Port of plea­sures

An en­tic­ing mix of spicy cock­tails, beach cricket and crab feasts

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - SU­SAN KURO­SAWA


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.


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.


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.


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


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