Today’s Travel Tuesday destination is Sri Lanka, courtesy of the 1,000 Places to See Before You Die Page-A-Day calendar.
1. The Galle Face Hotel: Connoisseurs of Raj-era hotels seek out the Galle Face, one of the few remaining colonial hotels still rich in period detail and with a lingering air of pampered 19th-century luxury. Barefoot waiters serve tea or sundowners at the open-air, sea-breeze-swept Veranda Restaurant, a famed watering hole during British rule. To get even closer to the sultry waters of the Indian Ocean, savor your chilled Lion lager and spicy bar snacks on the Checkerboard, the large, paved, open-air patio. Many prefer the vintage suits in the Classic wing of the hotel that are a charming throwback to colonial times, seeming large enough to host a cricket match, with polished, creaking teak floors, ceiling fans, and ocean views.
- Best Times: December-March is the driest season; January for the Duruthu Perahera procession: 3 days surrounding the full moon, celebrating Buddha’s first visit to Sri Lanka; February for full-moon festival, Nabam Perahera, when 100 elephants are paraded with music, dance, and celebration.
2. Galle Fort: In the coastal city of Galle, in Sri Lanka’s deep south, the old fortified city of Galle Forte stands protected by thick, 17th-century Dutch stone-and-coral ramparts. Asia’s best preserved colonial sea fortress, Galle Forte was built by the Portuguese 400 years ago and expanded by 17th-century Dutch settlers, who used it as the Ceylonese headquarters of the Dutch East India Company. Walk around it to soak up history embedded in its chambers, mosques, temples, warehouses, and hundreds of Dutch houses, many with tiled roofs and shuttered Dutch-style doors and windows still intact.
- Where: 66 miles/107 km south of Colombo.
- How: Sri Lanka In Style offers customized itineraries. Tel: 94/11-239-6666; www.srilankainstyle.com.
- Best Time: November-April for best weather and for whale-watching; January for the Galle Literary Festival.
3. The Cultural Triangle: Three ancient capitals delineate Sri Lanka’s (aka Golden) Triangle: Kandy, in the south (see below); Anuradhapura, in the north and Polonnaruwa, in the northeast. Anuradhapura, founded around 380 B.C., was ruled by 113 successive kings (and four queens) whose magnificent palaces stood alongside dozens of monasteries housing tens of thousands of Buddhist monks; the ancient monarchs presided over a culture of great creativity. Reclaimed by the jingle after failing to Tamil conquerors from India in the 11th century, Anuradhapura was gradually uncovered beginning in the 19th century, and preservation work continues today.
- Where: Anuradhpaura is 128 miles/205 km north of Colombo; Polonnaruwa is 162 miles/262 km northeast of Colombo; Kandy is 72 miles/116 km northeast of Colombo.
- How: U.S.-based Asia Transpacific Journeys offers a 16-day “Splendid Sri Lanka” tour that includes Cultural Triangle destinations. Tel: 800-642-2742 or 303-443-6789; www.asiatranspacific.com.
- Best Time: November-April for cool weather.
4. Kandy and the Esala Perahera: Nestled in the lush hill country, Kandy is Sri Lanka’s cultural and religious stronghold, forming the southern tip of the nation’s Cultural Triangle (see above). Although it is Sri Lanka’s second largest city, Kandy remains something of a small-town air. Temples and colonial-era houses blanket its hills, and everyone enjoys a stroll around its large artificial lake, created in 1807 by the last of the Sinhalese kings who made Kandy their capital. Visitors who come in July or August during the centuries-old Esala Perahera festival will experience once of Asia’s greatest spectacles. Sri Lanka’s most revered relic is a sacred tooth of Buddha smuggled into the country in A.D. 310 and enshrined in the Dalada Maligawa, or Temple of the Tooth, in Kandy. In the elaborate perahera (pageant or procession) asking the gods for rain, a brilliantly costumed elephant carrying a replica of the tooth is preceded by a showstopping parade of dozens of other elephants and a frenzied cast of thousands of Kandyan dancers and drummers.
- Where: 72 miles/115 km northeast of Colombo.
- Best Times: Climate is good year-round; July or August for the Esala Perahera festival, which peaks at the full moon of Esala.
5. The Hill Country (pictured above): Although Sri Lanka is now known as the tea capital of the world, tea wasn’t planted here until 1867. In 1880, Scottish-born Thomas Lipton began buying tea directly from estates in the hill country, bypassing London’s wholesale markets to deliver, in his phrase, “direct from the tea garden to the teapot.” Today the cool central hill country is blanketed with lush green plantations of Camellia sinensis (the botanical name of the tea plant). Vestiges of the British era linger in Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka’s highest town, which still boasts some fine old colonial hotels, an 18-hole golf course, and an 1875-vintage race course. A dinner at the Hill Club, a massive stone hotel that was once home to a British plantation owner, is a step back into other times with one difference: Ladies are now allowed in the bars.
- Where: 112 miles/180 km east of Colombo.
- Best Time: December-April for the drier months.
Read more on 1,000 Places to See Before You Die and the calendar line here.