Header image courtesy of Scott Dunn
Before it was named Ceylon in British colonial times, Sri Lanka—its name only since 1972—was known as Serendib, from which the English word serendipity is derived, thanks to the 18th-century fairy tale The Three Princes of Serendip, whose main characters make discoveries by accident. And a visit to the enchanting island nation off the south of India is often full of intriguing surprises.
Sri Lanka is a distinct mix of ancient ruins, palm-fringed shorelines, iridescent hills, and friendly faces. On arrival at Colombo airport, it is a mere 15-minute drive from The Wallawwa. If you stay at this secluded retreat, you’ll forget that you're just a stone's throw from the capital, and not in the middle of a jungle. Enjoy impressive platters of Sri Lankan cuisine at dinnertime for a full experience.
The Wallawwa, Minuwangoda-Gampaha-Miriswatta Rd, Kotugoda, Sri Lanka | (+94) 112 281 050
A journey across the Teardrop Isle, as it’s casually known, should really include Kandy, home to the celebrated Temple of the Sacred Tooth (ශ්රී දළදා මාළිගාව). Then, move on to tea country by train and enter a captivating landscape of undulating hills cloaked in lush tea plantations freckled with brightly-clad pickers.
Further off the beaten track is Living Heritage Koslanda. A hideaway designed around traditional Sri Lankan architecture in God’s Forest, a 32-hectare area of jungle walking trails and a glorious waterfall. In the Koslanda grounds, enjoy a sundowner at the pool overlooking paddy fields, and a moonlit outdoor shower.
Living Heritage Koslanda, Egodawatte Estate, Naulla, Koslanda UVA 90190, Sri Lanka | (+91) 77 935 5785
A stay in the African bush camp-esque Leopard Safaris by KK Collection within Yala National Park is a real treat for David Attenborough enthusiasts. Listen out for the ‘alarms’ of nearby monkey and deer as owner Noel Rodrigo guides you to an unforgettable sighting of a majestic leopard. What the camp itself lacks in solid walls, it more than makes up for with some of the best food in Sri Lanka.
Leopard Safaris, Katagamuwa Road Yala National Park, 91400, Sri Lanka | (+91) 77 342 9555
On the south coast, Why House in Galle dishes up some strong competition. A cooking class at the property teaches the detail involved in the creation of daily dishes—learn how the likes of hoppers (ආප්ප, bowl-shaped pancakes) and curries are created. There’s little more satisfying than watching the hypnotic crafting of hoppers by a local expert, with uniform ramekins of bright spices laid out ready to be used to bring about a medley of flavours.
Why House, Mihiripenna Road, Unawatuna 80000, Sri Lanka | (+91) 912 227 599
Alternatively, check into southern Sri Lanka’s thoughtfully designed contemporary retreat, Tri. Tri breakfasts are a plethora of plates and string hoppers (නූල් ආප්ප,noodle-like nests) with pol sambol (පොල් සම්බෝල, spiced coconut), kiri hodi (කිරි හොදි, coconut milk gravy), and boiled egg, eaten while overlooking Koggala lake and an infinity pool.
Tri, Koggala Lake Aladuwa Watte, Pelassa, Thittha, Ahangama 80650, Sri Lanka | (+91) 77 770 8177