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A Magical Island

Sri Lanka is a magical island and I look forward to sharing it with you via this blog.  An unspoiled tropical paradise with endless sandy beaches, crystal clear seas with Dolphins, Whales and Turtles in abundance. Sri Lanka is now a peaceful country, the troubles of the past behind it. Do not hesitate, visit now before the big hotel groups arrive and ruin the pristine coastline.

If you are imagining Sri Lanka to be full of backpacking surfers and tour groups there are plenty of  these are around because Sri Lanka is renowned as a surfing hotspot, but restricted to a few Surfing beaches and touristy areas. Everywhere else is waiting to be discovered. The people of Sri Lanka are just a pleasure to meet, so friendly and helpful. The luxury travel market is really developing at a fast pace. Chic hotels are popping up through out the island, including my personal favourite Cape Weligama. An excellent choice for a luxury trip, it has to be one of the best new hotels in Asia, along with many other excellent places to stay including a good choice of luxury villas.

Tea Trails at Norwood
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Which is the best choice – 5* Hotel or luxury villa?

I am going to compare a stay at a top class hotel with renting a villa.
On my first trip, we stayed at the Resplendent Ceylon Norwood bungalow, Hatton on the ‘Tea Trails’ along with the new sister hotel Cape Weligama both owned by Dilmah tea. We were collected from the airport by a driver from the Ceylon tea trails and driven to Norwood Bungalow where our butler and his super efficient team awaited our arrival. Totally pampered we ate delicious food prepared by a good chef. This is a Relais Chateau hotel so you know what to expect with the high standard of cuisine.
A trip to Sri Lanka would not be complete without visiting this magical Highland area, with hillsides full of Tea plantations and workers picking the Tea leaves. A visit to the Dilmah tea factory, arranged by the hotel is fascinating.

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Tea pickers at Norwood

Followed up with a few days R and R at Cape Weligama, this is an experience that is hard to beat! The  Resplendent Ceylon group arrange everything and arrange a car and driver or seaplane to take you down to the coast.
IMG_1569 Wonderful Pool Marco Polo Residence At Cape Weligama.

This time I’m trying out villa life in the countryside on the Southern coast, inland from Koggola Lake. There are some very stylish villas to rent all fully staffed so you don’t have to worry about a thing and everything is taken are of from cooking to organising trips, restaurant bookings, bicycles …. just about anything! If you decide to take a trip here, you will find the service and staff are amazingly good. We are being pampered by wonderful staff here and really enjoying the Sri Lankan curries, Dhal and all the fresh fruit. King Coconut is only grown here and makes a delicious, healthy drink. The villa has its own Tuk Tuk so we are off to market to buy some supplies. Th villa has a Tuk Tuk to drive guest around, which is fun for short trips.

A villa stay means more local interaction and a real life experience. Enjoying the simpler things in life such as shopping for food with the housekeeper and sampling a vaste array of local foods. My favourite Spice shop, the Spice Shack in Galle makes all the Spice mixtures you could possible wish for all locally grown. The owner kindly gave me the most delicious Fish Curry recipe.

The recipe is so good, I’m going to share it with you!
Heat a couple of teaspoons of olive oil in a pan, add 1 chopped onion and 4 cloves of Garlic, cook on a low heat, add 1 tablespoon of Masala, 1 1/2 tablespoons of Curry powder, 1 tablespoon Chilli flakes and stir on a low heat. Add 2 cans of chopped tomato or fresh tomato half a cup of fish stock then add the fish to the pot cook until the fish is cooked (5 minutes) then add the prawns.
1 Onion, 4 Garlic cloves
1 dessert spoonful of Garam Masala, Chilli Flakes
1 1/2 dessert spoons of curry
2 cans Chopped tomato
Chopped white fish of your choice (I use Cod and Haddock when in the UK but use whatever you have available) and lots of juicy, fresh prawns.
Fry the onion and garlic, add the spices swoosh around the pan to release flavours, add tomato 1 cup vegetable stock heat then add fish until cooked (few minutes, don’t overcook) then finally add the prawns. Enjoy!
Serve with rice. curried green beans, red peppers.

Galle food market is a joy to visit, bursting full of every imaginable fruit and vegetable, all locally grown. Lots of new and unusual things to try out for the first time.
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Galle Food Market

Galle is a fascinating melting pot of different cultures all living together in harmony. The more time I spend here, the more I am fascinated by the cultural history and the way in which this still impacts on modern life and politics.

Impressive Buddhist Temples abound and the new President Sirisena, elected in January 2015 is Buddhist and keen to bring back pre-Colonial cultural values. A hotchpotch of Christian, Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist peoples all add diversity to the life here. Add the Colonial influences of the Portuguese, Dutch and English and the result is a fascinating mix.

Post conflict, this is a good time to invest in the island, the luxury hotel market is arriving with full steam ahead! I visited the nearly finished Anantara at Tangle and a Shangri La is being built in the same area. Luxury villas are popping up too.

Near Galle is Koggola Lake, a good spot to spend a morning tootling around in a boat watching the birds fishing and visiting the Spice Island and Cinnamon island. Slightly touristy but still interesting and a good place to stock up on Cinnamon powder, Cinnamon and a plethora of pure Spice oils, Spice soaps and all sorts of healthy potions.
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Photo: Koggola Lake

We are so lucky staying at an inland villa (inland from Unawatuna, Unawatuna is a horrible tourist trap but as soon as you cross the main road, open countryside awaits) this trip, we are part of a village community and definitely seeing another side of SriLankan life a world away from 5* hotels!
IMG_0830Villa life in Southern Sri Lanka
If you want the details of the villa, just email me and I will send them to you. Today we took a two hour hike through the paddy fields and were met with welcome and smiling people all the way.
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We hired bikes – no not the one in the picture! – and cycled around the local villages enjoying the peaceful countryside along the way.

IMG_1780Paddy fields inland

Car Hire:

I tried to hire a self drive car today, I just love having the freedom to explore without having a driver. This proved to be impossible without great forward planning! (Sri Lanka – get your act together, travellers WANT hire cars!). I needed a special Sri Lankan driving licence and the I wasn’t insured to drive the car. Next visit, I will get organised before arrival and hopefully book a car from the airport with a large rental company. They will arrange the special driving licence at the airport, I believe. So, be warned if you wish to hire a car without a driver – be prepared and organised before you arrive!

So, equipped with a car and DRIVER, we headed off South along the coast from Weligama to Tangalle. This took a couple of hours meandering along the coast road (quicker if you take the super new highway as far as Matara). This really is an unspoiled coastline, endless beaches with no-one in sight.
Tangalle Beaches

New luxury hotels are popping up near Tangalle and I was keen to take a look at the new Anantara Tangalle Peace Haven Hotel. Enjoyed a terrific Italian lunch (the Sri Lankan restaurant was not yet built).
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The hotel reminded me of the Anantara Qasr Al Sarab in Abu Dhabi, a place that I absolutely love. I would like to go back when the hotel is finished and stay for a few days. The Ocean bungalows look terrific. There are a lot of rooms in a fairly small space so I would imagine it will get crowded at peak holiday times. However, they do have the most amazing beach!
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To recap, I would avoid a tour (but then I am definitely NOT a tour kind of person!) Hire a good car and driver checking on the quality of the car before you book because you need a comfortable car as the roads are notoriously bad.  I will stay in a mixture of luxury villa and luxury hotel next time and have the best of both worlds!  If you want any more details, feel free to email.

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IMG_1636Mirissa – Whale watching photo

Hiring a Car at the Airport

Visit Sri Lanka, Tea Trails and Southern coast. I hope you will learn from my mistake if you plan to hire a car in Sri Lanka.  It is important to book a hire car from the airport from one of the large International hire companies who will arrange a Sri Lankan driving licence and proper car insurance.  You will need to do this at least a few days before you arrive in Sri Lanka because it takes time to organise a driving licence, and an International licence does NOT suffice.

Unfortunately, we were unable to hire a car because we had not made these arrangements beforehand. Also, do not be put off driving in Sri Lanka.  One reads horror stories about driving in the country but the driving conditions are absolutely fine for anyone accustomed to driving around the world.  The biggest problem is getting lost!

Getting around in Sri Lanka:

Hiring a Car and Driver:

Many visitors choose to hire a car and driver for a week to take them around the island and show them the sites.  This is the most common way to get around and there are many companies that will organise this for you.  The Sri Lankan roads are notoriously bad although things are improving with the new highway from Colombo, the capital down south.

Sea Planes:

Now, this might seem like an extravagance but trust me it really is not!  If I return to Sri Lanka, I will definitely get around by Sea Plane.  For example, the drive from Colombo Airport to the Tea Trails takes the best part of a day and the roads are twisty, turn tracks for most of the journey.  A day is wasted because you will soon tire of driving through villages with dogs lying in the road!  I’ll give you some links to book a sea plane at the end.

Trains:

There are some delightful train journeys to take particularly inland around Kandy.  Again, only if you have plenty of time as they are slow.

This blog will cover The tea Trails and Southern Sri Lanka.

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Tea Trails at Norwood

I arranged our first trip with The Resplendent Ceylon Group.  They arranged for a comfortable 4×4 to drive us up to Tea Trails, staying at one of their bungalows on the tea plantation called Norwood.  Take a look at their website, link below, because they have a few to choose from.  We spent a few days at Tea Trails and then drove down to stay at their fabulous new hotel Cape Weligama for another few days.  This was exemplary in every way and I would recommend without hesitation, infact I may well be back to to Cape Weligama in the future!

IMG_1516Tea Trails Norwood, near Hatton

Tea Trails:

You will arrive at the bungalow, which is owned by The Resplendent Ceylon group a family run operation that also owns the tea plantations producing their famous Dilmah tea.  Welcomed by a butler and wonderfully friendly staff who will pamper you beyond belief, this is a Relais Chateau hotel so you know the standard will be perfect.

All meals are included in the price.  A chef will come and discuss what you would like to eat every day and everything is included in the price of the stay so you need not worry about running up a large bill.  We enjoyed hiking the trails and visiting the tea factory.  You can climb Adams Peak.

IMG_1524Tea pickers busy at Norwood

IMG_0492Hiking at Norwood

A trip to Sri Lanka would not be complete without visiting this magical Highland area, with hillsides full of tea plantations and the workers busy picking the leaves.

Cape Weligama Hotel:

The hotel arranged for one of their drivers to collect us and we drove to Cape weligama.  This was a mistake and I would recommend splurging on a sea plane.  The drive takes 6 hours and it really is a waste of a day.  But, it was wonderful to arrive at the gorgeous Cape Weligama and be welcomed with some ice tea and meet our butler who looked after us during our stay.  The staff, and particularly the butler service make this extra special. We stayed in a beautiful residence, quietly tucked away, and it was magnificent.  Regular readers will know just how fussy I am, but this went above and beyond in every way!

IMG_1541Bedroom at Cape Weligama Residence

IMG_1542Bathroom with our own Sauna Cape Weligama

The sauna was huge and perfect and I particularly like the walk in wardrobe with enough space for diva amounts of clothes!  We shared an idyllic pool with one other residence but that was empty so we had our own pool all week!

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Private Pool Cape Weligama

We were very lazy and the butler bought our meals onto our terrace whenever we wanted.  He bought us breakfast everyday and constantly stocked our fridge with drinks and goodies.  We felt totally pampered.  He arranged our Whale watching trip at Mirissa, which was great fun.  The other boats out that day were packed with tourists but we enjoyed an enormous boat all to ourselves!

IMG_1612Dolphins spotted on our Whale watching trip

Galle is a short drive away so we took a driver to explore Galle and stopped at the Turtle hatchery along the way, driving past Koggola Lake.  Galle is worth a visit but I definitely wouldn’t want to stay there.  It is packed full of tourists and the Old town is full of expensive jewellers and tourist tat.  Go for an afternoon or evening if you are nearby but don’t make a special journey.

IMG_1551Galle

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Galle food market is a joy to visit bursting full of every vegetable and fruit imaginable.  I stocked up on spices in the Spice Shack just outside the market.  There are some nice little restaurants dotted around the town.

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We loved Tangalle, a couple of hours drive down south from Weligama.  More about that I’m Part II.

We didn’t want to leave at the end and definitely wanted to take the butler home with us!  Actually, our trip was so perfect we went back a month later!  I’ll tell you about it next time.  Visit Sri Lanka, you won’t regret it!

Information:

We travelled on Qatar Airways from London via Doha travelling Business Class.  http:www.qatarairways.com

Stayed at http:www.resplendentceylon.com/capeweligama and http://www.resplendentceylon.com/teatrails/bungalows

Book a seaplane: http://www.cinnamonair.com

Tourism: http://www.srilanka.travel

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