The Fortress, Sri Lanka: The Irresistible Island
Sri Lanka is a crazy country but I love it. The island is caught in the classic paradox of where there’s good there’s bad. Despite the politically charged war that has raged in the north-east for thirty years, the rest of the island sees Singhalese, Tamils and Christians living and working together in harmony. And this provides Sri Lanka with an atmosphere of calm – just one of the teardrop-shaped island’s many charms.
For a country the size of mainland Britain its biodiversity is extraordinary with tropical jungle, rainforest, wild game reserves, spectacular mountain ranges and perfect surf beaches all part of the landscape. You will see extreme poverty but you will also see an abundance of vegetation, flowers, fruits and vegetables, which ensure that even the poorest people have enough to eat.
Without question, Sri Lanka is seductive to travellers. Its unique combination of history and culture, charm and romance keeps people coming back. In fact in recent years more and more visitors have ended up extending their stay. Even the tsunami didn’t put people off. Many volunteers, who originally headed down to the south coast to help, ended up staying longer and some have still not left, having bought land and adapted to the easy lifestyle.
The area around Galle is particularly beautiful. Galle itself, based around a Dutch fort – now World Heritage Site – is a wonderful old town full of cobbled streets, period houses, local characters and fun little boutiques. You can take an evening promenade around the ramparts with local families who watch boys throw themselves off the walls into the ocean while the sun sinks below the horizon.
Meet the Dinosaurs
Heading further south prepare to discover some of the most ideal beaches you have ever seen, perfect for long walks passing only the odd stilt fisherman or hermit crab. Or pop into little beach bars serving simple and delicious fresh seafood and sundown cocktails. Just a little further along the coast Kogolla, famous for its fabulous lake, is so quiet you can revel in the beauty and peace afforded by miles of personal space. Take a small boat and explore the waters, visiting spice and herb gardens, local cinnamon farmers or a little island on which stands nothing but an ancient temple with painted murals. Be ready to meet the dinosaurs – the giant monitor lizards that are actually harmless despite their prehistoric appearance.
Kogolla lake is also used for seaplanes, particularly for people flying to and from Colombo who prefer to avoid the three-hour drive, making it the perfect location for the Fortress hotel. A most welcome addition to the Galle area providing all the swankiness and creature comforts you could wish for on a holiday, but with a wonderfully informal and friendly atmosphere perfect for families.
Entering through the impressive Fortress doors makes you feel that you are going into another world. The great portal beckons you on to the fabulous inner courtyard, which comprises a big jungle-like garden leading to a swimming pool area, actually two pools joined together with a bubbling Jacuzzi. The rooms are all funky, fun with sassy modern furniture, kitted out with everything from iPods that can be personally programmed on request to private indoor plunge pools.
If you’re checking in with little ones, your room will automatically be furnished with amenities like cots, bath products and cute mini towelling robes. There’s also a nursery room with cots, changing tables and on-tap babysitting.
For active kids there’s loads to do. The Little Adventurers Club is equipped with all forms of games and daily competitions. The great kids’ menu even includes a movie option with film, popcorn and homemade Toblerone – it’s available any time and delivered to your room. For older children yoga classes are held three times a week and there are kids’ spa treatments offering massages and mother and daughter manicures and pedicures.
For grown ups there are yoga and fitness classes, cultural events and tea tasting. Best of all are the pampering Per Aquum spa experiences – probably the best in Sri Lanka, offering a global menu of international and indigenous ayurvedic therapies.
Icing on the cake
Outside the hotel activities include visits to the turtle hatchery where your kids can wait for a moonlit night to release a baby turtle into the ocean, cricket on the green, trips to the local Wickremasinghe Cultural Museum, picnics in the museum gardens, boat trips on the lake and tuk-tuk rides around Galle Fort. You could even borrow ten-speed mountain bikes to explore the local villages set in vibrant green paddy fields.
Just a little further along the coast, Welligama Bay is one of Sri Lanka’s great surfing beaches with plenty of outlets for board rentals. Head further down the coast and you pass more great beaches in Mirissa, Talalla and Tangalle. Carry on and you get to Yala National Park, famous for short jeep safaris, spotting elephants, crocodiles, bears and leopards.
The icing on the cake though will always be the miles of unspoilt beaches wrapping around the south coast, almost empty of tourists, and making Sri Lanka one of the last remaining paradises of South Asia.
IDEAL AGE: 4–16