Touring Sri Lanka Top 8 (Part 2)

Sunset over tea plantations en route to even higher lying estates

As promised in my previous post, here is part two of my top 8 places I particularly enjoyed during our trip to Sri Lanka last month. From the cultural riches of Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya and Dambulla we drove to the heart of the Hill Country and after a few days continued to the coast. The weather was fine every day everywhere we went which was a miracle in itself. After the overwhelming beauty of Kandalama I couldn’t have dreamt of places even more alluring.

Brief Garden Gate

Nuwara Eliya

A charming town of Nuwara Eliya lies at 1868m above sea level and is the highest lying town of Sri Lanka. The elevation makes for a special climate: it is the coolest part of this subtropical island. But not only that, this region, the high lying tea country, is truly spectacular. What with the manicured tea terraces, green, green, green, protected from the sun overhead with gigantic trees (often rubber trees), the curving roads, waterfalls, hilly landscape dotted occasionally with large, old-school-looking tea factories – it is all very pretty to the eye.

Tea plantation near Nuwara Eliya

We chose to spend a day around town with a true hedonistic approach: one can certainly spend a few hours around Nuwara Eliya, a very English looking town, with so many possibilities of a decent drink.

Nuwara Eliya Post Office as built by the Brits

We followed the well-trodden steps of British colonialists: from the colonial post-office, still in business needless to say, we walked to the Hill Club, a low, long building located upon a gentle slope in front of which there’s a beautiful garden complete with an archetype English lawn, where we were offered a tour once we paid the (temporary) membership fee. That we tested the bar functionality goes without saying.

From there we strolled past the Grand Hotel, another lovely colonial-era structure, to the Nuwara Eliya Golf Club (a proper 18-hole golf course) where we sat down on the terrace facing holes 18 & 1 for a final refreshment. The nights may get chilly here (around 10° C) but the days warm up significantly.

Nuwara Eliya Golf Club House

Although this is of course Asia, this lovely urban circuit reminded me gently of Out of Africa (which I wanted to watch immediately upon our return home).

The winding roads of this area offer endless incredible picture-perfect views around each and every curve but nevertheless you’ll be tempted to visit a tea factory. And there’s lots to know  about teaits processing and manufacturing

Tea bags 🙂
Tea pluckers delivering tea to the factory

I’m not as passionate about tea as I’m about coffee (it’s no secret I’m declaring myself a coffee person) but I’m even surer now, after seeing it all with my own eyes, I’ll never consider buying it in tea bags.

Hethersett Tea Factory (which is now a hotel) was the highest located tea factory in Ceylon (a few meters shy of 1900m above sea level, a height which Europeans usually associate with snow and skiing). It was worth waking up early every morning for this sunrise view alone (coming from a gold medal late riser).
Tea Factory
Typical tropical sign
Galle Fort

We walked the ramparts of Galle Fort in the heat of the midday sun. The not so gentle breeze from the Indian Ocean made it bearable but occurred also brutally heavy as if someone had turned the hairdryer on (very similar effect to that of fanning a towel in sauna). It was worth it though.

Main road in Galle Fort

The Fort had stood the test of centuries of changing hands and it survived, virtually intact, the 2004 tsunami. (I sometimes wonder just how many contemporary structures will still stand after we’re gone for a couple of centuries.) I don’t blame the Dutch, the British and all the others, who claimed this port town their own in the course of history, if they had to pour themselves an additional gin and tonic – I see where the dire need comes from.

True to our usual discovery spirit mode, we roamed the ramparts of Galle Fort in its entirety in the heat of the midday. Boy, was it hot!
One time Dutch Governor’s palace in Galle Fort

Where better to kill the heat and thirst than under the cooling fans of the Dutch Governor’s Palace. After extensive rest, the hustle and bustle of Galle Fort’s narrow roads and streets is again enlivening, as is the selection of cute little shops and bars.

Brief Garden

A few kilometres from the shore of warm Indian Ocean, somewhat hidden in the jungle among tropical plantations and rice fields, away from the main roads, lies a beautiful tropical garden that belonged to Bevis Bawa, the elder of the two genius Bawa brothers. Brief Garden, as it is named, is a magnificent place. Some parts of it are quite formally arranged, some seemingly effortlessly reclaimed. It must have been a joy living here.

A fantastic bamboo “hallway”, Brief Garden, Sri Lanka

There’s a barbecue area, here’s a peaceful corner to read a book in, then a sports ground, staircase with a wonderful moon-stone – everything cleverly and harmoniously put together, a work of a diligent soul. Still, one can easily envisage the artist inviting and hosting friends here, throwing a casual party now and then, or enjoying peace and quiet on the terrace in front of the bungalow, or having a drink, contemplating life, surrounded by the lavish greenery and blossoms of every colour, shape or fragrance (jasmin! frangipani!).

The house itself is full of art be it paintings, sculptures, photographs, books. Possibly an ideal escape from the real world should one wish for it.

Most certainly there has to be a moon-stone in a grand Sri Lankan garden

I prefer animals living in their natural habitat but as it happens the humankind did intervene many times during history and as a result some animals are not/cannot be left to their own devices. We wanted to see some Sri Lankan elephants, as they’re basically the symbol of Sri Lanka, but not in too exploiting a manner.

So, no elephant riding for us, God forbid. It was fantastic seeing the large herd of elephants just there, at the hand’s reach so to speak. Even more impressive was watching them move: they’re massive, stupendous, respect evoking animals.

Only after we’d come home I read disturbing reports about the welfare of elephants in Sri Lanka so I won’t be naming the place where we saw them to avoid promoting the possible mistreatment of these glorious animals.

We do love to go places but not only that: on our travels we need to go around and explore by ourselves, to get to grips with the place, its heartbeat and raison d’etre. We do this our way, which is the way we like it. Be it a daytrip, a weekend getaway, or a proper holiday, we seek to relax (after all it’s a holiday) and look forward to everything new. Not everything is planned but mostly we do have a list of what we’d like to see or experience and we go from there. So, opening our minds to a day at a time works for us just fine.

Having said that, we do prepare our itinerary carefully beforehand, which means transport, if needed, and hotels are being booked in advance. When you get right down to it, time away is limited (no matter how much better it would’ve been to have holidays all the time we still live in a real world) so we better make the most of it.

Fishermen boats galore

All that being said, there are many places in Sri Lanka we didn’t see. There are many we couldn’t have visited anyway for the simple reason of limited time. We like to think we left those unseen spots for another trip somewhen in the future.



My guide to Self-driving in Sri Lanka

Top tips: bring temple socks and stop regularly for a coconut break by the road.