Port of pleasures
An enticing mix of spicy cocktails, beach cricket and crab feasts
SRI Lanka’s famous port city tends to be underrated by travellers but it has abundant parks, lakes and gardens, raffish character and surprising charm. The air smells beguilingly of cinnamon and the salty sea. Get your bearings at Galle Face Green, the 1.5km-long greensward facing the Indian Ocean that the Brits called ‘‘the Hyde Park of Colombo’’; in her 2010 novel The Lament of the Dhobi Woman, Colombo-born Karen Roberts writes of ‘‘music [that] blared from ice cream vans, peanut stalls, vadai [fritter] vendors and soft drink sellers’ carts . . . waves splashed and crashed into the rocks like a fusillade of booming canons’’. There are kids with high-swooping kites and chaps selling fairy-floss and balloons plus soapy liquid ready to be blown into bubbles as big as jellyfish. Then there is the cricket — day and night, young and old. Like the grand piazzas of Italy, Galle Face Green is a kind of civic salon where residents meet and mingle, promenade and posture, especially at sunset when the sky is streaked orange-gold and silhouetted cricketers continue to thwack and run and whoop.
IN THE GRAND TRADITION
GALLE Face Hotel, ‘‘Asia’s emerald on the green’’, was opened in 1864 and is still an imperious-looking pile, not all that different to the days when memsahibs attended tittle-tattle tea buffets and their duffer husbands sank into rattan chairs with their sundowner G&Ts. There’s a newish five-star Regency Wing annexe and glamorous spa but you’ll want to be in the ‘‘old’’ rooms (now dubbed the Classic Wing) or on the sea-facing veranda (head right after crossing the lobby) for fall-of-empire high teas, all crustless sandwiches and pots of finest orange pekoe. More: gallefacehotel.com.
SHOPPING IN PARADISE
THE best homewares shopping is at Paradise Road; its flagship store is housed in a two-storey, century-old mansion, with bow windows and colonial flourishes. The entrepreneurial owner, Shanth Fernando, has been dubbed ‘‘Sri Lanka’s Terence Conran’’ and he stocks his shops with household items, including clove and cinnamon candles and handcrafted oddities such as doorstoppers painted as costumed dolls (ideal take-home gifts). More: paradiseroad.lk.
THE all-day Gallery Cafe (10am to midnight), another Fernando operation, is in the colonnaded courtyard of a mansion designed by renowned architect Geoffrey Bawa (and at one time used as his office; his work table is still in the bar); there are blue waterlilies floating in ornamental pools and the excellent (and comparatively cheap) food ranges from stringhoppers to pastas and a popular black pork curry. Leave space for a ruinously sweet jaggery ice cream sundae or drop in at cocktail time for the signature tamarind martini (about $6) or afternoon coffee and cakes; there’s free WiFi, changing exhibitions of works by local artists and a small branch of Paradise Road. More: paradiseroad.lk.
HEAD FOR THE HILLS
BOOK with Australian-based Wildlife Safari and extend your stay beyond Colombo. The operator has a new Sri Lanka program that includes an eight-day Cultural Sojourn with itinerary highlights such as the UNESCO World Heritage site of Sigiriya and Kandy (from $1495 a person twin-share; add airfares). The private tour includes seven nights in luxury hotels with breakfasts, vehicle with chauffeur guide, and entry to national parks and sites. More: 1800 998 558, wildlifesafari.com.au.
Susan Kurosawa was a guest of Wildlife Safari