Sometimes you just want to take a quick weekend away and not have to do all the research and planning to figure out where to stay and what to do. Sure it’s fun, but it can be tiring, so this post on Sri Lanka requires no thinking on your part. If you like comfort and style in a laidback setting, then stay and play at these places and you’re bound to come home with a smile.
The first thing you should do is book a room in the spa wing at the Jetwing Lighthouse hotel, near the ever-popular city of Galle on the south coast. It’s a very popular home-grown hotel group with a number of luxurious hotels dotted around the island. This hotel isn’t actually in a lighthouse, but it is an original Geoffrey Bawa building. If you haven’t heard of him, he was a pretty famous architect in Sri Lanka and beyond. The hotel’s website shows off a pretty decent looking venue, but personally I don’t feel the site does the hotel justice. It is even nicer in real life.
Sitting just off the old main road, it is right on the ocean and even though it has quite a few rooms, it still has a very boutique ambiance about it, especially in the spa wing. The spa wing rooms are very comfortable and spacious and have balconies with uninterrupted sea views (rooms elsewhere in the hotel are also nice by the way). The sea, as in most parts of Sri Lanka is a bit rough for swimming, but it doesn’t matter because there’s a very big pool right below you and a decent café for all day eating and drinking, so you never have to leave your side of the hotel. As an added bonus, if you’re really attached to the internet, you can lie on a deck chair, eat, drink and surf the web, because surprisingly, the wifi reaches out there. And if at the end of the day, you feel the need for a massage, just pop into the spa, which is right next to the pool.
If you have energy and want to get out and sightsee a little, the one place you shouldn’t miss is the Galle Fort. This 400 odd year old working fort is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a fascinating place to stroll about and there are a number of boutiques, gem stores and good cafes and restaurants where you can eat. You can read more about it in my previous story.
If you or your kids desperately want to swim in the sea, the two biggest and most popular beaches nearby are Unawatuna or Hikkaduwa. They both have expansive bays and calm waters. They tend to be full of tourists, but you will find a place to put your towel down and bob about. If you’re ok with a pool, you’ll be just fine at the hotel.
There are of course plenty of amazing things to do in Sri Lanka, like early morning whale watching about an hour away in Mirissa. But I wouldn’t recommend trying to travel too far to see things, especially if you’re just there for a long weekend. The roads are still narrow and driving anywhere takes hours longer than it should.
There are a couple of very large national parks, but honestly, they are too far for a day drive, and you should rather spend that time relaxing at the pool or exploring the fort or something else nearby. One or two easier activities closer by that are interesting for first-timers, are the various turtle sanctuaries, or the Hundungoda Tea Estate. You won’t get miles and miles of rolling green hills like in Nuwara Eliya, but it is a tea plantation and you’ll get an interesting tour.
Those of you who like nothing better than hopping in a tuk-tuk and heading to a restaurant for a long lazy lunch or dinner are in for a treat. If you’re after some authentic Italian food, cooked by an Italian restauranteur and his mother (who doesn’t speak any English), you should get yourself to WhyBeach in Thalpe. This small upmarket area seems to be home to most of my favourite boutique hotels, guesthouses and good restaurants.
Another hidden gem that we frequented on our last trip is Wijaya Beach, a longtime favourite of expats who live in the area. A small double story restaurant on the sand with fantastic views of the ocean is the perfect laid-back place to relax over a long session of food and drinks. It is a chic-shack on the beach with a nice crowd and is tucked away just enough not to be overrun with tourists. They also happen to do a pretty tasty wood-fired pizza, that isn’t something you find everywhere.
If neither of those tickle your fancy, or you’re happy to try a few places, you should also give the new Talpe Beach Restaurant & Bar a go. The owners know what they’re doing and are very friendly and hospitable. The venue itself is stylish and laid-back. It has a nice pool where you can take a dip, and there’s a gate that opens straight onto the beach. There is an outdoor bar and tables, and a tasty menu filled with steak, seafood, pasta and desserts. Again it’s good for lunch, but I would recommend it for sundowners. Take a seat in one of the sea-facing chairs (be careful you don’t nod off) and polish off a nice chilled bottle of wine, eat a good dinner, then make your way back to the hotel for a very peaceful night’s rest.
I think it’s quite clear by now that I think Sri Lanka is a very special island, and undoubtedly the perfect place to spend a long weekend or even a couple of months. So get yourself over there as soon as you can and visit the places I’ve recommended. Believe me, even if all you do is lie around the hotel pool and nothing else on this list, it will take weeks for the happiness to wear off once you return home again.
A Note On Transport
I seem to have had some problem with my transport each time I’ve been to Sri Lanka for some reason. So I recommend you give your hotel very clear instructions for your pick-up, and re-confirm them as you’re leaving so you don’t have to stand around searching for a guy with your name on a board who isn’t there. Thankfully, if there is a mix-up you can ask any of the guys at the counters inside the airport to arrange you a taxi. They’re very helpful and are transparent about their prices. Just make sure they give you a comfortable car with air conditioning, because the drive down to Galle is two and a half hours on the highway. Also be sure to tell the driver you want to take the highway, or you’ll be taking the five to seven hour slow coastal road. (This happened to some friends recently and they were broken by the time the reached the hotel). You’ll have to pay a bit for the toll fees but it’s well worth it. By October the trip should be even shorter as the ring road around Colombo connects to the highway, but for now you want to be comfortable as you can.