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It’s had its ups and (considerable) downs but, as Judith Baker discovers, Sri Lanka is sensational again…

 Sri Lanka’s fortunes may have taken a dip over recent years with the  combination of political unrest and COVID, so it is a pleasant surprise to discover that this lovely and resilient country is bustling with a new energy and life.

A recent visit found fabulous new boutique villas and hotels in countryside, coast and city, exciting new hiking trails and experiences. Best of all Sri Lankan cuisine is as delicious as ever, made from the produce of a country rich in nature.

First stop was Colombo with its stately monuments, squares, temples and colonial architecture. The capital’s style is on show in smart shops, restaurants and its developing Port City. I took a sunset cruise with Sail Lanka to get a view of the changing cityscape while sipping a local sundowner. Port City is a huge expanse of reclaimed land which is being transformed into a high-tech city which will eventually be home to businesses, homes, hotels and a marina.

Zylan Luxury Villa

From the boat I can see many of Colombo’s elegant high rise hotels such as Movenpick, which boasts the city’s highest rooftop bar and pool. But I am staying at the new boutique Zylan Luxury Villa, a small but special hotel in the smart Colombo 7 area. Zylan is an oasis close to the heart of the busy city, adorned with striking artwork created by the owner. I find just a handful of spacious rooms adding to the exclusive feel. There is the Zen Japanese restaurant here as well as a stunning rooftop pool and bar

There is always plenty to do in Colombo, from shopping and sightseeing to fine dining and now there is a new jeep tour, Forgotten Colombo, which takes you in a retro jeep through the side streets to see some of the cities less well-known sites.  After the exhilarating ride it is time for cocktails prepared by mixologist Ash Handi, known as Drunken Lankan, who uses only local spirits to create drinks topped with unlikely garnish such as curry leaves and chilli.

Galle Fort attracts visitors from all over the world I chose to explore it using a new audio App, My Balamu, which tells stories behind the imposing site, while I try not to be distracted by the luxury boutiques and jewellery shops packed into the streets here.

I stay at the fabulous new Tabula Rasa Resort. There is a monkey in the tree outside my room, which has an inviting plunge pool with views over the trees down to the sea. From here I can cycle or tuk tuk to nearby villages watching people working in the paddy fields and spotting wild peacocks. 

As well as hotels, there are a number of chic villas to rent, perfect for families or groups. Villa Space is a majestic villa on a hill in Galle’s Unawatuna area which can accommodate 12 people in a luxurious peaceful setting close to beautiful beaches.

Pedlar’s Manor is an elegant, spacious four bedroom villa built in a colonial Dutch style with a private pool and antique furnishings.

Hiking trail at Kandy

Next year will see the opening of the 185 mile Pekoe Trail, and the first of 22 stages is already complete. Pekoe’s official trailhead is at Kandy but there are many entry and exit points across dramatic countryside, villages and towns.  We pass through trails originally used to transport tea while spotting beautiful birds, wildlife and people working in the paddy fields.


The next day I am waking up in what feels like a magical forest to the sounds of nature – a flowing lake, rustling trees and birds chirping in a dense jungle surrounding.

 I am staying in the heart of Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle at Kalundewa Retreat, a 100 acre paradise. It is a unique place to stay with distinctive rooms named after the trees in the property each with floor to ceiling glass walls designed by renowned Sri Lankan architect Sarah Liyanage.

I take a boat tour on the lake spotting herons and hornbills before the nightly ‘dance of the egrets’ takes place where dozens of the graceful birds congregate by the lake.

Dinner is served beneath the stars in the sustainable resort’s Tree House restaurant with the breeze floating through and the sounds of cicadas, monkeys and frogs providing the soundtrack for the evening. A host of fireflies arrange the lightshow.

The Maldives Pearl 111

Just a short flight from Colombo we find the tropical archipelago of The Maldives – with 1200 magical Islands forming 26 atolls.

We board beautiful Pearl 111, a newly launched three masted 99 foot wooden schooner which is going to take us on a voyage around the islands. With six comfortable cabins and an attentive crew, Pearl 111 has a varnished wooden décor and an elegant relaxed ambience which conjures images of sailing trips of an age gone by.  

The Maldives is known for one of the best places in the world for scuba diving with large fish, sharks, whales and dolphins. Pearl 11 can arrange diving and snorkelling, surfing and paddle boarding. Some of our group were encouraged to go fishing and the chef cooked up their catch that evening. Others were content to sit on the luxurious deck looking out at the islands we passed until it was cocktail hour.  The teak deck has large spaces at stern and at front for lying or sunbathing on deep cushions.

For further information: secretsofceylon.co.uk

Sri Lanka Airlines flies to Colombo from London Heathrow.