowrie Ganesan, a solicitor who in 2019 left UK to return to her native land and find her “dream property”.

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Positioned near the top of a tea estate and set against steeply ascending verdant hills, the five-room property seems perfectly named as at times it appears to ‘float on top’ of the passing procession of fast-moving clouds. 

The property’s beautiful grounds include an outdoor meditation area, an infinity pool, and a patio where I look down on thick forest and to the distant Kotmale Reservoir. One of Sri Lanka’s engineering wonders, several villages and ancient temples were submerged during its building.

Visitors at Floating Mountain have the run of a large dining and living room that is stocked with some of Gowrie’s favourite artworks and features a pool table. 

Akila, Gowrie’s ever-smiling right-hand man, is such an omnipresent force there must surely be more than one of him: he is the driver, waiter, laundry man, sommelier and so much more and over dinner becomes local historian as he tells us handed-down folkloric legends and tales of ancient kings and queens.

Carrom, one of Sri Lanka’s most popular board games.

That evening, we watch more swirling clouds envelop the hills before dining on home-style cooking served straight from the kitchen. Before bed, over a complimentary nightcap I try my hand – very unsuccessfully – at a game of Carrom, one of Sri Lanka’s most popular board games. 

Guests here can choosee from one of several ‘free’ activities included in the overnight rate, such as a ‘floating breakfast’, a curry cooking class in the property’s kitchen and a hillside picnic.

Among other nearby attractions available to guests are hiking trails, including a stage on the 300-kilometre Pekoe Trail, Ramboda Falls and hillside temples such as Hanuman Kovil, located on the summit of a mountain.

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Colombo on a ‘Landy’

I had arrived in Sri Lanka a few days earlier and, from the airport, was whisked off to Zylan Colombo 7, an expansive former home that is now a guesthouse hidden away in the heart of District Seven, a desirable leafy residential area. 

The property, complete with a central open courtyard area with sculptures and artworks created by its owner and a koi carp pool has a collection of eclectic rooms. With wooden floors and whirring fans, some of them are spacious enough to host a small party. 

There’s also a full Japanese restaurant, pool and rooftop bar. With its blend of Colonial-style set-up, genteel hospitality and mix of old-style fittings and all mod-con accessories with a tropical-modern twist, Zylan House stuck me a little it like Colombo itself.

From my large open veranda, I looked out to a city slowly and mostly silently hiding itself under the cover of dusk.

But Colombo’s sprawling and frenetic side was revealed the next afternoon during a whirlwind city excursion on a three-hour tour organised by ‘Forgotten Colombo on a Landy’. As the company’s name suggests, we see the city from atop an open-top Land Rover Jeeps – a restored 1973 Series 3.

The tour is billed as a ‘Forgotten Colombo’ experience, but it is hard to forget what you never knew existed so for me it was more a discovery of several city sites that remain off the radar of most tourists. 

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We zip along Colombo’s main road arteries as kamikazee tuk tuks (including many signed up to Uber) weave in and out of the traffic. 

Colombo’s downtown skyline is changing fast, with several new residential block and hotels in various stages of construction. 

Stops on the tour include Galle Face Green, with its enthusiastic kite-flyers, family picnics and pedlars offering photographs with cobras and monkeys, and Galle Fort, where we gaze down on a huge development springing up on land reclaimed from the sea to the south of the Colombo’s harbour. 

With the help of Chinese money, soon to leave the drawing board are a hotel, casino, shops, restaurants and residential apartments. 

There’s a stop at the Grand Oriental Hotel, an iconic building dating back to 1875 that has also been a mansion for a Dutch Governor and a military barracks. It shouts “I am very historic’ at every turn of its twisting staircases and displays of old furniture and crockery. 

Near Slave Island we visit a curious brick monument in a car park that is where the British imprisoned the last King of Kandy in 1815. There’s not much to see through the bars and the narrative that this was the king’s dungeon home before many modern-day historians now dispute being shipped off to India. 

Less controversial stops on the tour include a visit to the Lord Nelson, not a hotel or bar but a timeless barber’s shop on Chatham Street in Colombo Fort to meet a 76-year-old barber who has cut hair for visiting celebrities. 

“My father ran this place from 1928 until he passed away in 1981. I worked with him since 1962, starting as his apprentice… it’ll soon be up to my children to keep this going,” he tells us. 

Colonial wafts are everywhere at St. Peters Church, still under the Church of England. There’s a tatty and fraying Union Jack – or half a flag – that was grabbed and burnt by Buddhist monks when the aforementioned King of Kandy was banished. Oddly, there is a small area sectioned off with tiny pews and stools for dwarfs.

Our last stop is to a visit to the underground bar for our first shots of Arrack, made from the fermented sap of coconut flowers and the first of many lunches featuring Kotthu Rotis – chopped roti, shredded meat with spices, onions, herbs and scrambled egg and hot chillies. 

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YALA NATIONAL PARK

That Sri Lanka is a land of total contrasts that can offer a world of travel experiences in a single visit is underlined by the wildlife-spotting opportunities it offers. Yala National Park is Sri Lanka’s best-known wildlife preserve, and there are many ways to experience a park that is five times the size of – for once not Wales – Antigua.

Yala is split into five zones, or blocks, with those blocks that are open to visitors rotated so that the resident wildlife can take some time out from gawping tourists.

My hosts Kulu Safarisis a pioneer in conservation and glamping and have hosted the crews of many wildlife documentaries done by BBC, National Geographic and Disney, among others.

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Guests stay in one of their luxury glamping tents, located close to the park’s Katagamuwa entrance in a so-called buffer zone where permanent structures are forbidden to minimise the impact on the land and the natural surrounds. 

The canvas ‘tents’, set on a wooden platform with steps and an outside seating area are expansive, with most of the comforts of a hotel room but with a lot more ‘ambience’. 

The attentive welcome and warm touches – smiling faces, hot towel, fruit juice on arrival, etc – and the quality of guiding and eagle-eyed game spotting by our ranger was on a par with anything I have experienced in, say, Botswana and Namibia.  

Guests stay on an all-inclusive basis, which includes entrance to the park (usually around $40) three meals, kayaking, a walk with a naturalist and a game drive in blocks one or block five of the park. 

For lunch we enjoy a sumptuous selection of curries, whilst dinner was a candlelit affair down by a lake, accompanied by a million moths. 

Back in my luxury tent, I drift off to sleep to the comforting cadence of cicadas and tree frogs – and a distant but discernible gunshot, which the next morning I am told was fired by villagers living just outside the park to scare away encroaching elephants. 

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The Department for Wildlife and Sri Lanka Tourism provided Selling Travel with the entrance tickets to Yala

Perhaps it was the same elephant we saw on our evening game drive: appearing silently from the jungle it flapped its ears and raised its trunk before deciding charging our land rover wasn’t the best idea. 

Yala is known for its resident leopards but these proved elusive on our drive. The cast of wildlife that we did come across included black-faced monkeys, jackals, warthogs, buffalo, mongoose, crocodiles and a sambar deer that we watched during its curious hoof-tapping standoff with a hare. 

About an hour from Kulu Safaris, 12kms from the Palatupana Entrance on the opposite side of Yala where most of the upmarket hotels operated by companies such as Jetwing and Cinnamon are located, is Wild Culture, an intimate boutique experience.

Reached via a dusty potholed road andsurrounded by paddy fields where water bison graze and crocodiles lounge on the banks right outside the property, Wild Culture offers a quiet rural getaway. 

Its eight rooms vary from huge suites that sleep four to rooms for two.  My suite on the top floor of two was ultra-modern and super comfortable – more like a city hotel penthouse experience – and with views across the flooded fields. 

With two swimming pools, a poolside bar and al fresco dining, Wild Culture is a perfect ‘switch off’ recommendation for those nearing the end of a busy and hectic touring schedule and a good recommendation for both couples and families.  

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Stunning wildlife photography shots – most of them taken in Yala – taken by Genneral Manager Vassa hang in the rooms and elsewhere in the property.

He has also opened Cafe Culture, a cosy coffee shop selling brews made from fine Italian beans and home-made pastries and cakes. 

But the highlight of the stay is the wonderful cuisine, which we enjoyed during a barbecue dinner under the stars set up around one of the pools. 

My last night was spent on the coast in Matara, on the southernmost tip of Sri Lanka. A Dutch-style home set in a lush but secluded garden a few paces from the rolling waves of the Indian Ocean, 3 Sisters Beach House offers an intimate and private beach experience stay. 

The proximity of the highway to Colombo meant that I didn’t have to leave the property until only five hours before my flight back to London.

Heading back to the airport I review my photos and notice a sign that I took at Adisham, on our visit to the monastery.

It reads: “You can’t do anything about the length of your life but you can do something about its width and depth”. 

That seems a perfectly appropriate epithet for my past seven days in Sri Lanka, a trip that has been enjoyable, illuminating, heart-warming and enriching.

CONTACT

All of the accommodations and experiences mentioned in the article above are part of Secrets of Ceylon, a collection curated by Jean-Marc Flambert, ex-UK Director the Sri Lanka Tourism Authority. Post-Covid he travelled extensively throughout Sri Lanka to find unique boutique experiences which are ‘hidden’ but deserve the attention of travel agents looking to offer their clients hand-picked and unique travel experiences. 

He said: “We want to start supporting agents as they work through their tour operators and DMC’s. We are looking to develop a long-term partnership with a handful of specialists operators and agents. 

“If you are an agent looking to grow your revenue to Sri Lanka, lets have a chat.  We can help you differentiate your offering and keep sustainable margins. “

Contact: jmf@yourtourismpartner.com; secretsofceyloncollection.com

WHERE TO BOOK IT

Travelpack

The operator’s seven-night ‘Splendours of Sri Lanka’ package, departing May 6 2024, is priced from £2,429pp. Stops include Colombo (Zylan Colombo 7 hotel)

Ramboda (Floating Mountain Villa), Idalgashinna (Idal Villa), Yala (Kulu Safari Camp and Wild Culture) and Matara (3 Sisters). 

Among the included highlights are a walking tour of Colombo, a scenic train journey to Idalgashinna, a visit to Adisham Monastery, a safari at Yala National Park and a walking tour of Galle Fort.  

holidays@travelpack.com; travelpack.com

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COUNTRY OVERVIEW

The Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau’s latest catchy branding hook, launched in early 2024, is designed to reflect the truism that the Indian Ocean destination has such an abundance of experiences that they simply can’t be seen on a single visit. 

“Sri Lanka, You’ll Come Back for More” is a nod to the rich diversity of activities, adventures and attractions on offer in a country that’s just less than a quarter of the size of the UK.

“We are diverse, authentic, have 1,600 kilometres of palm fringed coastlines, waterfalls, temples, monasteries, wildlife, culture, history, wellness, scenic train journeys, underwater attractions, 26 national parks and 33% of our land is protected” –  that’s plenty to keep you coming back, enthuses Chalaka Gajabahu, Chairman of the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau.

But beyond the natural attractions underpinning the tear-shaped island’s enduring appeal is something else; something more ethereal that Sri Lankan born British writer Ramesh Gunesekera tried to explain when he said: “Sri Lanka is an island that everyone loves at some level inside themselves…it’s a place where the contours of the land itself forms a kind of sinewy poetry”. 

The numbers support the claim that Sri Lanka is a ‘must visit more than once’ destination, with around 33% of its visitors returning for at least a second time, according to the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau.

Fifteen years on from the end of its civil war and a series of setbacks in recent years – terrorist attacks, Covid, political and economic issues – visitor numbers are ‘back’, with the number of worldwide arrivals last year rising to almost 1.5 million, up from 719,000 in 2022. The target for this year is close to 2.5 million, with an ambitious goal of four million by 2030. 

The UK is one of the country’s top three markets, with numbers peaking in 2018 (254,176). Just over 85,187 visited in 2022, with close to 200,000 holidaying in the teardrop-shaped island last year. The country has a target of attracting around 286,000 tourism arrivals from the UK in 2027.

Revenue accrued from tourism is the country’s second-largest earner, said Nishad Wjetunga, President of the Association of Inbound Tour Operators, who predicts: “2024 should be a good year for us”.

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M Shanthikumar, President of the Tourist Association of Sri Lanka, went one step further: “in 2024 we believe that Sri Lanka will be back to normal with our tourism numbers”.

Harin Fernando, the country’s Minister of Tourism, says Sri Lanka “came a long way” in 2023. “I am delighted by how much progress we made in a single year. 2022 was a struggle but by November 2023 we were able to bring a 75-strong group of product suppliers to World Travel Market, our largest delegation yet.”

Now that Sri Lanka is accelerating along tourism’s comeback trail the challenge is to raise awareness that there is much to see and do beyond the traditional visitor ‘hot spots, of the west and south coast beaches, Kandy, Sigiriya Rock, Nuwara Eliya and Galle.

Leopard-rich Yala National Park is the country’s best-known wildlife reserve, but there are several others, such as Udawalawe National Park and Minneriya National Park, where expansive plains make it easy to spot the resident elephants. 

Sri Lanka is also one of the few countries – South Africa is another – where you can realistically expect to see elephants and whales within an hour’s journey of each other.  It is also a major destination for bird-watchers, with around 550 logged species including 35 considered endemic (not found anywhere else).

The country’s central mountainous area is still dotted with tea plantations (although some owners have switched over to coffeee production) and attracts serious walkers and hikers.

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A new major route, the 300km Pekoe Trail named after an iconic tealeaf that runs between Kandy and Nuwara Eliya, looks set to become a ‘must do’ trail for endurance hikers. Those with time on their hands should allow up to three weeks to complete the 22 ‘stages’ but most visitors will choose more bite-size sections over three or four days.  

The east coast remains largely undiscovered but those who do venture there (it’s a 45-minute flight from Colombo to Trincomalee), will find sugar-white sands, shallow bays for swimming and coral reefs for snorkelling.

Further south, in the small coastal town of Pasikudah, a clutch of accommodation has sprung up, from the new Sun Siyam and the five-star Anantaya Resort and Spa Passikuda to guesthouses, villas and inns.

With an estimated 140 shipwrecks, diving is another niche activity being pushed by the tourism bureau. And yachties are being reminded that the country has three main marinas that welcome adventurers – at Trincomalee, Colombo and Galle. 

Adventure tourism and extreme sports tourists, such as ballooning, rock climbing and sky diving, are also ‘next level’ targets for the tourism board. 

A BOUTIQUE DESTINATION

A recent trend of Sri Lanka’s accommodation sector is the growth of small independent villas and bungalows that are sold by the room. These offer guests a more intimate experience.

The properties are often the homes of their owners who will share suggestions of nearby activities and sites of interest that are often less trodden by those tourists on tour buses or standard itineraries of the country’s highlights.

“Tourism to Sri Lanka has changed over the last 10 years. There are no longer a handful of  dominant players delivering 7,500 and more pax to Sri Lanka. Instead, the trade business has grown in value (and reduced in number of pax), as specialists have started to use smaller properties and those that add more  unique experiences,” said Jean-Marc Flambert, Director of Secrets of Ceylon Collection a Sri Lanka based company.

He added: “Boutique hotels have also adapted by offering unique experiences to their inhouse guests to offer more value.

“Sri Lanka has a whole new line of curated experiences which customers not booking through an agent miss out on – from cycling tours into rural areas to have a cooking lesson surrounded by paddy fields, to a cruise on a luxury boat from Colombo to Weligama, staying overnight on a secluded bay. 

“Then there’s walking to visit a villager’s home and cooking in her kitchen to absailing down one of our 400 waterfalls or our tallest buidlings in Colombo.  

“We have experiences that sees you staying in former private home dating back to 1840 to walking through a remote village to learn about rural Sri Lanka and the importance of the coconut tree.  

“It is by engaging with brands like Secrets of Ceylon that you can grow your revenue in this competitive market. “

WHEN TO VISIT 

The November-March period and the month of August is seen as Sri Lanka’s ‘high season’ but the country is a year-round destination. 

The traditional summer holiday months are also favourable on the east coast, which is at its peak from May to September.

May and June are the hottest months, while the main southwest (‘Yala’) monsoon brings rain – torrential at times – to the west and southwest coasts and the hill country from April or May to September and is wettest from April to June. 

The less severe northeast (‘Maha’) monsoon hits the east coast from November to March and is wettest from November to December.

The best time to visit Yala National Park is between February and July when the water levels of the park are quite low, bringing animals into the open.

Blue and sperm whales can usually be observed off the coast of Mirissa between December and March, as they make their annual migration between the Bay of the Bengal and the Arabian Sea. 

On the west coast The Kalpitya Peninsula, just north of Chilaw, is where you might catch a sight of sperm whales diving to catch giant squid between November and March (when the sea is calmer).

On the east coast, from March/April to August/September, boat tours head out to sea from Trincomalee hoping to spot blue whales. For those with shaky sea legs, a steep cliff  known as Swami Rock is a popular spot from which to look for a whale fluke breeching the water.

GETTING AROUND

Sri Lanka’s one international airport is Bandaranaike International Airport, 19 miles north of the city. 

Most tourists not on an escorted tour will take a taxi or hire a car and private driver, however it is feasible to rent a car and tour under your own steam. 

The roads are mostly fine, although windy and at times narrow in hill country, but journeys can be challenging and slow: you might suddenly find the road ahead shared by impromptu appearances from wandering cows or lengthy religious or cultural processions celebrating everything from a significant day in the Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu or Christian calendar to a full moon. 

On our way from Colombo to Kandy we are held up for half an hour by a ‘non- secular’ celebration, featuring colourfully-decorated elephants, dancing Muslims, and Hindus whose backs are pierced by hooks (a show of devotion).

The roads are also shared with thousands of stray dogs and the occasional crossing monitor lizard. In short, allow more time than the miles or kilometres calculator might suggest. 

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On my journey we make several stop at some of many roadside stalls selling everything from coconuts to kitchen utensils and baskets.  It is an oddity in Sri Lanka that merchants and their wares are gathered together on the same stretch of street, often just yards apart, to sell exactly the same items, whether that is paddling pools, beach balls, plastic penguins, rubber rings (for swimming), clay pots and plates, and salad servers made of coconut shells.

At Kajujama young girls in saris stood side-by-side selling bags of cashews, and near Peradeniya we stopped to gaze down at the lush valley below and buy corn that had just come out of a huge pan of boiling saltwater. 

Ease of travel between Colombo to Yala or Galle in the south has been transformed by a major fast highway (two and three hours respectively), which also makes connecting between popular west coast beaches like Hikkaduwa, Ambalangoda, Bentota, Kalutara and Mount Lavinia much quicker.

The country’s rail network is creaking somewhat due to under-investment but journeys here benefit from two big draw cards: they are historic – almost quaintly antiquated at times – and can be extremely scenic, particularly the journey from Colombo to Kandy and up into Tea Country and the coastal train from Colombo to Dutch colonial Galle.

Future infrastructure improvements will likely focus on the north and east of the island, especially between the capital and the northern outpost of Jaffna.

“I would like to see a good system of infrastructure before I leave office,” said Harin Fernando, the country’s Minister of Tourism.

THE FOOD

Cuisine, whether in top restaurants, roadside cafes or street stalls, is a major drawcard. 

More subtle and complex than Indian cuisine, and more fragrant and lighter than Thai or Malasian favourites, ingredients and dishes draw upon the influences of its Portuguese and Dutch colonists as well as, of course, India, its closest neighbour.

Expect curry, which comes in several different guises, for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Coconut milk-based and lime-juice infused sauces are a staple. There are plenty of meat and fish and vegetarian options, such as pumpkin curry flavoured with fenugreek and mustard seeds or jackfruit curry and cinnamon-spiced potato curry. 

A note of caution: in Sri Lanka ‘mild’ often really means ‘hot but not as hot as it might be’. 

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Meals also usually include malum, a salad of chopped leafy greens and coconut, crispy poppadoms (a large circular piece of thin, spiced bread), dal (lentils mixed with coconut milk, garlic and onions stew), coconut sambal (a spicy condiment), homemade relishes and fragrant steamed rice. Other local delicacies include coconut roti, hoppers (thin, bowl-shaped pancakes that are often filled with an egg and seeni sambol, a sweet and spicy onion chutney. 

A Sri Lankan sweet favourite is kavum, consisting of rice, flour and treacle that is fried together and made into a crispy ball.

But western fare is also usually available in hotels, resorts and boutique accommodation. 

WHAT’S NEW

Across the island there are new developments to tempt back visitors. 

Attracting plenty of excitement is the Hilton Yala Resort, located just outside Yala National Park, with 42 stylish rooms, suites and villas and two restaurants serving up contemporary Sri Lankan cuisine. There’s an outside pool, a fully equipped gym and a spa.

Also coming to Yala National Park is a new luxury resort, Kotiyagala Luxury Villas, due to open in March. It will feature 12 villas, a pool, a roofed lounge a locally-inspired signature restaurant and bar, an Ayurvedic spa and a fitness centre.

Late last year Sri Lankan-owned and run hotel group Uga acquired and opened the Riva Hotel in Negombo. Set in a lush five-acre coconut plantation near Negombo’s beach and close to Colombo International Airport, the 180-year old seven-bedroom heritage manor house has played host to many prominent figures including Mahatma Gandhi who visited the property during his visit to Ceylon in 1927.

Sri Lankan luxury hospitality group Resplendent Ceylon and adventure travel company Cross Ceylon have joined forces on a cycling adventure tagged ‘Tour de Resplendent’.  

Traversing picturesque landscapes that connect with some or all of the five Resplendent resorts – Ceylon Tea TrailsWild Coast Tented LodgeCape WeligamaAhu Bay & Kayaam House – the trail’s four mapped-out stages cover varying terrains and regions, with ‘difficulty levels’ designed for beginners and experienced cyclists alike. They take cyclists past tea plantations, coastal areas, and local villages, supporting local communities along the way.

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