Galle. On the southwestern tip of Sri Lanka, and like no other town in that country. So damn charismatic it will have you swooning at its feet like it's George Clooney. And it owes a lot of this charm to Galle Fort.
Let’s start with a brief history of Sri Lanka, and no, you can't skip this part. The colonisation of Sri Lanka began with the Portuguese in 1517, and they started work on Galle Fort in 1588. Then the Dutch decided they wanted a piece of the action, and signed a treaty with one of the Kings to rid the island of those pesky Portuguese. Which is exactly what happened in 1638. It turned out to be a case of ‘better the devil you know’ for the Sinhalese, as the Dutch then proceeded to violate the treaty and take over the country. In the mid 1600s they extensively ramped up security on the fort. Not that this could stop the Brits further down the track, but that’s a whole other story.
These days Galle Fort is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and deservedly so. It would not be out of place in a James Bond movie. Perfectly restored buildings stand side by side with those that have a faded beauty. Low houses with gables and carved window shutters and doors are mixed with historic churches, museums and government buildings. You will be spoilt for choice as far as accommodation, shops and restaurants go. Most of these are housed in colonial villas. The streets are narrow and well laid out in a grid pattern that is easy to navigate for anyone lacking a sense of direction. My husband offered silent thanks to those town planners of centuries ago.
Do the walk around the ramparts, watch the sunset and soak in the views; many of the locals are doing the exact same thing in the afternoons. Don’t be shy – join them in a game of cricket or soccer. One afternoon will not be enough if you wish to experience everything Galle Fort has to offer. Which is why we went back many times. Nothing to do with the gem shops….
North and south of Galle are the beach areas of Koggala, Unawatuna and Hikkaduwa. Of these my favourite was Koggala, it’s such a beautiful part of the coast. The others are very reminiscent of Bali (which is not a bad thing), and offer cheap eats, retail therapy, warm seas and cool vibes. Totally enjoyable and you’d be nuts to give them a miss. But after a few hours you will be searching fruitlessly for a shadow to provide respite from the heat, and somewhere to wash away the dirt and the grime.
Which is where the Villa Golden comes in. Our divine digs for a week. The location was perfect, right on the beach which gave us a chance to experience the life of the local fisherman. Most afternoons we would head to our chairs on the beach (G & T in hand) and help the fishermen launch their boats for the night. Thirsty work. Then we would sit back and watch the sunset, chatting to a few locals who live nearby. There are not really any shops or restaurants in close proximity (save for a couple on the beach) but we loved that as it meant we could walk out the front door, hail a tuk tuk and explore. And then we had the serenity of the Villa Golden to come home to. I can’t tell you how relaxing it was to walk through the front doors, escape the hustle and bustle and the heat, and dive into our own private and secluded pool. Bliss. And the staff. Always smiling, always helpful but never intrusive. Pushpa would cook if we asked her to, and she made us a couple of delicious lunches and a dinner, traditional and flavoursome Sri Lankan food. We also ate at one of the restaurants a short stroll up the beach. With only one table you could say it’s not exactly huge, but the service does not come any more personalised. Oshan likes at least 12 hours notice so he can plan the menu to suit you, and buy all the ingredients fresh. Feast like a king for the price of a pauper.
There is just so much more I could write about this amazing part of the world, including the people. But you need to channel the explorers of old and experience it for yourself.