The Bon Viants and Gypsetters are heading to Galle in south-west Sri Lanka. Artist, Hip Lawyers, Surfers, and entrepreneurs have now discovered this Serendipitous enclave.
Until recently, Galle was an almost undiscovered hideaway in this tropical paradise. The preserve of just a few intrepid families, beach bohos and slightly eccentric Asiaphile second-home owners.
Today, Galle flourishes the travel and fashion pages of Vogue, Tatler , Elle and Harpers Bazaar along with almost every considered travel magazine.
Sri Lanka and the Galle area is fast becoming the destination of taste, style, spiritual awakening and sheer indulgence for a more enlightened traveller, seeking balance and inspiration on their travels.
The journey south to Galle from Colombo, is a pleasant, unique and scenic one along the Southern highway, which takes one hour by car. Alternatively, there is also the old Galle Road that hugs the coastline and takes about three hours to reach Galle.
Although a textured journey! which encounters local villages and the lives of local folk, this tiny road continues to flow relatively freely and the views are stunning.
Galle can be reached by car, train or the Air Taxi service which when operational lands on Koggala Lake, about 20 minutes to the south. Useful drive times include: Colombo to Galle (one hour); Airport to Galle (2.5 hours); Galle to Mirissa (45 minutes) Galle to Tangalle (2 hours); Tangalle to Yala (2.5 hours); Kandy to Galle (5.5 hours); Nuwara Eliya to Galle (6 hours).
Galle owes its historic importance to its natural harbour and strategic location. It has long been a hub of trade and commerce with ships from all parts of the world docking at the ancient port to barter their goods for treasures from this island: precious gems, pearls, spices, and scented woods. Galle is even referred to as the Biblical `Tarshish’ where King Solomon's ships called at port to take aboard treasures.
The accidental arrival of the Portuguese Lorenzo De Almeida in 1505, when his fleet of ships steered off course following a storm at sea, changed the history of this island nation. The Portuguese were followed by the Dutch in 1640 and then the British in 1796. With each occupation, Galle’s landscape changed and the cultural influences remained. Colombo became Sri Lanka’s main port in the 1870s and Galle’s influence waned, perhaps protecting its charm.
Today Galle is a bustling provincial capital where a kaleidoscope of ethnicities and religions live side by side. The majority of Galle’s population is Sinhalese but there are significant communities of Moors, Malays, Tamils and increasingly a scattering of Europeans, largely but not exclusively British, who have been attracted by the area’s rich cultural heritage, beautiful beaches and laid back lifestyles. Artists, designers and writers flock each year for rest and inspiration.
The southern heritage is rich in culture, architecture, folk drama and crafts. Galle’s main attraction is the 17th century Dutch Fort. Much of the old Fort and the township within still remain, with its well-preserved bastions, public buildings, churches, lighthouse and a maze of narrow streets. The ramparts that surround the Fort are today used for romantic evening strolls and convenient viewpoints to catch breathtaking ocean sunsets. Below the ramparts, Sri Lanka’s cricket team regularly plays at the rebuilt Galle International Stadium. Several sandy beaches are within easy reach, including the beautiful, crescent-shaped Unawatuna Bay.
The sea is generally calm and in Unawatuna and the reef shelters more fish than the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Between Galle to Ahangama, there are many smaller lesser-known bays and beaches, several popular with surfers. Buddhist temples, tropical rainforests, and mangrove-lined lakes and waterways home to numerous species of birds and monitor lizards makes this area interesting for nature lovers as well.
Galle Fort offers increasingly interesting shopping. Dutch period antique furniture and artifacts are available at the Olanda antique shop and the Historical Mansion. A small art and photographic gallery opens intermittently next to Galle Fort Hotel and deserves encouragement. The Elephant Walk sells local art works, elephant dung stationery, scented candles, spices and home made chutneys. Shoba Display Gallery has art works and ornaments which are mostly made within the shop. For gold and silver jewellery set with precious and semi-precious stones, visit Laksana, Shantha Weerasekera, Ibrahim Jewellers, Jo Jo's, Pedlar’s Inn gallery, Gekko’s and Chrystolite down Church Street.
The Barefoot Gallery, a branch of the main shop in Colombo, has clothing and linen made of handspun and vibrantly-coloured handloom fabrics. Mimimango down Leyn Baan Street has a colourful collection of ladies wear including swimwear, sarongs and kaftans. Lollapalooza run by the same owners as Mimimango, has a colourful range of clothing and gift items. The Corner Shop is a new and vibrant addition in Galle Fort to brightens the end of Pedlar Street. This delicious independent boutique offers an eclectic mix of clothing, accessories, gifts and souvenirs inspired by Sri Lanka with a western twist. The Orchid House located on Hospital Street is a lovely shop with a range of linen clothing, silver jewelry and gift items including hand made pottery.
Located in Sri Lanka’s Galle District, Unawatuna is a very popular tourism spot due to its beautiful beaches and coral reefs. Whether its dining, sunbathing, or scuba diving, there’s no end to the activities you can participate in at Unawatuna.
Enjoy One of the Best Beaches in the World
Unawatuna is a small village and the beach is the main focus. It is quite narrow with beautiful sand, and now that a lot of rebuilding has occurred, there are many restaurants and accommodations along the beach. Jungle Beach in particular is lovely, and the water is clear & deep. On Wednesday evenings in season there is even a DJ beach party.
Visit the Beautiful Buddhist Temple
A stroll up the western end of the beach to the top of the hill rewards you with a pagoda and a nice ocean view of the jungle beach on the other side. On a clear day you can sometimes see the outline of Galle fort in the distance.
It’s worth the walk any time of day, but its particularly beautiful to watch the sunset, when there are usually a few locals having a good time.
Just 1km from Galle Henna estate, the Yatagala Raja Maha Viharaya is a quiet rock temple with a 9m reclining Buddha. The mural-covered walls are painted in the typical style of the Kandyan period. Monks have been living here for at least 1500 years. You'll seldom find tourist here , which only adds to the appeal. As you ascend the long flights of stairs, there are good views over the rice fields.
Go Scuba Diving Near the Coral Reef
Unawatuna has a beautiful coral reef, and many nearby outfits offer diving with full equipment. Many friendly diving services offer wreck dives and coral dives, for reasonable prices and accommodating tourists of many different countries.
If you thought the beaches of Unawatuna were beautiful, what’s under the water is sure to blow you away.
Virgin white Tea - From Galle
It is bought by Mariage Freres in France which is the most exclusive tea salon in the world.
(A deliciously delicate brew from Sri Lanka’s Handunugoda Estate located only a few kms from all three Galle Living properties on the south coast)
Virgin white tea is originally from China where legend has it that emperors allowed only virgins with silk gloves to cut the tea buds with gold scissors into gold bowls. In Sri Lanka,the Handunugoda Estate has introduced this tea to great acclaim.
Pickers have to wear gloves to prevent any tainting, by perspiration or perfume, of the delicate taste, and their work is carried out in the early hours before the buds unfurl. The buds are then dried using only filtered sunlight and they Yield is tantalisingly small, resulting in grams at the end of the pick rather than the kilos elsewhere on the plantation.
It has also been discovered that this tea has an antioxidant content of 10.11 per cent, the highest naturally occurring amount in any beverage, and has a powerful range of health benefits.
Virgin white tea might be the estate’s most noteworthy brew, but my visit uncovered myriad other delicious offerings, including the sapphire oolong tea, so called because the soil where the tea is grown inlaced with minute sapphires, the gem for which the Island is also famous for.
Surf Sri Lanka
Although the swell all around Sri Lanka is seasonal, one exception is the Weligama beach break where surf is available all year around for beginner and advanced. Located only a few km from Galle Living properties. This is a prime location for surf training.
With wave’s heights ranging only 2 ft to max., this is all absolutely the ideal location for beginners and Children.There are also a number of surf boards for hire with instructors along weligama Beach.
Yala Safari Park
Yala National Park is one of the best places for sightings of wild Elephants. The park is home to many animals including Buffaloes, Leopards, Monkeys, Crocodiles, Wild boars and Bears.
The cats chuff can be heard from a distance and is so soporific. They love to bask in the sun at the top of 30ft rocks and it’s breathtaking, so take a zoom/telephoto lens. The western part of Yala (block one) is named as the area with the highest leopard concentration in the world.
Feb-Jun/Jul is the optimum time to visit when water tables are low. Leopard, elephant and many smaller animals are competing for the same drinking supply. You are likely also to see sloth bears, deer, wild boar, buffaloes, crocodiles and monkeys. Birds are in profusion – up to 130 species. The park also contains a monastic settlement, Situlpahuwa and other important centres of pilgrimage.
Be aware Yala is usually closed in September.