Wednesday, 31 July 2019

Jetwing Sunrise, Pasikuda, Sri Lanka

Built around a 108 metre pool, which zig zags out towards the Bay of Bengal, this spacious Jetwing hotel combines homely and comfortable villa-style rooms with some dramatic communal areas.  Although the pool-side restaurant is fairly understated, the terraces, the lounge, the bar and the atrium have all been built with an architectural flourish.  The en-suite rooms are well-equipped with quiet air-con and safes, but the Wi-Fi can be very flaky.  Both the buffet breakfast and the buffet dinner (3,000 rupees a head) have a large enough selection of both western and Sri Lankan dishes, without going overboard. You can also get an a la carte lunch, but the service tends to be fairly slow and the table water can be tepid.  Next to the beach, a small shack serves drinks to guests that have claimed a hotel sun lounger underneath the trees. From here, you can watch (or join in) games of volleyball on the sands. The hotel also has a games room and a few ropey mountain bikes you can take out for a small fee, but you are likely to spend most of your stay chilling out near the beachfront. 7/10

Passikudah Beach, Sri Lanka

Although it is lined with a dozen or so upmarket hotels, Passikudah Beach still feels quite wild. Many of these architecturally-flashy resorts are set well back from the seafront and there is a large open expanse of sand. With just some low-key water sports, a few fishing boats and the odd volleyball court, there is plenty of space to spread out. The sea is very shallow and very warm, as is the sun - early evening is the best time to go for an amble around this curvaceous bay.

Tuesday, 30 July 2019

Kalkudah Beach and Bay, Sri Lanka

Today, just a handful of lethargic dogs laze among the fishing boats lying on the extensive sands of Kalkudah Beach.  Enjoy the emptiness while you can. Tomorrow, there could be hundreds or even thousands of sun-worshippers, judging on the large number of lots of nearby land that seem to have been snapped up by investment companies.

Sunday, 28 July 2019

Poḷonnaruwa, Sri Lanka

Stretching over a 4km long site, the extensive and varied ruins of the medieval city of Polonnaruwa are both atmospheric and absorbing - well worth the US$25 entrance fee and braving the hot and humid micro-climate.  In this major World Heritage Site, there are at least six clusters of buildings you will want to see. As they are spread out, you are probably best hiring a bike or getting a lift from one location to another. In the twelfth century, much of Sri Lanka was ruled from Poḷonnaruwa's Royal Palace and the nearby council chamber in the citadel in the heart of this garden city.

Safari in Kaudulla National Park, Sri Lanka

In the dry season, scores of Sri Lanka's wild elephants gather in either Kaudulla National Park or nearby Minneriya National Park as they gravitate towards the remaining water sources. The local safari guides will know which of the two parks is the better bet in any given week and you might even see elephants crossing the road on the way there. In any case, heading out in the afternoon as the day cools down is more civilised than getting up before dawn to catch the early morning action. Depending which of the deeply-rutted tracks your jeep takes across Kaudulla, you may be the only vehicle in the vicinity as you observe the odd lone elephant, buffalo or fox, bumping your way up and down through the grasslands around the lake.

Cinnamon Lodge, Habarana, Sri Lanka

Well placed for trips to Sigiriya Rock, Kaudulla National Park and Minneriya National Park, the very security-conscious Cinnamon Lodge is a sprawling resort overlooking some picturesque marsh land. Built around ancient and atmospheric trees, home to troops of monkeys, and a small lake with mini-islands, scores of two-storey chalets each house a couple of en-suite bedrooms. They are generally designed and well-equipped, but the odd one may be missing a safe and it can be a bit of trek to the Lodge's large swimming pool and the massive restaurant.

Saturday, 27 July 2019

Cycle ride from Sigiriya to Kandalama Wewa, Sri Lanka

A round-trip of about 30km, this mostly flat cycle ride takes in picturesque irrigation channels, lush farmland and the Kandalama reservoir. For about 50 dollars a head, Jetwing Adventures will organise decent mountain bikes, a support vehicle, a couple of guides and refreshments. But if you can find somewhere to hire bikes, you could easily do this ride unguided - the roads and tracks are mostly quiet and the route-finding is easy enough.  And you could extend the ride into Dambulla, but that would probably involve dicing with some serious traffic. 7/10

Climbing Sigiriya Rock, Sri Lanka

An enormous boulder in the midst of flat land the heart of Sri Lanka, Sigiriya Rock is the site of a  fortified settlement, dating back over two thousand years. As a foreign visitor, you'll pay a hefty $30 entrance fee, but you can save a few bob by turning down the persistent, but unnecessary, guides that congregate near the car park. It is easy enough to follow the paths and staircases that cut their away through the gardens and ruins at the base of the rock. Soon you are climbing steeply, surrounded by red earth, thick stone walls, shrubs, monkeys and bees nests. A diversion via a nineteenth century spiral staircase takes you up to an enclosed ledge where you can admire some surprisingly well-preserved rock paintings of 21 "damsels" dating from the fifth century.

Friday, 26 July 2019

On the road in Negombo, Sri Lanka

On the west coast of Sri Lanka, just north of Colombo, the town of Negombo is renowned for its well-stocked lagoon and its fishing industry, as well as being being home to many of the island's Christian churches.

Jetwing Lagoon, Negombo, Sri Lanka

Everything about the Jetwing Lagoon Hotel is on a grand scale. The swimming pool is over one hundred metres long, the well-equipped rooms are vast, the en-suite bathrooms are enormous. Even the dining area is extensive. Better still, this Jetwing sits on a spit of land that runs between Negombo's broad lagoon and the ocean, meaning there are waterfronts (and cool breezes) on both sides of the hotel. Both the buffet breakfast and the a la carte dinner feature good quality Sri Lankan fare, while the service is warm and professional. And there is even an eco-angle - a small wall light tells you when the impressive in-room air con is running off solar power. Tastefully decorated in restrained tones and finely situated, this very spacious hotel is a peaceful and picturesque place to recuperate from the lengthy flight from Europe before venturing on to the manic roads that lead into Sri Lanka's interior. 8/10

Sunday, 14 July 2019

Cycling the South Downs Way, Winchester to Eastbourne

Even over two days, a 100 mile off-road along an undulating ridge strewn with scree and punctuated with steep climbs will be tough. Welcome to the South Downs Way, a glorious trail/bridleway running across south east England.