Arriving in Colombo (capital of Sri Lanka) we had only part of the trip booked staying in different villas and the other 5 days we left open so we could play it by ear and venture into the jungle after leaving the coastline.
The four of us flew in from Bali, Indonesia. There were no direct flights so we had to stop in at Kuala Lumpur first for 6 hours until our 9pm flight. Getting in late to a new town is not my preferred option but the smiles of the Sri Lankan people when you arrive instantly make you feel welcome.
We stayed in Colombo for one day before heading south down the popular west coast to Galle Fort.
Travelling to Galle Fort
What an incredible surprise and hidden treasure. Galle Fort is a destination within a destination. The Portuguese built Galle Fort in 1588 and the Dutch extensively fortified it in the mid 1600’s. Galle Fort was declared a World Heritage Site in 1988 and is recognised by UNESCO for its cultural heritage value. We think it’s a ‘must visit’ when travelling to Sri Lanka.
Galle Fort has so much character and the place is becoming very popular with travellers from all over the world. With little restaurants, bars, shops and heritage buildings scattered throughout, there is quite a bit to see and do. I wouldn’t recommend staying a week, instead 2 -3 days is enough to walk around and soak it all in.
Staying at 39 Galle Fort
We stayed at 39 Galle Fort, a 3-bedroom villa behind a very unsuspecting street front. 39 Galle Fort is perfect for families and groups who wish to stay in a private villa with cosy comforts. The house dates back to the 17th century but was renovated in 2008.
The two-storey structure features high ceilings, modern Sri Lankan furniture and has a gorgeous courtyard with tropical plants. The three bedrooms, generous in size are beautifully decorated with en-suite bathrooms.
We inspected some great villas in Galle Fort that will be added to Ministry of Villas in the coming months. One in particular is the 5-bedroom villa Ambassador’s House. Each of the rooms are equal in size and the villa is surprisingly large. Ambassador’s House represents amazing value for money at only $600 per night for 10 guests right in the heart of the fort.
It is only an historic 5-minute walk to most of the fort’s prime attractions including the ramparts, the lighthouse and the Maritime Museum. Banks, boutiques and a scattering of restaurants and cafes are also located within the fort, all of which are on your doorstep. The nearest beach at Unawatuna is a 15-minute drive from Ambassador’s House.
The next morning we took off with an early start. Next on the list was Ivory House. We stayed here for 2 nights and again were pleasantly surprised. From the moment we arrived we fell in love with this villa.
It feels like you are on a tea plantation with a colonial style home that has been refurbished and has a great interior design and vibe. We pre-ordered dinner and the team prepared a lovely meal for us on the verandah overlooking the private pool and garden.
Another villa we had the opportunity to stay at with colonial heritage is Pooja Kanda. The combination of antiques with classic pieces of furniture, books and flowers give this villa a stately feel. We stayed here for 2 nights and the villa is extremely comfortable. Pooja Kanda oozes a modern Sri Lankan colonial style. It fuses beautiful period details and traditional artwork with modern furniture and every comfort you need to relax in style.
The building itself has nooks and crannies, private terraces as well as an office and media room. This meant we could all find our own space to send emails, read or simply unwind in solitude. I loved this. The other highlight is Pooja Kanda’s position atop a small hill. We had a lovely breeze flowing through the villa every day so we didn’t have to retreat to air conditioning. This was exactly the colonial villa experience we were hoping for!
Next on the list was the beachfront Ani Villas. It’s further down the coast and I’d say a 2-hour drive from Colombo. The 15-bedroom estate commands a panoramic view of brilliant blue waters rolling in among headlands, reefs, and sandbars. A full staff and service teams including private butlers, chefs, housekeepers, concierge service, and security — all exclusively yours!
Driving to Tangalle
If you are driving from Colombo we recommend taking the highway. We took the coastal road for most of the trip and it was pretty but the traffic was challenging for a nervous passenger like myself.
We had a brilliant driver for most of our trip through Sri Lanka, he navigated the long journey and the busy coastal and highlands road so well. We all felt very safe and this is not an easy feat when driving in Sri Lanka. The bus drivers seem mad and they drive so quickly… everyone is overtaking everyone and you just feel like you are in a racing game.
Tangalle to Ella
Now this was a long drive and from memory around 4 hours to reach Ella. The drive up the mountain was incredible and one of the best drives Alastair and I have taken. The turns are sharp and the road wraps around the mountain and the fog clears off the road to open up views that are just breathtaking.
We stayed at a nice hotel (nothing fancy) in Ellla called ‘The View’ which we though sounded appropriate given we were atop a mountain range. Now it was only $100 per night so don’t expect a 5-star hotel. The property was great however the restaurant had a limited menu and the Internet didn’t work, but it served its purpose as a one-night stopover.
There are 3 classes in the trains: first class, second class and third class. We met some travellers the night prior to leaving on the 11am train and they said second class was just as good as first class and it cost only $1 per ticket compared with $16 for first class. The major difference is first class carriages have air-conditioning, however in October the cool breeze and smell of the tea and lush hillside was simply beautiful.
This small town is where most arrive at after taking the train down south from Kandy. We are doing the same but the opposite direction as the trip from Ella to Kandy is said to be one of the best in the world. Taking the train to Kandy from Ella proved to be a brilliant idea as it was pretty much an empty train for much of the journey.
Ella to Nuwara Eliya
The train trip from Ella to Nuwara Eliya was just incredible. We all agreed it was the highlight of the trip so I certainly recommend this leg of our journey. The route is at an altitude of 1,868 m (6,128 ft) and is considered to be the most important location for tea production in Sri Lanka.
We stayed at a fantastic 4-bedroom villa with lovely double bedrooms and ensuite bathrooms. There is a kitchen and small menu where you can either order meals or request the staff to cook whatever you desire. We asked them to increase the Internet speed and they did. It was super fast and enabled the four of us to work while we were there.
Nuwara Eliya To Kandy
Book FIRST CLASS! We boarded the train and were faced with standing for 4 hours as the tickets we bought for second class did not guarantee seating! Luckily two gentleman offered Lola and I seats and within 30 minutes other people hoped off the train allowing the guys to sit down.
It’s truly pretty with the lake in the middle of the city and so green. But after a day here there really isn’t much to see or do.
Tea Factory on the way to Colombo
Our driver asked if we would like to stop on the way to the airport at a tea factory. Given the drive was 4 hours long we agreed. I’m so glad we did given we were about to leave Sri Lanka without learning more about how the tea is produced. The machinery used today to sort the famous Ceylon tea is mostly 19th Century and the process is fascinating!
Colombo to Maldives
Finally we reached Colombo 10 days later. The highlight for me was certainly the villas and the train from Ella to Kandy. I think Sri Lanka is beautiful, clean and I felt so safe. Sri Lankan people are so friendly and make you feel at home in their beautiful country. I recommend taking a trip now to explore before it’s overrun with tourists. We are now heading from Colombo over to Maldives. So come with us on the next adventure…