Sri Lanka’s port city of Galle seems to be oblivious to its beauty and its palm-fringed beaches framed by misty mountains. It is an ambrosial paradise in an exotic country far from the verdant tea trails of Sri Lanka and the bustle of the capital city, Colombo. Galle is a small colonial settlement recognized for its historical importance, yet it increasingly embraces the modern and the new. Visitors are enchanted by the Mediterranean-style atmosphere easily enjoyed without the crowds. Galle is an underrated gem for wanderers who want to take a step back in time without sacrificing the contemporary comforts of everyday travel.
History vs. Modern
Galle was a vital trading post and a busy maritime port for over 200 years. It was a protected harbor where trade between the east and west thrived. Its rich history of invasions and occupations left behind a cultural texture unique, colorful, and one-of-a-kind. The city consists of an old part, and a new part and both are worthy of exploration. The Galle Fort in the old town stands as a living monument to its history, and it is within its walls visitors and locals alike are most enthralled.
There is no better way to absorb the quintessential culture and characteristics of the city than to book your stay at the Galle Fort Hotel. It is an eccentric tribute to the colorful fiber of the Galle community. The grand Dutch mansion’s many incarnations throughout the years give it a multi-layered ambiance you won’t find in any other boutique hotel. The venue maintains much of its architectural integrity while offering award-winning accommodations. You will love relaxing in the frangipani-scented courtyard where poets and dreamers have often been inspired.
Asian vs. European
Galle is a seamless blending of both Asian and European influence noticeable in its iconic buildings decorated with street art and in its eclectic cuisine available in quirky cafes. The colonial presence of the Portuguese in the 15th-century and later occupation by the Dutch were never fully replaced by Asian culture. The result is a wonderful fusion of tradition and sophistication nurtured by a melting pot of artists, innovators, and other creatives who call Galle home. The brightly-painted tuk-tuks still line the streets, yet galleries and shops along the medieval-style pathways are there too.
Most of the restaurants in Galle are quaint and cozy havens filled with the aromas of native spices and seasonings. Visitors can experience local foods at Lucky Fort Restaurant known for its aromatic rice and curries or step it up at the Fortaleza for Sri Lankan fare with a Singaporean twist. You might want to try the Pedlar’s Inn housed in a former British post office. The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner in a friendly cafe-style environment. Moroccan, Chinese, Italian, and French eateries in Galle town give you the opportunity for fine dining around the world.
Shopping vs. Browsing
Galle is a treasure trove of jazzy small shops and those travelers who seek souvenirs will not be disappointed. The new part of the city is home to several malls, yet it is in the old town shoppers find their gems. Koccorikois a motley den of quality handicraft items, the shelves packed with the unusual and the bright. It’s the perfect stop for one-of-a-kind handmade clothes or curious. The spices of Sri Lanka are unique and celebrated around the world. You can just follow your nose in the Galle Fort to Chilli Dragon Spice Shop for the best of fresh cinnamon and curry seasonings. Don’t forget to try some tea while you are there.
Galle is also the ideal destination for travelers who would rather see the sights and soak in the local culture. A visit to the Historical Mansion Museum is a must for an imaginative excursion into the olden days of Galle. The museum contains a vast collection of artifacts including coins, stamps, and odd antiques. Art lovers can browse through the maze of rooms in Sithuvili Gallery where the work of local artists and traditional mask-makers surprise you around every corner. The life-sized art installations and sculptures will blow you away.
Relaxation vs. Activity
Different people travel for different reasons. Some just want to get away and relax; others are seeking out exciting adventures. Galle can accommodate both. Templeberg Villasis a serene getaway tucked discretely on a coconut plantation just minutes from Galle Fort. It is the ultimate retreat with lush gardens and breezy verandas where butterflies lazily flitter and curious monkeys play. The pristine beaches are only a short tuk-tuk ride away. The friendly service and meticulously prepared food will make you feel like you are at grandma’s house instead of a hotel.
Outdoor activities are plentiful in Galle especially if it involves water. You can discover a completely uncommon underwater world in Unawatuna at the Pearl Divers and Water Sports Centre. Certified and experienced divers guide you on an unforgettable diving excursion you will be talking about for years to come. Those who prefer to stay on dry land can take a guided bicycle tour through Galle’s paddy fields, cinnamon plantations, and bird sanctuaries with Idle Bikes. More challenging and invigorating trails are available for the fit and energetic. It’s a great way to explore the countryside.
Sri Lanka is sometimes referred to as the “Pearl of the Indian Ocean,” and it is easy to see why. It is a lush oasis rich in fauna and flora. Galle is no exception offering a pleasant combination of forest, beaches, and cultural interests. The district is home to Sri Lanka’s unique tradition of stilt fishing and, if you are lucky, you might get to see fisherman on tall stilts casting their lines in the shallow waters. It is a sight you will not easily forget. After a morning of sightseeing or shopping, you can settle in at the Owl and the Pussycat for a cool drink and a fabulous lunch.
A visit to Galle would not be complete without experiencing the nearby Virgin White Tea Factory. The sprawling working plantation produces high-quality white teas treasured for its anti-oxidant content and said to be some of the best in the world. Visitors are given a rare view of the tea harvesting process by an expert resident planter. The tour ends with a tea-tasting and a slice of chocolate cake! It doesn’t get much better than that. Galle is Sri Lanka’s best-kept secret on its southern coast, and you will be glad you chose to wander there.