For my Sri Lanka visit, I turned to the experts at Remote Lands, specialists in creating customized itineraries with authentic experiences and hidden gems for discerning travelers. My guide, Selvaraj Kanagaratnam, a consummate professional, knew about everything from history, best times to go to sites to avoid crowds, to best local cuisine and more. And he always kept it interesting and entertaining. This premier travel company arranges everything from accommodations, personalized journeys tailored to your individual preferences to providing the ultimate bespoke and VIP services. www.remotelands.com
I arrived in Colombo, the capital and major business hub where a host of major luxury brand hotels debuted this past year. Uga Residence, a 19th century mansion recently transformed into an elegant 11 suite hotel by Sri Lanka luxe hotel company Uga Escapes delivers a distinct taste of the island along with old world charm. The glamorous property with stately architecture features serene gardens, a swimming pool and outstanding restaurant where I enjoyed innovative Sri Lankan dishes with locally sourced ingredients. Large, posh suites are stylishly decorated with handcrafted native furnishings.
Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle, UNESCO designated ruins stretching from the ancient kingdom of Anuradhapura to those of medieval Kandy, are some of the world’s finest preserved ancient monuments. The sprawling complex at Anuradhapura contains a Sacred Fig Tree developed from a branch of the very Bodhi Tree under which Buddha achieved enlightenment, and the monumental Ruwanwelisaya Stupa surrounded by 1900 stone elephants, olden pools and palaces.
Ulagalla, another Uga Escapes’ property just a short drive away offers an enchanting stay in the countryside. This unique boutique hotel features a luxurious 150 year old mansion with 20 stunning ecologically, sustainable chalets. Guests enjoy complete serenity amid 58 acres of verdant landscape with rice paddies and two reservoirs.
My next stop, the magnificent and vast Rock Temple of Dambulla is renowned for its five caves showcasing 150 Buddha images dating from ancient times. Farther south in Kandy, the last capital before the British occupied the island in 1815, you’ll find the Sri Dalada Maligawa containing the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic of Buddha. This is the site of a not to be missed dramatic nightly ritual in which the gold casket housing the sacred tooth is revealed. Another must see is the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage just outside of town where 100 orphans roam about. After visiting the sanctuary, head across the street to the Elephant Bay Hotel to lunch al fresco while watching the adorable creatures frolic and splash in the river.
Chena Huts, another recently opened star from Uga Escapes in ravishing Yala National Park is located on Sri Lanka’s southern coast. Fourteen luxurious thatched roof sanctums each with plunge pools and every amenity offer stylish seclusion in the wilderness. A jeep safari in Sri Lanka’s most famous national park offers sightings of strutting peacocks, crocodiles in lagoons, monkeys swinging from trees, a herd of elephants with their young and those gorgeous elusive leopards. However, my favorite memory remains dining on superb regional cuisine under the starry night sky as water buffalo passed by me on the beach, steps from the resort deck.
Sri Lanka’s southern coastline is booming with new resorts popping up for holidaymakers who love the sun and the sea. Among them, the Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle Resort, opened early 2016 offers 152 stylish beachfront rooms facing the Indian Sea.
Another jewel of a resort that opened last year Tri, is located just inland from the southern coast. Owners Rob Drummond and his wife Lara Baumann, a star yoga teacher who gives classes on the property, created a uniquely luxurious and environmentally sustainable retreat on pristine Koggala Lake, surrounded by cinnamon plantations. Eleven fashionable villas clad in cinnamon with floor to ceiling glass windows are perched atop a forested hill on the shores of the picturesque lake. I loved the fabulous food, my extraordinary massage and Lara’s yogic asanas. Sitting on my balcony accompanied by birdsong with the backdrop of the jungle and water below was sublime relaxation. www.trilanka.com
My journey around the island ended in Galle, another UNESCO site. This white-washed fortified port city on Sri Lanka’s southwest coast captivates with quaint buildings from the Dutch and British colonial era that line its narrow streets. My residence, Aman Resorts’ Amangalla, a boutique hotel in a noble 17th century building sits within the ramparts of the historic 400 year old Galle Fort. The resort is a masterpiece of stately charm with its 200 year old garden, polished teak floorboards, atmospheric dining veranda and photos of the old city throughout. www.trilanka.com
Suites are decorated in tasteful colonial style with antiques, 4 poster beds and spacious balconies overlooking the large pool with cabanas, leafy grounds or harbor beyond. Strolling the picturesque town I passed trendy eateries, spas using tea treatments, jewelers showcasing Sri Lanka’s famed sapphires, impressive art galleries, craft shops and the famous Lighthouse. Best of all, I enjoyed speaking with the welcoming locals, who helped make my Sri Lanka trip remarkable.
How to Go
Qatar Airways offers flights to Colombo through Doha. In addition to the excellent onboard service, transiting through Doha’s gleaming state of the art Hamad International Airport is fascinating. www.qatarairways.com