Life is a Beach
Indulge in the art of slow travel in Sri Lanka. By Martine Bury
Everyone I speak to these days seems to want to go to Sri Lanka. What’s the allure? Before I traveled there, I thought it was the quest for unspoiled shores or an exotic safari. Instead, I discovered a country with welcome surprises around every corner, profound beauty and mystery—and a hypnotic cadence to life.
In Sri Lanka, all movement is languid. Warm Indian Ocean waves kiss golden sand beaches. City traffic flows, bumper to bumper, but unrushed. Wearing weather-appropriate, gauzy cotton saris, Sri Lankan women go about their daily life—strolling through colorful fruit and vegetable markets or quietly making offerings at local temples.
After 25 years of civil war and a valiant recovery from 2004’s devastating Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, the largely Buddhist island nation is beginning to breathe again, and the world is catching on. Whether you are drawn to Sri Lanka’s ancient ruins, eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites or tropical coastline—embrace the unexpected.
From the sacred city of Kandy in the forested Hill Country to the immaculate beaches of Thalpe, Sri Lanka’s towns and cities offer many diversions, including ancient temples, towering Buddha statues, and world-class surfing, if that is your speed. I found myself especially drawn to the Old Town of Galle, with its fortifications, whitewashed architecture, sidewalk cafes, boutiques, and antique shops. Established by the Portuguese in the 16th Century, and later developed by the Dutch and British, the living UNESCO World Heritage Site conjures old Holland and Cape Town—but it is steeped in the island’s sensuality.
Two resorts provided home base for my Sri Lankan adventure. Holding court on a secluded Indian Ocean beach on the island’s south coast, Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle Resort provided luxurious digs in the form of a spectacular villa, complete with a personal plunge pool and a daily show of langur monkey antics outside my window. Creature comforts—from an Ayurvedic spa to beach cruiser bicycles—tempted me to stay. A kick-starter of coffee infused with local cinnamon, and a chef-guided tour of Tangalle town made exploring off-property easy: follow your stomach.
Discovering Tangalle, a critical fishing port, began at the docks, lined with brightly painted boats. Time stood still on a detour to a rice paddy, where a few laborers meticulously worked in the filtered sunlight. After collecting the morning’s catch of bay crab, lagoon prawns, local tuna, and a multitude of fish, we repeated the process in a labyrinthine vegetable market. We picked whatever looked good: green coconuts and mangoes, fresh curry leaves, giant jackfruit, okra, Sri Lankan long beans, and more. Later, Anantara’s Spice Spoons cooking class brought our bounty to life as sweet, spicy, and pungent aromas emanated from flame-warmed clay pots. Fueledby champagne and Chef Anak Koonmart's stories of the history in each ingredient, we feasted. Food makes powerful memories. At the resort we experienced soulful, local flavors on meandering Sri Lankan time.
Follow Your Heart
Tucked between the Indian Ocean and Kalu Ganga River, Anantara Kalutura, the island’s newest resort, is a gateway to Sri Lanka’s artisanal traditions and to the world of late Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa. His distinct work has influenced modern building design throughout South Asia. Bawa originally crafted the plans for the hotel in 1995, to fit his vision of an oasis that would marry Sri Lankan and Dutch architectural styles. Although he passed before this came to fruition, his vision inspired what now stands as a beautiful example of tropical modernism, from Anantara’s bleach-white and wood A-frame main building to indoor-outdoor concept suites and pool villas. Enormous batik banners designed by Barbara Sansoni, featuring Bawa’s favorite motifs, swoop from the ceiling of the main building’s upper deck. As it captivated me, the décor and onsite Geoffrey Bawa Library might inspire you to delve deeper into the architect’s Sri Lanka. It’s well worth making the pilgrimage to one or all of his masterpieces—including his nearby Lunuganga Country Estate and gardens, the Sri Lanka Parliament in Colombo, or the steel and glass Jayawardene House, Bawa’s final work, in the tiny town of Mirissa.
East and north of Colombo, scores of lush national parks offer sanctuary for relaxed safaris, with elephants, leopards, sloths, water buffalo, and hundreds of bird species in view. This island beckons travelers to stay awhile, and certainly to return.