It may be rainy season, but there's no better time to visit Galle
Never mind the rain Rain, for many people, is not a reason to go on holiday. Snow and sun, yes, but rain? No thanks. But the runt of the weather forecast litter becomes a slightly different proposition if you happen to live in a country where it only rains once or twice a year. If anything, we were rather looking forward to an occasional shower (in the meteorological sense of the word). And aside from the occasional smattering of rain, monsoon season in Sri Lanka (the time of which varies depending on region) means cheaper flights and hotel packages. With this in mind, we turned a deaf ear to the sun-worshipping naysayers and booked a return ticket.
The open road Despite Sri Lanka only being a four-and-a-half hour flight from Abu Dhabi, the geographical disparity of the country’s attractions, combined with its underdeveloped transport infrastructure, means that a long weekend isn’t really practical. But while we’d recommend anyone stay for at least five days, a three-day break in the city of Galle is now a more realistic proposition thanks to the Southern Expressway. It’s a 126km-long motorway that opened in November 2011, cutting journey times from Colombo to the south in half. All this information was relayed to us by our cheery minibus driver and while we can only muster so much enthusiasm for motorways, we did appreciate the smooth ride and lack of death-defying overtaking that we’d previously experienced in South Asia.
A dash of Dutch charm Our first port of call (quite literally) was the historic port town of Galle. The strategic importance of it is embodied by the muscular walls of Galle fort, built by the Dutch in the 1600s to deter other colonial powers (namely the Portuguese and British) from taking an interest in the area’s abundance of natural resources and precious gems. A few hundred years on, remnants of the Dutch regime now take shape in a heady collage of gambrel roofs, peeling whitewash, unruly banyan trees and quaint cobbled streets. It was here that we encountered our first bout of rain and, as if to make up for the past six months in Abu Dhabi, the ferocity of the shower forced us to take cover under the veranda of a nearby café. We took a seat, ordered a coffee and, as we gazed out at the five-minute onslaught of pebble-sized raindrops, had absolutely no regrets about our monsoon-season visit.
The architectural splendour of Galle is perhaps best summed up by the old manor house at the centre of the fort. What was once the governor’s mansion has been lovingly renovated and converted into the Amangalla Hotel. Any visitors who can afford to stay here should do so; for the rest of us, high-tea or dinner on the veranda is a must.
Going deeper south After whiling away two nights amid the colonial charms of Galle, we headed to what one local knowingly described as the ‘deep south’. Since Galle is perched on the southern coast of Sri Lanka, we found it difficult to fathom how much further south we could actually go, but we soon discovered what was meant by ‘deep south’ once we arrived at Tangalle. Though the city itself (Sri Lanka’s fourth biggest) is a buzzing hive of industry, the surrounding countryside consists of endless emerald paddy fields, while the coastline features crashing waves and deserted beaches. The serenity of the area had much to do with the fact it was low season – we were the only people staying at the five-bedroom guesthouse. Used to the seething humanity and car horns of city life, we were at first intimated by the serene silence of the area. Thankfully, this only lasted for an hour or so and we soon slipped into the relaxed, laidback pace of the ‘deep south’. But it’s easy enough to keep busy – a cycle ride around winding country roads is a great way to explore the area independently and a visit to one of the deserted beaches is like walking into a men’s cologne advert. Local culinary options, meanwhile, are cheap, fresh and filling, but those who want a taste of high-end cuisine in an exquisitely manicured setting should take lunch or dinner at the Amanwella resort (and enjoy the Robinson Crusoe-esque beach before or after).
Where to stay Amangalla Galle is full of affordable guesthouses, but those wanting to splash out should book into this breathtaking property. Dhs2,571 per night per double. Church Street, Galle, www.amanresorts.com/amangalla.
Galle Fort Guesthouse A quaint, affordable and well-positioned guesthouse in the historic fort. From Dhs200 per night. 65 Lighthouse Street, Fort Galle, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Maya This relaxed, friendly guesthouse is set amid lush paddy fields outside Tangalle. From Dhs1,028 per night per double. Tangalle, www.mayatangallesrilanka.com.