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An island country nestled in South Asia, Sri Lanka has always been a bucket-list destination for Louise Prance, with her recent trip living up to her expectations and then some...
There were countless reasons why Sri Lanka was my number one bucket list destination – with the tropical island pipping New Zealand, the Maldives and Vietnam to the top spot – but the one that stood out to me is the fact it is a Buddhist country, with a culture based on peace and family.
While the unstable social climate was garnering news coverage at the time of my trip, there is not one point during my stay that I felt any unrest. From the second the tropical heat hit me as I arrived, to the moment I stepped back on the plane with a heavy heart upon my departure, I felt totally secure.
The flight time may be long, however, it was comfortable, and oh boy, does Sri Lanka make up for the time spent in the air. Upon arrival at the airport, we were whisked away at a rate of knots towards our destination of Cinnamon Bentota Beach hotel. My advice? Save the jet lag slumber for a little while longer, as you'd be mistaken to not fully immerse yourself in the changing landscape you'll experience on the journey there.
The hustle and bustle of Colombo is an assault to the senses – albeit an exciting one. Arriving in the morning, we watched as parents took their children to school on TukTuks and workers started their day. However, soon enough, the city rolled away and we were treated to the lush green landscape Sri Lanka is so famous for.
Arriving at the Cinnamon Beach Hotel was an altogether memorable experience. A luxurious property nestled in the mesmerising Indian Ocean along the southern coast of Sri Lanka, it has a heritage dating back to the '60s and was designed by one of Asia's most influential architects, Geoffrey Bawa. It is the ultimate tropical destination perfect for an art and architecture enthusiast or a lover of exquisite oceans.
A GASTRONOMIC DELIGHT
While tired and hungry from our journey, these emotions were soon replaced with appreciation of the traditional welcome we received. Heading into the hotel we were given a quick tour of the awe-inspiring grounds and facilities, and it was straight down to breakfast.
With many restaurants on site, Ottimo and Zest are used as a buffet option for all three meals, suffice to say, there's something for everyone. However, when in Rome and all that – we immediately tucked into curry for breakfast, a habit we all continued throughout the stay.
If you're looking for something a la carte, the beachside Sea-Meats-Spice Seafood restaurant is the place to be. With the Head Chef looking after the menu, be prepared for a gastronomical sensation, before retiring to the plush sofas for a sundowner with the sand between your toes.
The Fuze bar is perfect for a nightcap, and with dramatic ceilings and art aplenty, it oozes luxury. Other highlights for fellow foodies included high tea looking out over the ocean, plus the authentic Sri Lankan cooking lesson and Chef's Table Experience and dinner – all of which are able to be booked directly through the hotel. If you're looking for a special honeymoon treat – I'd recommend all of the above!
ART AND CULTURE
Well known for its jungles, Sri Lanka certainly didn't disappoint on this front. Tearing ourselves away from the array of calming pools – and pool bar – we headed to the Lunuganga Geoffrey Bawa's Country Estate, where we were treated to a tour.
If art and culture is your thing – this is one excursion not to be missed. The country house of the renowned Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa, the estate is just a short distance from the hotel, and had been used as a cinnamon estate during the Dutch era and then a rubber plantation under the British. In 1949, the estate was bought by Bawa and was converted into a weekend house where he created a tropical version of a European Renaissance Garden. It took the architect 40 years to complete the house.
OUT ON THE WATER
However, for me, the highlight was most definitely the boat ride on the Madu Ganga and visit to the Mangrove Forest. With an excellent tour guide, we jetted down the river doing our best to spot all the animals that were highlighted as making the river their home. From bear monkeys to water monitors to jellyfish, to kingfisher's – it was a veritable treat for an animal lover like me. The jury is still out on whether I'm happy or disappointed that the crocodiles kept themselves at bay.
And with Mangrove forests stabilising the coastline, reducing erosion from storm surges, currents, waves, and tides, the intricate root system of mangroves also makes these forests attractive to fish and other organisms seeking food and shelter from predators. With little stops along the way, it was truly special to see cinnamon being made amidst the forest – and I'd recommend bringing some pocket change as it'll be a feat to walk away empty handed.
If you're one for a spot of shopping combined with a walking tour of a beautiful town, make sure you head to Galle. We combined this with the rivertour, and it was well worth the hour's drive. A stunning town steeped in history there are views for miles and it would be well worth booking with Walkers Tours, and in particular Ashoka Dissanayke, to learn more about this beautifully resplendent town's heritage. If you do head to Galle, don't forget to leave space in your luggage for your journey home. With boutique shops and traditional stores alike, I'd challenge anyone to leave empty handed. If you're looking for souvenirs or mementos of your trip – this is the place toget them.
A PEACEFUL NIGHT'S SLEEP
Cinnamon Bentota Beach offers 16 Suites with unique sets of artworks that were commissioned from Sri Lankan artists as part of Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts' pledge to support the local arts and crafts. Eight artists were commissioned to depict a theme and record what they felt the name of the suite meant to them - resulting in each suite telling a story of the people and languages of Sri Lanka.
If watersports are your thing, you won't be disappointed at Cinnamon Bentota Beach. Taking place on the Bentota river, there are endless options from water skiing, to jet skis, banana boats and doughnuts. While first trying my hand at the doughnuts, the jet ski was a definite front runner. With the water so calm and the river so vast, it was the perfect opportunity to open up and let rip!
Sri Lanka has had its fair share of upheaval, from the 2004 Tsunami, the terrorist attacks in 2019 and now the national crisis. However, in my opinion this is all the more reason to go and visit this wonderful country, and give its tourism industry the boost it so desperately needs. Not only did I feel safe wherever I travelled in Sri Lanka, I am already planning my next trip back, and this time I may buy an open-ended ticket home...
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