The island shines as a jewel emerging from the ocean’s surface; the territory is a natural paradise, suitable for different types of travelers. Exceeding all expectations, Sri Lanka offers many itineraries: jungle experiences with safari, infinite beaches where to surf and ancient spiritual cities for meditation and peace. You can lose yourself among unique boundless tea plantations, acquainted with fishermen, waking up with them at dawn in the mystical blanket of morning. The land is magical and you will surely find whatever you are looking for.
Curator: Paola Mapelli | Editor: Alessandra Busacca
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Colombo, the capital city of Sri Lanka, immerses you in the black and white realm of Geoffrey Bawa, the most famous architect in the country.
This visionary architect sculpted landscapes into living poetry, seamlessly blending modern design with Sri Lanka's natural beauty. His creations stand as timeless testaments to his innovative spirit.
In addition to his private residence in the city, you can visit the Lunuganga estate, between Colombo and Galle, that holds significant importance as the space where Geoffrey Bawa's architectural and garden design principles were shaped. It serves as a crucial environment for his language, while embodying a spirit of hospitality and providing a venue for artists to engage in creative endeavors. His mantra was “erase the boundaries between the interior and the outdoors.”
Nowadays Bawa’s mansion is turned into a museum and boutique hotel, considered as a special architectural marvel to discover, among which Number 11, a perfect spot walking distance to many grocery stores and traditional shops and bookstores. Just to cite one, Barefoot, founded by the visionary artist Barbara Sansoni in the 60s, is a shop with a strong personality that offers a range of hand-woven fabrics in brilliant colors and simple geometry that define internationally recognized cloth, crafted with care by designers and artisans.
Throughout the city you won’t be surprised to find also several art galleries, such as the Saskia Fernando Gallery or Paradise Road where you can visit The Gallery Caffè, a name that reveals a special aspect of the culture of Sri Lanka itself. You can have fun experiencing all the different concept stores and coffee bars among which Seed Cafè or Café Kumbuk all serve beverages, coloured brunches perfumed with aromatic beans and spices.
Located in the heart of Colombo, Café Kumbuk promotes healthy and sustainable living in a day-dreaming spot set by a shady grove of Kumbuk trees. The atmosphere has a vintage allure made of interior design, inspired by Sri Lanka aesthetic with wooden tables, palms, succulent plants, maps and photographs all around.
After filling up with energies on delicacies and Indian tastes, such as a fresh dish of mango and papaya, a must visit is the Gangaramaya Temple or the Sri Kailawasanathan Swami Devasthanam Kovil, an ancient revered Hindu temple which is the oldest of its kind in Colombo, devoted to Gods of Ganesha and Shiva and one of the most popular wedding venues.
Where to sleep: you can stay at Paradise Road Tintagel Colombo to experience a literal royal service. Exquisitely designed, this property is celebrated for its exceptional privacy and intimate atmosphere. The interior aesthetic, curated by Udayshanth Fernando, harmoniously complements the iconic space it occupies and was also chosen as the official hotel to host His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales and Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cornwall.
Or you can escape the hustle and bustle of the city and discover the tranquil paradise of Table by Turu providing you with the convenience to explore a myriad of cultural, religious, and historic attractions, as well as entertainment venues.
But if you are looking for a place to eat in Colombo go for the Ministry of Crab, created as a culinary homecoming of Sri Lanka’s legendary lagoon crab in a super relaxed atmosphere, unusual for a Michelin starred restaurant.
Don’t forget then, on the road, to stop by the closer village of Galle, a former fort by the sea, now a Unesco World Heritage Site. It is a very nice getaway in the evening to watch the sunset after a quick dinner at the Seafood Elita Restaurant. The fortress is surrounded by walls, enriched with stores, restaurants and stunning hotels, such as The Fortprinters or the tricentennial elegant hotel Amangalla with its chandeliers and ceilings. Feels like a step back in time passing the threshold of the exotic garden, flanked by a blue pool.
Religion and faith hold profound significance in Sri Lanka. The northern region is where you find crumbling temples, lost cities and sacred Buddhist archeological sites, forming a cultural triangle for historians and archeolovers.
Here and once, ancient dynasties flourished with their capitals, but over time, these kingdoms declined, gradually disappearing into the surrounding jungle. For over a century, archaeologists have meticulously uncovered the layers of history hidden beneath the savage nature, slowly laying bare the region's rich past. Among the noteworthy sites, the formidable rock fortress of Sigiriya, the majestic white dagobas of Anuradhapura and the exquisite sculptures of Polonnaruwa are just a few examples of the national treasures that grace the landscape today. The Northern Group of the ruins include Alahana Pirivena group and Rankot Vihara dagoba.
After a 4-hour drive from Colombo, you can arrive at these villages, each roughly one to two hours apart from one another. The first place you encounter is the huge ruined Buddhist complex of Anuradhapura, one of the most ancient cities and sacred pilgrimage sites. Here you can freely bike (most hotels will rent you one) through and observe every place from the ancient water tanks to the temples and the monuments. This area has four main zones. The heart is Mahavihara with the sacred Sri Maha bodhi tree, one of the oldest historical tree in the world. Along the way you can notice monks along the road, with their holy aura, meditating, landscapes of tiny lakes and natural elements, groups of girls, dressed in white, going to school.
Take your time to get to know the sprawling one-time capital of Polonnaruwa, a city veiled in time, a landscape dotted with the traditional white monumental dagobas (stupas), symbol of Sri Lanka. Once this region was a thriving commercial and religious center.
Here you will find the group of magnificent buildings called Royal Palace dating from the 12th-century reign of Parakramabahu I, the city’s greatest king. Then just east of the palace, there’s the Audience Hall, notable for its frieze of elephants all in different poses beside this open-air pavilion with stone columns carved to look like wooden pillars. Then the Quadrangle, literally a compact group of fascinating ruins to explore together with some Buddha houses. Remember to remove your hat and shoes when entering the buildings. Go find the unusual ziggurat-style Satmahal Prasada, the Vatadage dagoba and the Thuparama Gedige (hollow Buddhist temple with thick walls).
Don’t miss a visit to the Echo Lake House situated on the banks of the largest man-made reservoir in the world. Nestled by the tranquil waters, this enchanting haven breathes life into the art of retreat following the gentle rhythm of nature. That’s why even The Queen Elizabeth chose to stay here, in one of her visits to Sri Lanka, in a golden suite, still one of the most beautiful in the country. And finally the World Heritage Site of Sigiriya, a sacred mountain, a mysterious rock, a magma plug from a long-ago-eroded volcano, surrounded with legends and laced with beautiful gardens. According to some historians Sigiriya’s summit was once the site of Kasyapa’s palace, one of the seven sages of Hinduism, for others, such as commissioner De Silva, this was a Buddhist monastery and a sanctuary for meditation.
Its name "Lion Rock" derives from two massive lion paws carved into the same rock. You’ll have to climb a series of vertiginous staircases, as through a purifying path, to admire water pools reflecting the entire town. You will encounter charming boulder gardens, water gardens, and the Cobra Hood Cave once embellished with floral and animal paintings. Start early, in the morning, as it gets hot here. You can relax in the afternoon at the panoramic pool of Hotel Sigiriya or in the sanctuary of Jetwing Vil Uyana, an authentic example of sustainable tourism immersed in nature, with its platforms over a tranquil lake. At dusk, lighted paths wave into enchanting trails on the water, in a picturesque blend of verdant paddy fields, bamboo thickets, and lively reed beds.
Sigiriya is the ideal base for this regional trip between the Minneriya National Park and Dambulla caves.
Half an hour from Sigiriya, in fact, there’s Dambulla with its iconic rock cave temple. Profit the morning to move and visit the twelve painted caves covered with Buddha statues that create a breathtaking spectacle atop a hill. The site is truly beautiful, featuring not only statues but also stunning views. Moving from here, one transitions to the ancient region, where civilization, antiquity, and religion converge.
Immersed in emerald peaks and scenic views, Sri Lanka’s Hill Country is where you can visit the most relevant city for Buddhism and the cultural heart of the island: the royal city of Kandy, considered the capital of the mountains and the religious one. It’s the place where Buddha's tooth is kept and honored in the Sri Dalada Maligawa Golden Temple, known as the Temple of the Sacred Tooth. The sacred tooth of the Buddha is said to have been snatched from his funeral pyre in 483 BC and smuggled into Sri Lanka during the 4th century, hidden in the hair of a princess. The tooth is a symbol of sovereignty and according to the myth whoever had its custody gains also the right to rule the island.
The city is often shrouded in mist, but when it disperses, the vibrant hues of houses, imposing colonial-era structures, and other distinctly Kandyan landmarks boldly emerge and you can find yourself surrounded by a hundred wild elephants. Dominating the town is Kandy Lake, a beautiful way to spend a few hours and find peace before visiting the Temple of the Sacred Tooth.
At this point you pass through, in the bush, to reach the tea trails, a venture not to be missed. But before that, visit all the temples and then stop at the Empire Café, for a quick lunch with rice and curry or with an egg hopper. The ambience is informal with white interiors of the building decorated by real posters from India and retro furniture.
Start your journey along the tea trails, where verdant hills embrace the horizon. Meet the last generations of gathers hiding in the plants and allow yourself to be pampered by nature.
The itinerary from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya and Ella must be experienced by train because of its green landscapes. It’s a habit that is very touristic and instagrammed because of the notorious arch where to shoot beautiful photos and create unforgettable memories.
Both Nuwara and Ella are ex-colonial towns, so you see former colonial houses now particular hotels. These towns are in the middle of nowhere, the authentic welcome for the visits to tea factories. In the morning there is so much humidity that it creates mist peaks and a dreamy atmosphere. The weather contributes to creating this mood, suddenly a bright sunshine then followed by stinging rain over the quiet hilly plantations.
Then stop by Hatton, a magical village beyond waterfalls and lakes in which you find the luxurious bungalows of the Ceylon Tea-Trails Relais & Châteaux. From there you can hike 6 or 12 km in the tea plantations and meet the women, the last generation of hand pickers of tea, that carefully select the best little leaves of tea stooping to gather them from low, lush bushes. This heaven is a widespread hotel and very private with only four rooms with all services and comfort. You will have a butler at your service who makes you breakfast and gives you suggestions for the trip. Then you can completely relax by the pool, play cricket, or simply have a walk in nature. Chefs, according to the daily vegetable garden, can cook for you. There's all the board games, backgammon or chess you desire to relax, and everywhere is surrounded with music that spread throughout the patio, the living room with the fireplace, and inside the designed room while you can have wonderful tubs to take long baths.
Welcome to sea life, the paradise for surfers and beach people. There are two main areas to chill and take all the best from the ocean. One area is embodied by Tangalle and Weligama. The other one is represented by the lake and Ahangama, close to Galle.
Here and there, surfers return year after year in pursuit of the perfect wave. Tangalle emerges as a hidden coastal town awaiting discovery by intrepid travelers who seek a blend of untouched natural beauty and cultural richness. But Tangalle's allure extends beyond its beaches, unveiling a tapestry of local life and tradition, vibrant markets, where the exotic scents and spices fill the air.
Tangalle also includes local attractions such as the Mulkirigala Rock Temple, Rekawa's turtle beach and craft villages. Beyond the resort are some of the island's most revered temples, tea plantations and national parks that offer some of Sri Lanka's best safari experiences beside white beaches, and a posh vibe. The same goes for Weligama, where you can search for the best rooftop drinks and dinners around and breathe in the authentic surf culture of the coast. This happens even more at Ceylon Sliders, at the sushi bar of Kaiyo, but most of all at the boutique oceanfront and lush tropical gardens of Eraeliya Villas. The residence is a jewel on the bay and a collection of six designed villas, expressing all the love for interior design, art, gardening and slow lifestyle.
On Sri Lanka's sunny south coast, near the fishing village of Tangalle, a winding path cutting through lush jungle leads to Amanwella nestled along a secluded bay in a rugged, wild, and remote landscape, featuring independent suites, each boasting private pools and a panoramic view. The design harmonizes with the natural surroundings inspired by the work of Geoffrey Bawa, including the gardens, which are dotted with aromatic white frangipani, an ode to Bawa's favourite tree. It's an ideal retreat for serene seaside getaways, cultural explorations, and wildlife encounters. Guests have access to national parks, including the renowned Udawalawe for elephants and crocodiles, the birdwatching haven of Bundala, and slightly farther afield, Yala, where the leopard reigns supreme.
On the other side of quiet luxury, the peaceful beach town of Ahangama arose from the palm trees, as a super upcoming group of boutique designed hotels, all conceived and imagined by archistars with a strong philosophy and attention to foodies and local admirers. There is no sound apart from the waves hitting the shore and swaying of the trees making it one of the ideal getaways in the country.
From the coast, if sea life has tired and the waves have as well, it is possible to go on a lake trip or islets trip, going in search of remote temples perched in the jungle, among elephants, scenographic lakes and cinnamon plantations, especially if you go on an excursion at the Yala National Park. But don’t imagine a savage stay, because even here you can find a special Relais & Châteaux where you can observe leopards and elephants in tranquility.
You can't say you've been to Sri Lanka if you haven't done at least one of these activities: follow the steps of the tea plantation trails, take a tuk tuk, practice yoga and surf, receive a massage or the blessing of a monk in one of the temples and then have a bracelet on your wrist which is the symbol of the blessing.
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