India and Thailand’s secret love child, and a heady mix of old-world elegance, tropical beauty, historic tea-estates and world-class architecture, Sri Lanka is choc-a-bloc with charm. And we haven’t even mentioned the food yet. With the days shortening here and the rainy season at an end over there, is it time to consider a little winter sun?
Here are our four top tips for exploring this wonder isle...
One - Whale Watching
From January to April, the Blue Whale, nature’s most magnificent giant, migrates around the southern tip of Sri Lanka en route to warmer waters for the winter. Nowhere else on earth does the world’s biggest creature swim so close to the land so reliably. So make like Attenborough and see this magic expedition up-close and personal. Book a boat from Mirissa.
Two - A Bit of Culture
Does “tropical modernism” mean anything to you? It is the legacy of South-East Asia’s most prominent architect Geoffrey Bawa, who single-handedly transformed the look of the region. He combined the principles of modernism and applied them in his local tropical environment, pioneering a new aesthetic for the region, which was at once wholly Sri Lankan and entirely modern. Go and stay at his house on the Lunuganga Estate. It’s untouched since he lived there.
Three - Eating
Sambols, hoppers, curries and rotis: Sri Lankan food is a melting pot of some of the world’s most exciting flavours. You’ll taste things you’ll struggle to find in Tesco: gotu kola is a Sri Lankan superfood and a regular staple in sambols. It is said to boost brain power, reduce stress and act as an antidepressant. Sri Lankan Wood Apple is another local delicacy - not unlike the much-maligned durian, its smell (blue cheese) does not reflect its flavour which is sweet and sticky, and guaranteed to pep up your fruit salad at breakfast.
Four - Shopping
First on our shopping list is a cupboard full of spices, to recreate those amazing curries when you get home. Be wary of any tourist-orientated spice market, and instead ask your hotel where they shop for spices. Another favourite spot is The Design Collective in Colombo, a concept store showcasing the work of Sri Lankan designers with strong focus on fashion and accessories. And lastly, no trip would be complete without a trawl through the local antiques market where you can pick up colonial relics, beautiful wooden printing blocks and tons of treasures in between. Try Waruna Antiques in Kandy.