TikaWeeks #34/2023: Sri Lanka update

Posted by John on 24th August 2023

A visiting family made welcome at a Buddhist monastery, Sri Lanka

Friendly and welcoming, Sri Lanka is the ideal destination for a fun-filled family holiday! Exotic wildlife, palm-fringed sandy beaches, thrilling as well as easy-going adventures and child-friendly accommodation are a formidable combination for an out-of-the-ordinary family experience. Our revised Family Sri Lanka itinerary is a good starting point to create your own perfect family holiday to "undoubtedly the finest island of its size in the world" (Marco Polo).

This Tika Taster itinerary is just that: an outline plan of the type of activities and accommodation available for a family holiday in Sri Lanka. However, there is so much more on offer. Here are a few of my suggestions for upgrades along the way.

A long flight, may be with a change of aircraft en route, is never easy with a family and Sri Lanka is at least 11 hours’ flight from the UK. Resting on arrival is essential to ensure you start the holiday fresh and relaxed. Close to the airport is one of the most exquisite walauwas (mansion houses) on the island, The Wallawwa. Nestled within extensive and beautifully landscaped tropical gardens, ’W’ is the unrivalled choice for a stylish stay close to the international airport, which is only 15 minutes’ drive away. The sensitively extended colonial manor house, which dates back to the 18th century, is a private and secluded luxury hideaway for the perfect beginning or end to your Sri Lanka holiday. This 17-room boutique hotel offers sumptuous and tastefully furnished bedrooms and suites, Asian fusion cuisine, ‘Z’ Spa, library, and signature swimming pool, providing an ideal place to recuperate or relax amidst startlingly peaceful surroundings. The two-bedroom Family Suites or the decadent Mountbatten Suite (for up to six adults) is pitch-perfect for your initial night’s stay.

In the last bastion of a great monarchy that lasted on the island for two thousand years sits the latest addition to the Jetwing family of hotels – Jetwing Kandy Gallery. On the banks of the mighty Mahaweli Ganga, Sri Lanka's longest river, this boutique-style hotel enjoys an idyllic countryside as well as riverine location just a few minutes’ drive from the bustling city centre of Kandy. Personalised butler service, spa facilities, a stunning pool and many other modern facilities come together for an unforgettable, luxurious experience in a truly unparalleled setting. For families, Luxury Rooms have two Queen-size beds, which may be interconnected to a Deluxe Room next door.

Kitulgala is the adventure capital of Sri Lanka, however there is only one place to stay nearby that qualifies as ‘upmarket’. Palmstone Retreat is a serene and secluded bijou boutique hotel tucked away in a private 4-hectare estate about 2.5 km from Kitulgala along a jungle track. This exquisite hideaway is a tranquil haven for relaxation, meditation and contemplation set as it is in a lush natural forest overlooking a picturesque cascading stream and waterfall. Inspired by local architecture, the three luxury chalets blend into their natural surroundings and combine sophisticated comforts with tasteful interiors. Each chalet is comprised of two luxury en suite rooms designed to ensure absolute privacy and sumptuous comfort. Nelum Suite has a spacious bedroom with a Jacuzzi and private deck overlooking the gardens and stream, while Araliya Suite offers you relaxation and rejuvenation, with a pampering steam sauna, spacious outside sitting area and private heated plunge pool.

At the southern end of the Hill Country, Nine Skies, a stylishly refurbished tea planter’s bungalow majestically perched on a hilltop near Ella, promises far-reaching hill country views. Dating from the British colonial era, the five-bedroom tea estate bungalow epitomises its legacy yet indulges guests with contemporary facilities and personalised service. Be pampered by the butlers, feast on gourmet food and dip into the garden pool with stunning views across the valley and the train line’s renowned Demodera Loop, which includes Nine Arch Railway Bridge, a spectacular viaduct, and the inspiration for the bungalow’s name. All bedrooms open onto the tea-fringed garden and surrounding estate, and include period furnishings and custom-designed fittings. The Twin Nine Skies Bedroom is ideal for children staying with their parents.

Near Yala, Wild Coast Tented Lodge is a spectacular luxury camp situated in a stunning location where the jungle meets a rugged, empty beach, overlooking the Indian Ocean. The unique design and use of carefully selected natural materials allows the man-made structures to blend seamlessly into the surrounding landscape. Arched fabric structures of the 28 tents take on the shape and colour of the rocks and boulders that lay scattered nearby, whilst the ingenious layout in the shape of a leopard’s paw print alludes to the area’s most famous resident. The uniquely shaped tents (Cocoons and Urchins) truly represent a luxury resort room under canvas, offering state-of-the art amenities including air-conditioning. A Family Cocoon Suite comprises of adjacent Cocoon and Urchin Suites, although the suites are not interconnected.

Where trade winds once carried legendary explorers such as Marco Polo, Ibn Battuta and Fa-Hsien past Sri Lanka's soaring southern cliffs on some of history's most celebrated nautical journeys, Cape Weligama has become the celebrated resort along the island’s palm-fringed shores. This ultra-luxury retreat atop a landscaped promontory overlooking the Indian Ocean offers stunning panoramas afforded by the unique location that naturally complements the artfully designed private villas and suites, while an array of dining venues and the infinity pool capture the iconic sunsets. With the morning call of peacocks in the tropical gardens, pampering villas and suites blending seamlessly into the headland, the rolling ocean below and coconut trees swaying drunkenly in the salty breeze above – this is paradise regained! Spread across two elegantly furnished floors, the two-bedroom Duplex Pool Villa shares a 15-metre infinity swimming pool with either one or two other villas, and has a walk-in rain shower and steam room as well as an outdoor verandah for family lounging and dining.

Galle, famed for its Dutch colonial era fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is home to many exquisite hotels and villas, but, for me, none can beat 41 Lighthouse Street as a private and indulgent family refuge within the fort. The sensitively renovated 17th century Dutch colonial era villa retains its heritage with huge open arches, exposed beams, and black and white chequered floors. The villa has a walled internal courtyard bedecked with lush tropical vegetation surrounding a crystal-clear pool and terrace. The refurbished luxury villa, with three en suite and air conditioned double rooms, provides a peaceful and tranquil retreat from the hustle and bustle of the fort with its traditional reclining ambalama and magnificent shading Frangipani tree. The villa is staffed by three long-serving locals who love nothing more than to cook wonderful meals and look after your every whim.

The Pekoe Trail – Stage 18: Hali-Ela to Ettampitiya

This challenging, 14-km stage ascends from Hali-Ela at 730 metres to Ettampitiya sitting at an elevation of 1246 metres above mean sea level. The general direction of the trail initially heads northwest before veering southwest through very remote regions of the tea country. This stage should take around 4 hours from start to finish.

Starting at Hali-Ela railway station, leave town on a village road running between paddy fields then turn right, following the track for a kilometre or so to Sri Bimbarama Temple. Continue uphill past local houses to the top then gradually drop down the other side through mixed cultivations and village homes until you reach the Ketawala-Hali-Ela road. Walk beside the road for 700 metres then turn left, leaving the main road behind. The Pekoe Trail descends towards the paddy below, crossing a stream, before zig-zagging past village homes and eventually enters a tea estate at the bottom of the valley. The next objective is to reach the iconic Dickwella Tea Factory sitting at the top of the hill ahead.

After 3.1 km, you arrive at the impressive stupa of Sri Sambodhi Temple. The next 4 km are all a gradual ascent, gaining about 300 metres of elevation as you follow the estate roads uphill – there are no steps, it’s just a gradual climb. As you gain elevation the views of the valley below are all the more spectacular. After 7 km, you reach a few old tea sheds sitting at the side of the Katawala-Ettampitiya road, at which point you turn left and walk on the tarmac road for 300 metres before taking the tea trail that doglegs up again to your left.

The next 1.5 km takes you around the hill and back towards the previous valley, passing Dickwella Tea Factory above. The views of the valley below are truly spectacular. After 8.9 km, you reach a small shop – a good place to stock up on water and take a rest. Continue for 700 metres on the road and then, at a fork in the road, take the tea trail off to the left and follow it for another 1.5 km, passing a small lake on the right. The Pekoe Trail then joins the main road again at the 10.6-km point before peeling off onto an attractive tea trail. After 11.3 km, be sure to take the smaller tea trail heading up to your right towards the tea plantation workers’ houses immediately ahead of you. Zig-zag up to the top of the hill and then make your way down to the road through some more houses.

Back on the main road, turn left and walk down past the quarry and, at the junction, veer off onto a tea trail on your right until the 13.1-km point where you enter the more developed surroundings of Ettampitiya. After 13.5 km, you hit the main Ettampitiya-Hali-Ela road that takes you past a fuel station on your right and directly into town, which is the end of this stage of The Pekoe Trail.

Categories: Accommodation, Sightseeing, Sri Lanka, Sustainability

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