From charming colonial hotels to lovely gift shops
Please don’t stay in Colombo if you go to Sri Lanka. Even 3 days is enough to explore historic Galle and the surrounding areas. Here’s our cheat sheet for how to spend 3 days in and around Galle.
On the way…
We flew in very late at night…due to the odd and inconvenient flight time offered by every airline to Sri Lanka…stayed at the Taj Airport Garden Hotel. This is truly an airport hotel of decidedly average caliber. But there is no point in splurging on this part of the trip – just crash and get up early the next day for your drive to Galle. Save yourself a lot of trouble and hire a car and driver for the journey – not only for the round trip transport, but also to take you around a bit while in Galle. It’s only a tiny bit more to pay the driver for extra time in town – since he will stay in town to wait for your return anyway (20000 LKR / S$250 / $175 USD). You can arrange this at the Taj Airport Hotel through the travel desk. Be prepared – it’s only about 100km but it will take you about 4 hours given the condition of the roads (tuk tuks, errant cows and dogs, slow-moving trucks, etc.)
Stop off as Kosgoda Turtle Conservation Project. This is one of the many turtle conservation projects in the area, but we like this one because it is truly about animal rescue and preservation…whereas many of the others obtain their turtles through unsavory poaching practices. Visit the turtles and get a quick tour where you can learn about the different types, their habits and more (400 LKR / S$5 / $3.50 USD). I got to hold one!
The Galle Fort…
The thing to see in Galle is the Galle Fort. The Fort is a Unesco World Heritage Sight and deservedly so…built in the 17th century by the Portuguese and then later taken over by the Dutch it is a massive, hulking fortress of epic proportion given the time in which it was built. The fortress is so strong that when the 2004 tsunami struck, it emerged relatively unscathed. Spend an hour or so here…taking in the breathtaking water views, strolling around the ramparts and if you come on the weekend, seeing all the teenage couples paired off in dark corners, holding hands and stealing chaste kisses.
A bit of shopping in Galle…
In and around Galle Fort area, there are charming colonial streets with many a lovely store scattered about.
If you like jewelry the following are recommended. Please note though when I say jewelry in these parts, this means gemstones set in gold in traditional settings. And in some cases you can get knock off Bulgari but with real gold and stones. For me, this is not my taste (I prefer quirky things with a bit of character), but if it is yours, then try:
- MM Ibrahim, 47Church Street…in Galle since 1909, known for their Bulgari copies
- Laksana, 30 Hospital Street, wall-to-wall gemstones and jewelry, will custom make pieces as well
- Mangala, 43a Columbo Road…more gems and jewelry if you haven’t had enough
- Manika @ Fort Gallery…original, unique jewelry and gem designs
If you are into local handcrafts, textiles, objects, etc…then we have a few favourites to share with you. All of these have lovely selections of rustic jewelry, textiles like pillows and table linens, books on the area, cute / quirky gifts and more:
- Exotic Roots, 32 Church Street…painted bowls, wooden home décor objects and Sri Lankan handicrafts
- Elephant Walk, 30 Church Street…more of the same, but somehow I actually like this one better… we bought a rustic wooden serving platter that we thought would make a nice plate of cheeses and antipasto back home
- Kanhanda Kanda Collection, Pedlar Street, we really like this one too…the owner of the Kanhanda Kanda villa, George Cooper, is also an interior designer and here are some of his selections for you to take home… George has impeccable taste.
- Barefoot, 41 Pedlar Street…this was probably my favourite of the bunch. Lots of local hand-loomed textiles and great gift items. We left with probably a ¼ of our Christmas list complete!
It seems the consensus is that the Amangalla Hotel Spa and the Lighthouse Hotel & Spa are the best options around. But most places can and will arrange a massage therapist (or even a yoga instructor) to visit your hotel room. Why not indulge when on holiday?
For cocktails & dining …
Well one thing you should know is Sri Lanka is not a party place. No nightclubs, few bars and an early closing time of around 11pm make happy hour your best option for a few drinks. Besides, why not have a view of the beach and enjoy a local beer at sunset if you can. We recommend:
- Lighthouse Hotel: we enjoyed sipping a few local beers on the Grand Terrace while watching the ocean waves crash on the rocks below. Be sure to arrive around 5:30 or 6pm to catch the sunset. While we didn’t eat here, we do hear that the food is perhaps forgettable, so we would recommend heading to the Sun House for a lovely dinner afterward.
- Sun House: you can enjoy a cocktail from Dicks Bar in the courtyard or savor one of their lovely meals – we really like Sunday night curry dinner.
- Amangalla Hotel: Sit on the generous terrace and watch the watch the world go by. While you can certainly order something stronger, I found the Ginger Lime Fizz hit the spot for me after a hot day. Also try the Dining Room for dinner.
- Galle Fort Hotel: also recommended for drinks or dinner. We stopped by mid-afternoon for an iced-coffee. I love how the Sri Lankan iced-coffee is routinely topped with ice cream…one part pick-me-up and one part decadent treat.