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Category: Sri Lanka

A PHOTOGRAPHIC TOUR OF GEOFFREY BAWA’S GARDEN, SRI LANKA [2022 Updated]

Photos of an Astounding Untamed Garden by Geoffrey Bawa.   Geoffrey Bawa is still regarded as one of the greatest architects to have ever lived. But his genius was not…

Photos of an Astounding Untamed Garden by Geoffrey Bawa.

 

Geoffrey Bawa is still regarded as one of the greatest architects to have ever lived. But his genius was not confined to bricks and mortar. On Lunuganga Estate, Geoffrey’s country home in Sri Lanka, he brought together architecture, art, plants, and the odd cow to create a magnificent, controlled landscape of untamed wilderness.

Finding things to do in Sri Lanka away from the maddening crowds is an excellent reason to visit Geoffrey Bawa’s garden as it is largely undiscovered by tourists, being something different from the ‘usual’ tourist attraction.

 

I have my sister to thank for our visit to Geoffrey Bawa’s garden – not to be confused with Brief Garden, the former estate of Geoffrey’s older brother Bevis Bawa.

While researching things to do for our trip to Sri Lanka, that teardrop-shaped nation sitting at the bottom of India in the Indian Ocean, my sister discovered a reference to Geoffrey Bawa’s garden on his Lunuganga Estate. How could we not include a garden described as “the most seductive, passionate pleasure gardens of the twentieth century” (lunuganga.com) on our itinerary?

So, who was Geoffrey Bawa?

Geoffrey Bawa (1919-2003) was Sri Lanka’s most well-known architect and is deemed the most influential Asian architect of his time. For those architect enthusiasts reading this post, he was one of the founding fathers of the architectural style known as “tropical modernism”. Geoffrey Bawa is probably best known for designing Sri Lanka’s Houses of Parliament.

Living permanently in Colombo, Lunuganga Estate, situated on the banks of Lake Dedduwa in Bentota (midway between Colombo and Galle), was Geoffrey Bawa’s country retreat. Here, on 23 acres, he spent 50 years turning this abandoned rubber plantation (and, before that, a cinnamon plantation) into eclectic gardens of multiple shades of green.

We explored Geoffrey Bawa’s garden with the Head Curator on a 2-hour private tour.

Don’t expect to find manicured gardens of colourful flowers, neat borders, and gurgling fountains. But expect an untamed but controlled tropical wilderness of sudden vistas, intimate groves, sculptures, and wide landscapes. I found Bawa’s garden a place of peace, tranquillity, and restfulness.

Lunuganga Estate – Geoffrey Bawa’s garden

Lunuganga Estate is about 500 metres long and 300 metres at its widest. There is no spot where you can view the garden in its entirety. Instead, it is a journey from one seemingly disconnected space to another that somehow Geoffrey managed to create a cohesive whole.

Take a stroll with me on a visual tour of Geoffrey Bawa’s garden.

The Hen House

A brick and wood hen house with tile roof set amongst tropical forest.

Geoffrey Bawa’s Hen House on Lunuganga Estate.

 

Geoffrey Bawa famously designed Sri Lanka’s Parliament House. He then created his hen house (chicken coup) on Lunuganga Estate in the same style. Take from that what you will!

Sandela Pavilion

A glass room with large black and white floor tiles, polished wooden table, chairs and coffee table.

Sandela Pavilion

 

The Sandela Pavilion, also known as the Glass House, is an open, airy space and served as Geoffrey Bawa’s office. From here, he had a lovely view of the lake and could see anyone who arrived at the main gate.

The Red Terrace

A flat red earth terrace with views of a lake. with a stone wall on one side and jar on the wall

The Red Terrace with views of Lake Dedduwa

 

The Red Terrace derives its name from the red laterite ground surface, produced by the decomposition of the underlying rocks.

With its views of Lake Dedduwa and the Water Garden at the bottom of the hill, the Red Terrace was a favourite spot for Geoffrey to have lunch.

The Water Garden

A pond surrounded by tropical forest

The Water Garden

 

The Water Garden is a tropical oasis. The pond is shaped like a butterfly and is filled with pink flowering water lilies. A bench seat takes pride of place beside the pond in the shade of trees. Here Geoffrey would sit and ring the garden bell for his gin and tonic to be brought to him.

The Water Garden incorporates ornamental rice paddies stretching along the banks of Lake Dedduwa, adding to the eclectic nature of Geoffrey Bawa’s garden design.

Rice paddies beside a lake

Rice paddies on Lunuganga Estate

 

Sculptures around the garden

There are several sculptures around the garden.

Rusty, blue metal sundial sculpture with the head of a dog

Sundial sculpture in the Water Garden

 

The rusted metal sundial sculpture in the Water Garden has an air of decline and abandonment.

A stone sculpture of the face of horned pagan god, Pan.

“Hindu” Pan sculpture

 

The sculpture of the pagan god Pan was sculptured by one of Geoffrey’s Tamil assistants and called “Hindu” Pan by Geoffrey. No reason has been given as to why he called it such. Perhaps because a Tamil sculpted it?

Metal sculpture of a figurine with four arms

Garden sculpture

 

The Plain of Jars

A large black jar sitting on grass is reflected in the waters of a pond

The Plain of Jars

 

In a setting of sloping grassy plains surrounded by forest, the Ming dynasty-style jars that dot this part of the landscape were added here by Geoffrey.

The jars are not confined to this area of the garden but were purposefully placed by Geoffrey throughout the garden. Geoffrey Bawa had a knack for controlling the landscape without taming it.

A large black jar on the ground underneath a tree

Ming dynasty-style jar on the hill

 

A large black jar on the ground under a tree

A Ming dynasty-styled jar under a tree.

 

Jackfruit

Two Jackfruits growing on the Jackfruit tree

Jackfruit in Geoffrey Bawa’s garden

 

Lunuganga Estate is set in Sri Lanka’s wet tropical zone, so tropical fruits, like the Jackfruit, are not unknown and grow to large proportions.

Cinnamon Hill House

A single story orange coloured building with blue doors.

Cinnamon Hill House on Lunuganga Estate.

 

In a forested area on the western slope, Geoffery used Cinnamon Hill House as a studio from where he created his architectural designs. It also served as accommodation for his guests and was the last addition to the Garden.

Geoffrey Bawa’s home

A single story White House with black and white painted doors and red tile roof, partially hidden by trees and bushes.

Geoffrey Bawa’s former home.

 

The tour ended with walking past a most unusual windmill before the gentle climb up Cinnamon Hill for lunch on the wide veranda of Geoffrey Bawa’s former home on Lunuganga Estate, now a boutique hotel. Lunch consisted of a set menu of delicious traditional Sri Lankan curries.

A multi-storey brick windmill that looks like a castle turret

A unique windmill on Lunuganga Estate

 

The veranda of a home set with tables and chairs ready for lunch

Lunch on the veranda of Geoffrey Bawa’s former home.

 

The home sits at the top of Cinnamon Hill, allowing breathtaking views over Lake Dedduwa. Lunch was a visual and gastronomic pleasure.

The gardens are open to the public, and the buildings on the estate operate as boutique country accommodation

Guided tours of the gardens run daily: 9.30 am, 11.30 am, 2.00 pm, and 3.30 pm. A reservation is essential if you want to have lunch whilst visiting the estate. Check the Geoffrey Bawa Trust website for garden tour prices and how to book lunch.

Guests staying on Lunuganga Estate can wander the gardens without needing a guided tour.

How to get from Colombo to Lunganga Estate, Bentota

The drive from Colombo to Lunuganga Estate will take about 1 hour and 14 minutes, for a distance of 83.9 kilometres.

But what if I don’t have a car? Can I still get to Geoffrey Bawa’s garden?

You have three options if you don’t have the means to drive to Lunuganga Estate: train, bus, or taxi. The train is the fasted option, taking 1 hour and 6 minutes and costing AU$5 – AU$7, including the taxi fare from Aluthgama Station to the estate. For a taxi from Colombo to Lunuganga Estate, the most expensive option, expect to pay AU$30 – AU$40.

Refer to the website, Rome2rio, for details on schedules, costs, routes, travel times, and operators.

 

Geoffrey Bawa’s garden is not a formal garden in the European sense. Nor is it a major tourist attraction. But that’s what makes it interesting and a bucket list thing to do in Sri Lanka.

 

Editor’s Note: I originally published this blog post in February 2019 and have updated it for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

 

Disclaimer: This post contains no affiliate links. All views and opinions are my own and non-sponsored. All photos are my own and remain the copyright of Just Me Travel.

© Just Me Travel 2018-2022.

 

Please leave a comment below to share your thoughts. Would you visit Lunuganga Estate and Geoffrey Bawa’s garden if visiting Sri Lanka?

 

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A pond surrounded by tropical forest. The writing on the image states, Visit Geoffrey Bawa's Garden in Sri Lanka.

A photo of a house veranda set with tables and chairs for lunch. The writing on the photo states, Have lunch at Geoffrey Bawa's Garden in Sri Lanka.

 

Are you looking for more ideas on destination Sri Lanka? Then don’t miss these posts:

WHAT IS THE MISSING TRUTH ABOUT CLIMBING SRI LANKA’S LITTLE ADAM’S PEAK

FIRST 24 HOURS IN GALLE FORT, SRI LANKA

WALKING THE RAILWAY LINE FROM ELLA TO DEMODARA, SRI LANKA

WALLAWWA – a tranquil luxury boutique hotel in Colombo City

 

Author’s Note: Please check the latest travel restrictions before planning any trip, and always follow government advice.

 

6 Comments on A PHOTOGRAPHIC TOUR OF GEOFFREY BAWA’S GARDEN, SRI LANKA [2022 Updated]

WALKING THE RAILWAY LINE FROM ELLA TO DEMODARA, SRI LANKA [2022 Updated]

Do as a Local, Walk the Railway Line From Ella to Demodara in Sri Lanka’s Beautiful Hill Country.   When my son was little, his grandmother told him to say,…

Do as a Local, Walk the Railway Line From Ella to Demodara in Sri Lanka’s Beautiful Hill Country.

 

When my son was little, his grandmother told him to say, “The devil made me do it”, whenever he was in trouble. What, you might ask, is the connection between walking a railway line in the hills of Sri Lanka and a grandmother teaching her grandson how to get out of trouble? Read on to connect the dots and discover a path less travelled.

 

When staying in Sri Lanka’s pretty hill town of Ella with my sister and brother-in-law, my sister decided it would be an adventure to walk the 3 kilometres along the railway line from Ella to the iconic Nine Arch Bridge. From there, we would choose whether to walk back to Ella or continue a further 3.5 kilometres along the railway line to Demodara train station, catching the Kandy-Colombo train back to Ella.

With all in agreement and knowing the expected time the train departs Demodara, we set off at 8.20 am after an early breakfast for our possible 6.5-kilometre walk.

A man walks along a railway line which is surrounded by hills and tropical vegetation.

Walking the railway line in Sri Lanka from Ella to Demodara.

 

Just after stepping onto the railway line near our hotel, we were confronted with the sign, ‘WALK ON THE RAILWAY LINE IS PROHIBITED’. I immediately decided that when stopped by the railway police, I was going to tell them, “The devil made me do it”. I wonder how well this translates into Sinhala or Tamil? If that didn’t work, I was going to blame my sister, the hotel manager, and guidebooks because they all suggested this escapade – a “must do” in Ella, to do as the locals do.

I stopped worrying about ending up in a Sri Lankan prison when about 5 metres further down the line there was a sign advising that walking the railway line was dangerous. Evidently, the authorities had given up telling people that walking the line was prohibited. I relaxed. ‘Dangerous’ I can handle, but ‘prohibited’ went against my ‘good’ girl nature.

However, ‘dangerous’ became a not-so-friendly companion again upon entering a tunnel that was impossible to see any light coming from the other end. Blindly feeling my way through the tunnel with my feet against the railway track, I wondered aloud what action should be taken in the event of a train coming whilst we were in the tunnel. Luckily, my brother-in-law had been thinking ahead and consulted with our hotel manager to find out when we might come face-to-face with the train from Kandy on the Nine Arch Bridge.

Feeling relatively safe in the knowledge I was not about to be squished by a train, the walk through the tunnel became a devil-may-care adventure filled with excess adrenaline running rampant through my body. I wasn’t convinced I was doing something entirely legal in a foreign country.

I may not have felt quite so safe and would definitely have run out of adrenaline had I known the tunnel exits right on Nine Arch Bridge.

Two people exiting a railway tunnel

Exiting the tunnel at Nine Arch Bridge

 

Two people walk along a bridge constructed with with nine arches. The bridge is in a tropical landscape.

Walking the railway line on Nine Arch Bridge

 

The Nine Arch Bridge, a popular tourist attraction, spans a deep gorge and is surrounded by a vision of green, with tropical forests interspersed with tea plantations. And so-called because it has nine arches or spans. Very imaginative! At 91.44m (300ft) long, 7.62m (25ft) wide and 24.38m (80ft) high, this railway bridge is deemed to be an engineering marvel as it is made entirely of rocks, bricks and cement without a single piece of steel. Not knowing anything about engineering, I must concur with the experts. The bridge’s height and all those arches, plus the environment in which it exists, make it an impressive bridge and worth plugging as a tourist attraction.

We had timed our arrival at the Nine Arch Bridge to watch the 9.15 am train from Kandy cross the bridge.

A blue train driving on a railway line through tropical vegetation in hills.

Here comes the train!

 

Everything you read about Sri Lankan trains advises you they rarely run on time. However, this one was on time and came down the line just after we crossed the bridge. Stepping off the tracks, I expressed our expert timing with an enthusiastic wave to the driver and all the passengers.

The Nine Arch Bridge is the midway point between Ella and Demodara stations. Having gotten this far, we decided to continue our walk along the railway line to Demodara to catch the 10.40 am train back to Ella. Now I was on a mission to reach Demodara in time to catch that train as I was not walking the 6.5 kms back to Ella.

Please Note: The Sr Lanka train timetable has altered since I visited Ella. The 10.40 am train I caught now leaves Demodara at 10.55 am, and the changed timetable impacts the arrival time of the earlier train at Nine Arch Bridge.

We made it to Demodara by 10.20 am but weren’t allowed to purchase our train tickets immediately, being told to wait until 10 minutes before the train was due. No explanation was forthcoming as to why this was so. However, as Demodara was such a pretty station, with its many potted flowering plants lining the platform, we were happy to wait to be ‘allowed’ to buy our train tickets. When I did front up to the ticketing window, I thought I had misheard when asked to pay 30 Sri Lankan rupees (the equivalent of 30 Australian cents) for three one-way tickets from Demodara to Ella (10c each). I was so impressed with how cheap the trip was that I also bought my sister and brother-in-law their tickets.

Two people sitting on a train platform underneath a picture of a steam train engine.

Waiting at Demodara Station for the train back to Ella

 

The train was practically empty. Not what I had expected, which made choosing a seat difficult due to too much choice. Which seat would give me the best view of the scenery as it passes by outside the window? Ultimately, I chose to stand in the doorway like a local.

The train ride, although short-lived, was fun and the highlight of my day. Anyone would think I have never ridden a train before!

A train on a bridge approaches a tunnel and people standing near the bridge wave at the train.

The train on Nine Arch Bridge approaches the tunnel we had so recently walked through.

 

Guidebooks publicise the walk along the railway line as a must-do activity in Ella. However, we came across no other tourists except at the bridge itself. Is it too far off the beaten track for most tourists? We were the only non-locals walking the line. I had to smile whenever we passed a makeshift stall by the rail tracks – Sri Lankans cater to people’s needs wherever they can!

To my surprise, the walk was effortless. It was flat all the way, and you get into a rhythm as you lope from sleeper to sleeper. The endless views of tea plantations, tropical vegetation, valleys, and mountains made for a pleasant walk. And the company was good too – not one disagreement!

Tea bushes growing on hills

Tea plantations are seen along the railway line walk

 

Visiting the Nine Arch Bridge is touted as a must-do attraction in Sri Lanka. You can get to the Bridge by taking a tuk-tuk from Ella or walking through the jungle. Or do as the locals do and walk along the railway line. Take the path less travelled.

 

Editor’s Note: I originally published this blog post in January 2019 and have updated it for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

 

Disclaimer: This post contains no affiliate links. All views and opinions are my own and non-sponsored. All photos are my own and remain the copyright of Just Me Travel.

© Just Me Travel 2018-2022.

 

Please leave a comment below to share your thoughts. Would you have walked the railway line given Ella station’s ‘prohibited’ sign?

 

Like this post? Save it for later!

An image with two photos. One is of three people walking on a railway line and the other is of a bridge with nine arches.

Three people walking on a railway line with flowers, bushes, and signs beside the tracks.

 

Are you looking for more ideas on destination Sri Lanka? Then don’t miss these posts:

WHAT IS THE MISSING TRUTH ABOUT CLIMBING SRI LANKA’S LITTLE ADAM’S PEAK

FIRST 24 HOURS IN GALLE FORT, SRI LANKA

A PHOTOGRAPHIC TOUR OF GEOFFREY BAWA’S GARDEN

WALLAWWA – a tranquil boutique hotel in Colombo City

 

Author’s Note: Please check the latest travel restrictions before planning any trip, and always follow government advice.

 

4 Comments on WALKING THE RAILWAY LINE FROM ELLA TO DEMODARA, SRI LANKA [2022 Updated]

WALLAWWA – a tranquil luxury boutique hotel in Colombo City [2021 UPDATED]

Wonderful Accommodation in an Oasis of Tranquility in Sri Lanka Wallawwa is luxury accommodation at its best. It is all character and serenity. Read on to see why I recommend…

Wonderful Accommodation in an Oasis of Tranquility in Sri Lanka

Wallawwa is luxury accommodation at its best. It is all character and serenity. Read on to see why I recommend you experience Wallawwa for yourself.

Picture yourself relaxing by the secluded pool and being able to buzz for bar staff to attend to your needs. Imagine playing croquet on the manicured lawns before partaking in complimentary tea and cakes at 3 o’clock on the wide veranda. This was my reality of Wallawwa, a luxurious, boutique hotel whose former life was an 18th-century colonial manor house.

Set in acres of lush gardens scattered with daybeds and couches strategically placed around the main lawn, Wallawwa manages a feeling of intimacy.

Wallawwa’s 18 spacious rooms include two family suites and a two-bedroom suite with a pool. All rooms open onto a secluded veranda and tropical garden. My ‘Wallawwa Bedroom’ was comfortable, cool, and tastefully furnished. There was no missing the magnificent king-sized four-poster bed (twin beds are available). A large, polished concrete-lined bathroom with a rain shower, plush towels, and luxurious toiletries completed the room. The room amenities included tea/coffee making facilities – always a winner for me.

The staff were friendly, efficient, attentive and helpful.

The Verandah is Wallawwa’s open-sided restaurant serving top class Asian cuisine, with much of the produce used in the cooking coming from the hotel’s organic garden. Make sure you leave room for dessert because they are to die for.

For those looking for personal pampering, Wallawwa’s Z Spa offers a collection of relaxing treatments. Unfortunately, my stay at Wallawwa was only one night, and I could not treat myself to one of their signature massages. Next time.

If you must leave this piece of tranquillity, Wallawwa can arrange excursions for you.

Wallawwa, on Minuwangoda Road, Kotugoda, is just a 15-minute drive from Colombo International Airport and 30 minutes to the city.

Rooms start at USD390 per night, including à la carte breakfast.

Wallawwa is one of seven Teardrop Hotels across Sri Lanka. I also stayed at Fort Bazaar (another Teardrop Hotel) in history-rich Galle Fort.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in March 2018 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

Disclaimer: This post contains no affiliate links. All views and opinions are my own and non-sponsored.

Comment below to share your thoughts on this blog post. Would you stay here?

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Author’s Note: Please check the latest travel restrictions before planning any trip, and always follow government advice.

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WHAT IS THE MISSING TRUTH ABOUT CLIMBING SRI LANKA’S LITTLE ADAM’S PEAK?

Who Said Climbing Little Adam’s Peak Is An Easy Walk?   Dear Meg, Hello from Ella in Sri Lanka. While here, I decided to walk up Little Adam’s Peak. The…

Who Said Climbing Little Adam’s Peak Is An Easy Walk?

 

Dear Meg,

Hello from Ella in Sri Lanka.

While here, I decided to walk up Little Adam’s Peak. The walk from Ella to Little Adam’s Peak’s summit is approximately 4.5 kilometres (return) and said to take about 45 minutes each way. The walk was described in four guidebooks as an easy, mostly flat walk, with a small amount of climbing at the end.

The hotel’s reference to Little Adam’s Peak summed up the experience:

This walk is unlikely to make you break out in a sweat, and the entire round trip can be completed in about two hours. The first part of the walk is quite flat … some climbing is required to reach the summit. The view from the top is more than worth the gentle exertion though, offering a splendid panorama of Ella Rock and The Gap.

 

Well, they were all wrong! All the guidebooks lied.

  • It was uphill all the way. There was no ‘flat’, and there was nothing ‘easy’ about the walk.
  • I did break out in a sweat – big time.
  • The walk was two hours one way.
  • ‘The small amount of climbing at the end’ was not just uphill; it was more than 300 vertical steps.
  • As for ‘gentle exertion’. There was nothing gentle about the blood pounding in my head when I finally reached the summit. This was heart attack material!

 

Having reached the summit (at the height of 1,141 metres), I was too exhausted and out of breath to appreciate the ‘splendid panorama’. And I thought I was fit! There is nothing ‘little’ about Little Adam’s Peak.

I didn’t feel a sense of achievement but just felt jilted by the guidebooks. In hindsight, I should have stayed in Ella drinking coffee, and left the walk up to the others to complete.

Walking up Little Adam’s Peak would have to be one of the worst experiences of my life. Well, perhaps not, but it sure felt like it. I left the others at the bottom of the mountain and took a tuk-tuk back to the hotel. It cost me a lot of rupees, but it was worth every one of them.

Tropical bush framing a mountain peak

View of Little Adam’s Peak – still a long way to walk

 

Disclaimer: This post contains no affiliate links. All views and opinions are my own and non-sponsored. All photos are my own and remain the copyright of Joanna Rath.

 

Comment below to share your thoughts on this blog post. Tell us about a climbing challenge you have faced. What was the outcome? Did you feel a sense of achievement or not?

 

If you like this post, PIN it for keeps.

 

To read more on what to see and do in Sri Lanka, click on the links below:

WALKING THE RAILWAY LINE FROM ELLA TO DEMODARA, SRI LANKA

FIRST 24 HOURS IN GALLE FORT, SRI LANKA

A PHOTOGRAPHIC TOUR OF GEOFFREY BAWA’S GARDEN

WALLAWWA – a tranquil luxury boutique hotel in Colombo City

 

Author’s Note: Please check the latest travel restrictions before planning any trip and always follow government advice.

 

No Comments on WHAT IS THE MISSING TRUTH ABOUT CLIMBING SRI LANKA’S LITTLE ADAM’S PEAK?

FIRST 24 HOURS IN GALLE FORT, SRI LANKA

Travel magazines and tour companies have named Sri Lanka as one of the destinations for 2019 – a must see, bucket list destination. I travelled to Sri Lanka with my sister…

Travel magazines and tour companies have named Sri Lanka as one of the destinations for 2019 – a must see, bucket list destination.

I travelled to Sri Lanka with my sister and brother-in-law for a 23-day trip around this teardrop shaped island. This was a private tour with our own driver. However, it is also possible to travel around Sri Lanka by taxi, bus or train.

I still hold mixed feelings about my trip to Sri Lanka. After all, we can’t always expect to like everything about every country we visit. That said, Sri Lanka held some highlights for me that are well worth mentioning, such as walking the railway line between Ella and Demodara and our visit to Geoffrey Bawa’s garden. I also highly recommend visiting Galle Fort. In fact, it is worth staying at least a couple of nights.

Galle Fort is a historical fortified city, with the New Town of Galle located outside the walls. Galle is situated on the southwestern tip of Sri Lanka – a distance of 126 kilometres (78 miles) down the west coast from Colombo (Sri Lanka’s capital).

Why visit Galle Fort

Galle Fort is rich in history; with 400 years of history spaning Portuguese, Dutch and British colonialism. Built by the Portuguese in 1589, the Dutch seized the Fort in 1640 and extended its fortifications, which survive to this day. The British modified the Fort after Galle was handed over to them in 1796. Galle Fort is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and remains the best example in south and southeast Asia of a fortified city built by Europeans.

Galle Fort is protected by a wall (ramparts), with 14 bastions, that has seen little change since completion by the Dutch in 1729. The fortifications run for 3 kilometres and are over 1 metre thick. Inside the Fort is a mixture of architecture, with Dutch-colonial buildings, ancient mosques and churches, and grand mansions. Here you will find cafés, restaurants, boutiques, museums, and hotels. It is also a thriving commercial centre.

With an area of only 0.52 kilometres square within the fortifications and being relatively flat, Galle Fort is easy to walk around and to see everything. It is also a good base for day trips to the southern beaches, gardens, tea factories, rain forests, and nature walks.

From Colombo to Galle Fort

At the suggestion of our driver we took the coast road to Galle rather than the expressway. While taking the expressway would have been quicker (approximately 1.5 hours as opposed to approximately 3 hours), the coast road, according to our driver, is more interesting; more scenic. And it was. Hugging the coastline, we passed through many small villages which provided a glimpse into local daily life; where farmers and fishermen continue to live and work as they have done for generations.

This was our first real experience of driving in Sri Lanka. I have been in many a country where I thought the population as a whole are terrible drivers, but Sri Lankan drivers take the prize. Their idea or practice of passing is downright scary. Picture this … You have a two-lane road just wide enough for two cars, with one lane for each direction. Suddenly, your lane has three vehicles abreast (including your own, with your driver on his mobile phone) as two vehicles want to pass one, and there is a bus coming in the opposite direction. No one gives way as all four vehicles come abreast and all you can do is close your eyes and hold your breath. And yet, I never saw an accident.

I learned a valuable lesson on this drive – don’t ever think of doing a self-drive holiday in Sri Lanka as you may never survive the experience. Their driving and use of the roads are, for these foreigners, positively frightening. My brother-in-law was never able to relax when we were driving. For some reason, he always managed to get the seat with a clear view out the front windscreen. Causing him to remain transfixed on the traffic and in a perpetual state of anxiety.

Galle Fort 

We arrived in Galle Fort mid-afternoon. Our hotel for the duration of our stay in Galle Fort was the Fort Bazaar, inside the Fort itself.

The Fort Bazaar (at 26 Church Street, Galle Fort) was formerly a 17th century merchant’s townhouse.  Opening in 2016 in its current status as a small, boutique spa hotel, its 18 rooms are very spacious, cool and furnished with comfortable four-poster beds. Unfortunately, at the time of stay (April 2017), the pool and spa were not yet completed, and they were still waiting on a liquor licence. However, it is in a very central location within the Fort and complimentary tea and cakes were served daily between 3.00 and 4.00pm. My kind of hotel. I could not fault the staff, who were friendly, attentive and helpful. Sri Lankan hospitality at its best.

Note: The Fort Bazaar, according to a recent view of its website, now has a pool, a spa, and a liquor licence.

Due to the lack of a liquor licence (which did not suit at all), we booked dinner in the restaurant at the Galle Fort Hotel (at 28 Church Street), which came recommended by guide books.

The Galle Fort Hotel was a former gem merchant’s mansion. The restaurant’s setting was picture perfect, with the tables set up on the wide veranda overlooking the pool and garden.

However, dinner was less than ordinary, and the service was very slow even though there were only a few diners. In the heat and humidity, all we wanted was a cold drink to start with. But, once seated, we were suddenly invisible. We were starving by the time they remembered to take our meal orders. We do not recommend the restaurant in the Galle Fort Hotel.

A walk around Galle Fort

Over dinner, we decided to make an early start for our walk around Galle Fort, its bastions and ramparts (walls) the next day, so that our walk would be completed before the day got too hot. In hindsight, it makes no difference in April, heat-wise, what time of day you venture out as it is always very hot and wet (humidity, not rain).

On this day that we decided to do our walk, the humidity was 80% and caused some havoc with our DSLR cameras – fogged up lenses and constant error messages. While I have never found out conclusively if these problems were due to the humidity, it is certainly something to be aware of.

The humidity also impacted on my clothing. I wasn’t just dripping perspiration, I was completely wet. I was wearing a dark pink t-shirt that I had washed several times prior to this trip. However, the pink dye was coming out of my t-shirt. It stained my body, and my camera strap and my camera where they were touching the t-shirt. To top it off, the colour was completed bleached out of the t-shirt where my backpack was touching it – to the point where my t-shirt looked as though it had been tie-dyed.

After a leisurely breakfast at the Fort Bazaar of fresh fruit, bacon and eggs, and freshly ground coffee, we set off on our self-guided tour (walk) of Galle Fort.

Galle Fort map

(Map courtesy of the Fort Bazaar)

 

All Saints Church in Galle Fort Sri Lanka

All Saints Anglican Church

Walking up Church Street (Galle Fort’s main thoroughfare) towards the main gate and the Clock Tower, we passed All Saints Anglican Church (its stumpy steeple, a distinctive landmark) and the Maritime Archaeological Museum

Galle Fort dutch church tombstones

The tombstones laid in the floor of the Dutch Reform Church

Our first stop was at the Dutch Reform Church. Originally built in 1640, the floor of the Dutch Reform Church is laid with tombstones which were moved there from the Dutch cemeteries. The oldest of which dates from 1662. There are more tombstones in the grounds of the church.

Leaving the Dutch Reform Church, we continued up Church Street, making our way to the Clock Tower; our starting point for our walk along the Fort’s ramparts.

Heading east and past the Main Gate, we walked up onto the ramparts at the Moon Bastion with its Clock Tower that was built by the British in 1882. From here we were able to look down the ramparts (east and west) to the Star Bastion and Sun Bastion.

This is the most heavily fortified section of the ramparts as they protect the most vulnerable side of the Fort – the northern landward side. Galle Fort is surrounded on three sides by the Indian Ocean.

For those cricket fans…These northern ramparts provide a good view of the Galle International Cricket Stadium outside the Fort. This massive, 30,000-seater stadium has hosted more than 100 one day international matches. Australian bowler, Shane Warne claimed his 500th Test wicket at the Stadium in 2004. In 2010, Sri Lanka’s legendary cricket player, Muttiah Muralitharan played his last match at this venue. However, as at July 2018, the Galle Stadium was a risk of loosing its UNESCO World Heritage status due to the unauthorised construction of the 500-seat pavilion.

Turning south, we came to the Fish Market Bastion, where we left the ramparts to walk through Court Square. Here we stopped at the Old Gate. This was the original entrance to the Fort, with the Fort side of the gate inscribed with the Dutch East India Company’s coat of arms. The port side of the gate is adorned with a British crest (which replaced the original Dutch crest).

Court Square is shaded by magnificent, massive banyan trees with branches that seem to spread forever. The Square houses the law courts (with the lawyers standing around in their black suits) and the Old Dutch Hospital (now home to shops and cafes).

Galle Fort lighthouse

Galle Fort lighthouse on Point Utrecht Bastion

 

Heading south down Hospital Street, we found ourselves at Point Utrecht Bastion which is dominated by the lighthouse. Built in 1938 and standing 18 metres high, the lighthouse is still in use.

At the lighthouse, we climb back up onto the wall; walking along the southern rampart towards Flag Rock. Along this southern section of the wall, families were gathered on the shaded grass; picnicking and playing cricket.

Walking past the Meeran Jumma Mosque (which looks very much like a European Baroque church), we came to Flag Rock located on the southern-most end of the Fort. People dive from Flag Rock into the ocean – described as daring free-style divers. I did see one young man run along the top of the rock and dive from it. “Idiot” might be a better description than “daring”. “Clearly potty” is how one guide book describes these jumpers. Perhaps they have insider knowledge of exactly where the submerged rocks are?

 

We finally headed north as the ramparts hugged the west coast. We ended our ramble along Galle Fort’s ramparts near the army barracks, just before the Clock Tower where we had begun. Here we cut across the village green, past the Army Barracks as I had thrown a hissy fit; being upset that we were still walking in the heat. This was a short cut back to our hotel and a welcomed decision.

The guide books and tourist brochures inform you the walk along the ramparts will take 90 minutes. We took almost twice that length of time due to the heat and constant stopping to take photos. It’s surprising how hard it is to lift your feet when weighed down by heat and humidity!

We made a couple more stops before heading back to our hotel for a well-earned rest in a lovely cool room.

A long cool drink on the wide veranda of the luxury Amangalla Hotel was warranted before visiting the Manor House Museum (at 31-39 Leyn Baan Street – entrance is free). This is a private collection of antiques and miscellaneous objects (described by one guide book as “outright junk”). The collection belongs to Abdul Gaffar, a local gem merchant, and is on display in a restored Dutch house. In my opinion, Gaffar has a serious hoarding problem, with rooms and cabinets stuffed full of old typewriters, cameras, telephones, crockery, spectacles, jewellery and old Chinese memorabilia. To describe this collection as bazaar is being very kind and generous. It was just downright weird! For that reason alone, it is worth the visit. The museum does provide insight into some traditional crafts with presentations of lace embroidery, gem cutting and jewellery making. However, be cautious if you suffer from asthma because the museum is very, very dusty.

Lunch was at the Serendipity Arts Café; recommended by one guide book as a place to eat. The food was good (had a very tasty chicken club sandwich – not very imaginative of me) but I would not recommend it as it was not atmospheric; as was foretold.

We were back at the Fort Bazaar in time for a rest before partaking of the hotel’s scheduled afternoon tea and cakes served on the terrace.

This night we had dinner at The Fort Printers (39 Pedlar Street). This elegant, small private hotel (a restored 18th century mansion) was a printing facility in its former life. The original printing press is on show in the lobby of the hotel. We had discovered this hotel on our morning walk. I found the menu limiting as I am allergic to seafood and this was the speciality of the house. My sister and brother-in-law do not suffer from the same affliction and loved the menu choices. However, the menu did include chicken, lamb and vegetarian dishes. The restaurant is in a lovely setting in a courtyard around a small pool. We were tucked into an alcove at the side of the courtyard that afforded a good level of privacy. Which was just as well as our conversation became quite lively and animated. Even so, we were not forgotten. The staff were friendly, attentive, knowledgeable about their menu, and ready to answer any questions we had. The food was so good, we went back a second night.

And so, our first 24 hours comes to an end. But not so our stay in Galle Fort as we spent a further day venturing outside of the Fort and into the countryside beyond; visiting the Martin Wickramasinghe Museum, Kataluwa Temple, the coastal village of Willgama, and a final stop at the Peace Pagoda. But that’s another story.

 

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Palm trees on a beach with a rock wall in front and the sea behind

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Disclaimer: This post contains no affiliate links. All views and opinions are my own and unsponsored. Unless specifically stated, all photos are my own and remain the copyright of Joanna Rath.

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