Galle, Sri Lanka
Galle is a city on the southern tip of Sri Lanka and the administrative capital of the South. Best known for its beautiful colonial fort it was originally called Gimhathiththa, before the Portuguese arrival in the 16th Century followed by the Dutch in the 18th Century. It was the main port and is distinguished by its main fort walls and lighthouse that surround the colonial part of the city. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the biggest surviving forted city built by Europeans still standing in Asia. An enchanting and fascinating mixture of local and Portuguese architecture that has created a beautiful maze of streets of a myriad of fascinating buildings such as the Maritime Museum. Due to this rich multicultural heritage the area inside the fort in UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Galle Fort Hotel is one of the oldest and most classic colonial hotels within the city housed in an 18th Century Dutch Mansion. Beautifully preserved it is a small boutique hotel on Church Street in the centre of the old town. Comprised of beautifully decorated suites full of original features and antiques, it is an incredible boutique hotel in which to soak up the past of this fascinating town and explore. The Porcelain Suite is richly decorated with antique blue and white Chinese plates that arrived with merchants and high vaulted ceilings. The Grand Apartment Hotel Suite is the ultimate in luxury and takes over the whole top floor with private verandas overlooking the swimming pool. Thick teak floorboards and elegant furnishings transport you to another time and has sweeping views over the town. With two large bedrooms it is ideal for family groups.
The hotel is also famed for its restaurant that specialises in local dishes that utilise the fresh seafood caught everyday mixed with the wide variety of spices sourced from the abundant rural areas around Galle and create succulent Sri Lankan curries and local delights to make delectable dishes that can be eaten in the restaurant or out on the veranda facing the street watching the world go by.
The Peddlar’s Inn Cafe & Restaurant is located on the premises of the former Royal Mail’s Coach Service Booking Offices that was established in 1838. It was run by W.F Janz and the morning two horse coaches would set off at 6am and arrive in Colombo late afternoon. It was a bought by Thaha Hadjiar Sultan Bawa in 1908 whose family still own it and run the restaurant. This place is brimming with atmosphere and the bustling diners meld with delicious spells spilling over from the cafe.
The menu is a medley of local curries and specialities and international food with Italian accents including homemade, pastas and gelato. The fresh fish dishes and Sri Lankan curries area must try and a wonderful atmosphere to take a break from exploring town. A fabulous little eatery and landmark of its own that is a fantastic place to grab lunch on the way to a day of sightseeing or shopping.Even small hotels and cafe have rich and varied histories connected to the various peoples who built up this beautiful piece of Sri Lanka’s coast.
A walk along the fort walls on a visit to Galle is a must and to take in the largest surviving fort that also managed to withstand and protected much of Galle from the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004. It was originally built by the Portuguese in 1588 to fortify the city and the Dutch expanded and strengthened from 1649 onwards as one of their major trading ports. The Archaeological Department of Sri Lanka has meticulously preserved the fort so you would not guess it is as old as it looks. However, its actual history as a port was recorded as early as 125AD by Ptolemy’s World Map where Greek, Chinese and Arab Merchant Ships used to trade through here.
Naturally its position as a prime port has led to various colonial invasions, hence the building of the fort itself. Passing through its walls is like entering an enchanted kingdom. A diverse mix of local Singhalese, Portuguese, Dutch and British colonial history has melded to create a village city of stunning architecture, atmosphere and wonderfully beautiful charm. There are a number of landmarks leading around the town, including both the Maritime and Archaelogical Museums that are worth exploring for an insight into the history of this port city
There are plenty of fascinating temples, mosques and churches to visit in and around Galle that reflect the rich history and religions that have shaped this port town throughout the centuries. The Groote Kerk or Dutch Reform Church was built in 1755 and is one of the oldest Protestant Churches still in use in the country. Its iconic picture perfect white curved icing facade means it is one of the most recognisable landmarks in Galle.
From the lighthouse you can see the Japanese Peace Monument that is a lovely stupa to visit in Unawatuna and a great place to see the sunset looking back on the city itself. The Fort Shri Sudharmalaya Buddhist Templeis a beautiful building within the town that has some stunning sculptures of wooden Buddha’s. It actually now used to be a church and is now a temple and monastery. The head monk is a happy serene man who is more than happy to give you a tour, Puja (blessing) and have a chat about the history of the temple and Galle itself. If you only manage to visit one temple during your stay, this is definitely worth retreating into for an hour.
Spa Ceylon Luxury Ayurveda (www.store.spaceylon.com) is a gorgeous scented shop on the corner of Lighthouse Street full of their signature aromatic blends and blissful products all made from organic ingredients and based on the Principles of Ayurveda. There is a huge array of products for body and home. The vibrant and fresh scent of the ‘Save the Majestic Ceylon Elephant’ of which 10% of all Sales go to preserving the elephants of Sri Lanka.
Stick No Bills(www.sticknobillsonline.com) is a beautifully quaint little cubby hole of a shop on Church Street that specialises in Vintage and Art Deco posters of Sri Lanka that are stunningly simple and versatile to suit any kind of decor. From postcard size up to large framed prints these are the perfect gift or addition to any home. Wandering the streets of Galle is a little shopper’s paradise as you will encounter lots of lovely little individual shops with local products from the island.
Sunset strolls along the seafront and around the lighthouse are almost and obligatory experience in Galle to look across the bay as the sea turns golden at the Japanese Peace Shrine and fishing boats putting past, children laughing and splashing on the beach. The golden hued light bathes the town in glorious golden light that illuminates the terracotta rooftops and sandy fort walls, reflecting off the colonial corners and filtering through trees. This is a town to walk, past the Meera Mosque, Lighthouse and curling around the town. Although there are plenty of tuk tuks that can whizz you around it’s little streets and seaside promenades are full of hidden gems of architecture and little characters selling homemade lace or just happy to have a chat about the town. Locals are extremely friendly and quite happy to share stories about the old town whilst enjoying the sunset.
Just down the coast from Galle are plenty of beaches and excellent surf spots. One of the first towns is Unawatuna or there are a number of new hotels and beach clubs around Thalpe. There are palmed fringed beaches that are not as crowded as the beaches further down the coast and are lovely sleepy little towns to relax on the beach, surfing for various abilities and also some turtle hatchery’s for the children. The beauty of Galle is that you can enjoy the history culture and charm of the town but a short tuk tuk journey away you can have a clear white sand beach all to yourself to relax or a surf and soak up some beach holiday atmosphere too. This part of the coast is slowly becoming a more bohemian high end boutique hotels and laid back atmosphere running to the surfing beaches and whale watching of the slightly more built up towns of Weligama and Mirissa.