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Travel ingenuity from our island hopping holiday experts

Blissful, Beguiling and Back in Business

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Sri Lanka map

The first time I visited Sri Lanka there was a war on. Twenty years, 40+ visits and a beach house later, how things have changed. In 1997, tourists were restricted to the southwest corner of the island – from Bentota through Galle round to Yala National Park. Now the whole of this aptly named “island of serendipity”, is open for business, and what a delight it is to explore.

“Journeys are long although the distances are short” was the mantra of my loyal driver, Lucky, back then. And he wasn’t wrong.

To get to Colombo from the UNESCO-listed Fort at Galle (only 125km) you had to endure a 4 to 5-hour journey of hair-raising overtaking along an inadequate coast road. Traffic would grind to a halt on the approaches to Colombo, and crossing the capital to reach the airport was a war of attrition.

Now, a sparkling dual carriageway whisks you from the airport to downtown Colombo in 30 minutes and Galle can be reached in just over the hour. The delightful south-coast bays of Weligama, Dikwella, Matara and Mirissa (of whale-watching fame) are in easy reach. The Cultural Triangle, with its ancient cities of Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura, and the historic centres of Dambulla and Sigiriya, are also much more accessible thanks to a series of newly paved and widened roads.

The hill stations of Nuwara Eliya, Ella and Horton Plains are still not easy to reach by road, although the train is a popular, more relaxing alternative. But once there, the stunning tea plantations and panoramic trekking country make for a magical setting. Sit back in a planter’s chair, sip a G&T and enjoy the colonial splendour.

Take your time, slow down to Sri Lanka speed

Pasikudah, Trincomalee and the Jaffna Peninsula were pretty much off limits to all but the brave and/or foolhardy until 2009, so visiting the stunning beaches of the east coast was nearly impossible. Gravel tracks, frequent check points, mine sappers and curfews made travel long and arduous – our worst east-to-west-coast road trip took staggering 17 hours at the height of the conflict. Today, seeing 300 wild elephants watering at dusk in Minneriya National Park should be on everyone’s bucket list, as should the spice gardens around Kandy and the crystal clear waters of Nilaveli Beach running up to Pigeon Island. 

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A Mini Guide on Exploring Galle Fort

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The city of Galle, on Sri Lanka’s idyllic southern coast, is home to one of the island’s best-preserved colonial fortresses. It is also one of the best examples of a European-built fortified city in south and south east Asia.

Dating back to the 16th century, and washed on three sides by the Indian Ocean, Galle Fort is a hybrid of Portuguese, Dutch and British design.

The fort is ringed by a series of bastions and walls constructed from lime and coral, and within these walls are some of Sri Lanka’s most characterful homes.

Among these sought-after properties are the luxury private rental villas No. 39 Galle Fort, a spacious three-bedroom family home, and Ambassador’s House, a huge five-bedroom townhouse with lap pool.

Both of these Galle Fort villas are situated on historic Lighthouse Street, just a stroll away from colonial churches, cafés, boutiques and museums.

Explore on foot
You can now walk nearly all the way around the grass-tufted ramparts, admiring the views of the red-tiled rooftops of the fort on one side, and Indian Ocean vistas on the other. The best place to start your stroll is at the Galle Dutch Hospital (on the corner of the banyan-tree-shaded Law Court Square), a majestic building that’s now home to restaurants and shops. Heading south, the next landmark you approach is the fort’s British-era lighthouse, dating to 1938, which punctures the south-eastern corner of Galle Fort.

A little further along is Flag Rock, which is worth a pause to watch young kamikaze Sri Lankans dive acrobatically into the sea for a few hundred rupees. The western ramparts are great for sunset watching, and for joining an impromptu cricket game, while the three northern bastions (Sun, Moon and Star) face inland, forming the highest part of the ramparts and incorporating a tall clock tower. They offer superb views of the new town and international test cricket ground.

Where to eat and what to buy?
Galle Fort is increasingly cosmopolitan. Over the last five years the charming streets of this old town have mushroomed with little cafés, restaurants specialising in healthy fare, one-of-a-kind boutiques and design stores, and even a couple of delicious gelato outlets – we love Pedlars Inn Gelato on Pedlars Street.

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5 Marvellous Facts about the Maldives

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There’s more to the Maldives than a blissful island sanctuary with glittering blue waters, private beach villas on sugar-white beaches and coral reefs that teem with exotic marine life. Here are five facts about the Maldives that might just surprise you.

maldives-coconuts1. Coconut suspected of rigging an election

In September 2013, a questionable young coconut found loitering and acting suspiciously outside a polling station during the island nation’s presidential elections was detained by the police. Many Maldivians believe in magic, and coconuts are a common ingredient in black magic spells and rituals. A magician was called to examine the coconut for any threats and curses. Luckily for the coconut, the magician concluded it to be innocent. It was subsequently told it was free to walk – or roll.

maldives-literacy-rate
2. One of the most literate countries in the world

The Maldives boasts one of the highest literacy rates among adults in the world at 98%. Since residents are spread over 200 inhabited islands, a unified education was difficult. However, the nation understood the importance of education for their future success and, with the aid of UNICEF, a unified education programme was created. The internet was used for long distance teaching and children, parents and caregivers were all urged to take an active role in education.

whale-maldives

3. A whale-watcher’s dream

The Maldives ranks as one of the top five places for whale- and dolphin-watching in the world, with 23 different species of cetaceans having been recorded in its waters. Trips run all year round and it’s not uncommon to spot up to 2,500 of whales and dolphins in a single outing. From dwarf sperm whales, false killer whales to real killer whales, you will also see bottlenose dolphins, striped and spotted dolphins and pilot whales. If you’re lucky, you might also see the world’s largest fish, the Whale Shark, cruising the crystal-clear waters of the Maldives.

atoll-maldives4. The Maldives have some of the smallest islands on earth

Apart from its popularity as an amazing island destination, the Maldives is also famous for having some of the tiniest islands on the planet. There are about 1,200 islands in the Maldives and the largest island barely reaches 6 kilometres long. Elite Havens’ Maldives villas are on Amilla Fushi, a tiny less-than-one-kilometre-long jewel of an island on the edge of the Baa Atoll,

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Visiting Galle? Do Not Miss These 5 Attraction Sites

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Galle in Sri Lanka is a perfect example of the fusion of European and Asian styles. Its natural beauty, superb archaeological location and rich heritage have made it an outstanding coastal city of Sri Lanka.

It is hard to believe that a city that is buzzing with business activities has managed to successfully preserve ancient heritage in such an amazing manner. If you are travelling to Galle for the first time, include these 5 attraction sites into your must-visit list.

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1.The UNESCO-Listed Galle Fort

The Galle Dutch Fort is a rare historical jewel protected by dark, thick stone walls – with the endless ocean on one side. It was built first in 1588 by the Portuguese, then extensively fortified by the Dutch during the 17th-century from 1649 onwards. Even after more than 428 years, the roads inside the Galle Fort have hardly changed, like the squares on a chess board crisscrossing in regular patches. Straight and narrow lanes branch in and out inviting the visitor to a delightful walk into the 17th century. The fort is big enough to feel a tiny bit lost at times, but small enough to explore on foot.

No.39 Galle Fort is tucked along Lighthouse Street in Galle Fort. The historic heritage house is airy, spacious and charming. Ideal for families and a group of friends looking for an easy access to the many iconic attractions on this historic locale – Galle Fort’s iconic landmarks are only footsteps away.

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2. Galle Fort Lighthouse

Another fantastic landmark is the Galle Lighthouse, Sri Lanka’s oldest light station, dating back to 1848. The original 24.5-metre-high lighthouse (built by the British) was destroyed by fire in 1934. Standing tall at 26.5-metre-high, the current lighthouse was erected in 1939 to replace it.

Come here early morning and you might catch the fishermen on their stilts, or late afternoon to see the sunset. A relaxing walk on the fortification along the sea is highly recommended.

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3. Japanese Peace Pagoda

Built by Nipponzan Myohoji monks, the Japanese Peace Pagoda is one of the most tranquil attractions of the city and exudes a sense of calm. If you came to Galle seeking for spirituality and inner peace, this is the place to be.

The Pagoda is only a short walk from/to the Jungle Beach.

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The Balians of Bali

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The otherworldly powers of Bali’s traditional healers are well documented and are part of daily life for locals and expats.

On top of ordinary health issues, spirits both good and bad abound on this Island of the Gods and they can wreak havoc on the physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. Everything from a broken bone to a broken heart will invoke a visit to one of more than 8,000 healers practising in Bali.

Traditional Balinese healing shot to fame with the 2010 movie Eat, Pray, Love – which shone a light on the late Ubud Balian and priest, Pak Ketut Liyer. He became an instant rock star of the alternative medicine scene and his home was a major tourist destination.

Healers reject being called a Balian as too conceited for their spiritual calling, which is delivered through illness or an ancient family line. Balians specialise in specific areas such as heart problems, migraine headache, sports injuries or the removal of a spell.

The Four Types of Balian

The first is a Ketakson, who is usually a female and will channel between the client and God and call on the spirit of a dead person for guidance and pass on the information.

The second is a Pica – a medium and not a formal student of traditional medicine, massage or magic. There are stories of physical objects – such as the Balinese dagger called a kris – appearing out of thin air during a session with a Pica.

The third is a Usada who receives divine knowledge during a severe illness that leads them to study the Lontars – ancient, sacred texts written on bamboo. They are a masters’ apprentice while studying anatomy, ethics, traditional herbs, massage, magic, meditation, yoga, and tantra among many subjects. Black and white magic are widely practised in Bali.

The fourth kind of Balian combines all of the above and during a session, the healer may appear mildly psychotic, hearing voices and having visions while the wisdom enters their body.

How To Visit a Balian

Travellers can visit a Balian or even study for a few days with an expert. Etiquette must be observed so dress modestly and be patient since locals with real illnesses will be also waiting. Bring an offering of money but never pass cash directly to the healer.

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