Sri Lanka - Galle

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Situated on Sri Lanka’s south-west coast, Galle was formerly a strategic port of maritime trade. Famed for its pendant-like UNESCO-protected ‘living’ fortress protruding southwards into the Indian Ocean, Galle’s hinterland of beaches, paddy fields, temples, and jungle provides further draws.


Galle rose to prominence in 1505 when a Maldives-bound Portuguese vessel was cast adrift in a storm and washed up on Sri Lankan shores. Taking refuge in the deep, natural harbour of Galle the crew soon discovered the island’s rich rewards – spices, gold, gems, and elephants – and built the small fortress of Santa Cruz to defend themselves against the rallying Sinhalese.

Aerial view of Galle fort

The Dutch arrived on the scene over a century later and fiercely ousted their fellow Europeans before building the more elaborate rampart-encircled fort that stands today. More than a century later Galle changed hands again – this time peacefully, to the colonising British in 1796. Although they made significant additions – in particular an Anglican church, a lighthouse, the New Gate, and an iconic clock tower, it is the graceful style of the artistically inclined Dutch – high eaves, breezy inner courtyards, and pillared verandas – that prevails.

City of contrasts

Galle’s new and old towns form a striking contrast. Where the fort’s narrow atmospheric streets are quiet, charming, and orderly, the city’s chaotic, traffic-choked lanes are brash, gaudy, and loud. The beloved international cricket pitch bridges the gap (and former watery causeway), between the two, and a wander between them is the best way to experience this cheery diversity. In town, make for the photographic market stalls spilling heaped mounds of exotic fruits, vegetables, and fish onto the bustling pavements before seeking out bargains along Main Street in shops brimming with delights, from inflatable superheroes and Tupperware to saris and gold.

Fort Printers hotel headmasters suite

A stroll through the fort is even more rewarding. The entire fort measures 36 hectares and its surprisingly orderly streets are lined with the centuries-old façades of ochre-washed hotels, houses, places of worship, and the former administrative offices
of the Dutch admiralty. Queen Street’s giant warehouses pierced by the fort’s Old Gate – above which are emblazoned crests of both the British and the Dutch East India Company (or VOC) – once stored valuable stocks of cinnamon and was fiercely guarded, but is now home to an insightful Maritime Museum. You can wander around most of the fort’s grass-tufted granite ramparts – which mightily withstood the 2004 tsunami waves – to view the rust-red rooftops of the 400 buildings housed within it, and the ship-flecked Indian Ocean. Joggers pace the ramparts at dawn, and by late afternoon, impromptu cricket matches break out beside the eastern sea-stained walls.

Feasting in the fort

Residents have recently begun cashing in on the fort’s popularity by transforming former front rooms into tiny two-table cafés, and these make atmospheric spots for a coffee stop. Pedlar’s Inn Café on Pedlar Street has been going strong for over a decade, and although coffee and chocolate brownies are still their staple, they now serve hearty fusion meals, and have opened a heat-quenching Italian gelato outlet across the road. Other popular spots include Crepe-ology on Leyn Baan Street for
its sweet and savoury pancakes, and the neighbouring garden-fringed Serendipity Arts Café where you can also arrange two-hour guided fort walks.

Amangalla Hotel

Last year saw a flurry of new restaurant openings in the fort, greatly enriching its dining scene. Fortaleza, a boutique hotel with gastro-café on Church Cross Street, opened in mid-2012 and serves up mezze platters, table BBQs, and gourmet beefburgers in a highly evocative courtyard setting below patches of bare coral walls, whilst nearby Allora, younger still, focuses on Italian cuisine. Church Street’s Galle Fort Hotel (itself a blissful haven in which to stay) remains a staple foodie hotspot for its Asian fusion dishes, and its new tapas menu perfectly partners the best cocktail list in town.

Characterful abodes

B&Bs, hotels, and villas are abundant in Galle, and suit all price ranges. For period luxe though, you can’t miss Amangalla. Dating back to 1684, this Dutch governor’s home-turned-hotel in the fort began life as the New Oriental Hotel before being renovated by Aman Resorts in 2003. Their 29 rooms are decadently colonial: there’s a lavish Ayurvedic spa and a surprisingly serene lounger-edged pool. Further down Church Street, The Fort Printers feels more like a private villa than a 13-bedroom hotel as it spreads itself across three neighbouring buildings. There are reading nooks aplenty, a pool, frequent art exhibitions, and a superb in-house restaurant specialising in Mediterranean cuisine.

Picking one of the fort’s many immaculately restored villas for your exclusive use is an excellent option, and the recent influx of foreign buyers means that there are now plenty to choose from. One of the best rentals in the fort is 41 Lighthouse Street. This three-bedroom abode is efficiently managed, convivially designed, and packed with personality – think open-plan living spaces, a pink-lit bar, and pool table, all to yourselves. The food is great too – cooked by your own chef and served by your own staff team onto a courtyard terrace beside a private pool.

Galle’s hinterland

Flanked by swathes of palm-fringed sandy beaches and a lush interior, Galle has much more to offer than its fort. Drive inland from town and an emerald landscape of lush paddy fields fringed by jungle, village homes, and centuries-old temples awaits. One of the best ways to uncover Galle’s rural heartlands is to go on a guided bike ride with Idle Tours; trips take you along the quietest nature-flanked lanes and finish up on the beach. For more in-depth inland adventures, Rainforest Rescue, based in Galle, takes you into the lush bio-diverse forest reserves of nearby UNESCO-certified Sinharaja, Kanneliya, and Kottawa.

For a bird's-eye view of Galle, you can now take one of Air Magic’s hot-air balloon rides above the region’s rural villages and jungle-fringed paddy fields. Alternatively, Simplifly’s six-seater GA8 Airvan offers 20-minute Joy Rides above Galle’s sultry coastline this month and will also launch Wings over Whales, for peeking down at Sri Lanka’s famed blue whales from the skies.



Colombo, Sri Lanka
Distance: 3,631 km
Flight Time: 4 hours, 45 minutes
Frequency: 3 flights a day

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