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Galle Coast

Snapshot
Galle is thriving. The fortified old town is enjoying an artistic renaissance and the beautiful beaches around it are dotted with luxurious villas and classy boutique hotels. The revival of Galle, in fact, has quietly influenced its coastline, which has regained its confidence and which has become a favoured retreat for intelligent, independent travellers. It is this area – both north and south of the town -- where Galle’s pull is at its strongest that we prefer to term the Galle coast. Galle’s main attraction is the 17C Dutch Fort, a UNESCO protected World Heritage site. But Galle is also the gateway to seductive sandy coves and the coastal villages of Unawatuna, Thalpe, Koggala and Habaraduwa.
Don’t Miss
Loll on Unawatuna’s horseshoe beach
Wander along the ramparts of Galle Fort
Visit Galle’s museums, shops and art galleries
Lunch at Fortaleza or Pedlar’s Inn cafe in Galle Fort
Surf and enjoy sunset cocktails at Wijaya Beach
Watch international cricket at the Galle stadium
Meander down mangrove-lined rivers
Experience Koggala’s rural life
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Getting There
Once you escape the hubbub of Colombo, the journey south to Galle is a pleasant one along the Southern highway which takes one hour by car. There is also the old Galle Road that hugs the coastline and takes about three hours to reach Galle. Against all the odds this tiny road continues to flow relatively freely and the views reward the patient. For those travelling from the hill country, the Galle coast can be accessed via Deniyaya and Akuressa. Galle can be reached by car, train or the Air Taxi service which when operational lands on Koggala Lake, about 20 minutes to the south. Useful drive times include: Colombo to Galle (one hour); Airport to Galle (2.5 hours); Galle to Mirissa (45 minutes) Galle to Tangalle (2 hours); Tangalle to Yala (2.5 hours); Kandy to Galle (5.5 hours); Nuwara Eliya to Galle (6 hours).

Historical Background
Galle owes its historic importance to its natural harbour and strategic location.  It has long been a hub of trade and commerce with ships from all parts of the world docking at the ancient port to barter their goods for treasures from this island: precious gems, pearls, spices, and scented woods.  Galle is even referred to as the Biblical `Tarshish’ where King Solomon's ships called at port to take aboard treasures.  The accidental arrival of the Portuguese Lorenzo De Almeida in 1505, when his fleet of ships steered off course following a storm at sea, changed the history of this island nation.  The Portuguese were followed by the Dutch in 1640 and then the British in 1796.  With each occupation, Galle’s landscape changed and the cultural influences remained.  Colombo became Sri Lanka’s main port in the 1870s and Galle’s influence waned, perhaps protecting its charm. Today Galle is a bustling provincial capital where a kaleidoscope of ethnicities and religions live side by side. The majority of Galle’s population is Sinhalese but there are significant communities of Moors, Malays, Tamils and increasingly a scattering of Europeans, largely but not exclusively British, who have been attracted by the area’s rich cultural heritage, beautiful beaches and laidback lifestyles. Artists, designers and writers flock each year for rest and inspiration.

Sights
The southern heritage is rich in culture, architecture, folk drama and crafts.  Galle’s main attraction is the 17th century Dutch Fort.  Much of the old Fort and the township within still remain, with its well-preserved bastions, public buildings, churches, lighthouse and a maze of narrow streets.  The ramparts that surround the Fort are today used for romantic evening strolls and convenient viewpoints to catch breathtaking ocean sunsets. Below the ramparts, Sri Lanka’s cricket team regularly plays at the rebuilt Galle International Stadium. Several sandy beaches are within easy reach, including the beautiful, crescent-shaped Unawatuna Bay. The sea is generally calm and in Unawatuna and the reef shelters more fish than the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.  Between Galle to Ahangama, there are many smaller lesser-known bays and beaches, several popular with surfers. Buddhist temples, tropical rainforests, and mangrove-lined lakes and waterways home to numerous species of birds and monitor lizards makes this area interesting for nature lovers as well.

Accommodation
Exquisite refurbished colonial bungalows, beach villas, boutique hotels and characterful guest houses provide for a range of comfortable accommodation along the Galle coast and inland.

Galle Fort & town:  There are several luxurious villas - 41 Lighthouse Street, Thambili, Ramparts Villa, and 20 Middle Street to name a few - all of them refurbished colonial properties with great style. The Galle Fort Hotel, Fort Printers and the five-star Amangalla are also high-end heritage properties within the Fort. Fortaleza and Fort Bliss provides characterful, mid-range accommodation. Outside the Fort there is the Dutch House and Sun House, located inland off Galle’s main town. A mile north of Galle is Jetwing Lighthouse, a boutique hotel designed by the late Geoffrey Bawa, Sri Lanka’s famous architect and the Tamarind Hill a 10-bedroomed, exquisite boutique hotel housed in a 200-year-old mansion.

Unawatuna:  Situated two miles along the south coast from Galle, Unawatuna offers a gloriously wide, curving bay, peppered by a rash of guesthouses and beachfront cafes. Unawatuna deals primarily in budget accommodation, but there are also a few properties that offer beach side, mid-range accommodation including Unawatuna Beach Resort, Coco Bay, White Walk, and the Thaproban Pavilion Resort. Thambapanni, on a steep hill a few hundred metres from the beach, offers mid-market eco style. Sun n Sea, Flower Garden, and Wijaya Beach have their advocates at the cheaper end of the market.

Koggala: Excellent villa accommodation is available by the tranquil Koggala Lake including Mandalay, The Lake House and Ivory House. The atmospheric old planter's house Illuketia and Kahanda Kanda boutique hotel set inland on extensive plantations, and offer great tranquillity. The classy, minimalist Frangipani Tree and the Fortress - situated at the edge of the sea with its beach suites, fibre optic swimming pool and restaurants - offer the highest standards in beach hotels and has become beloved by honeymooners, as has Aditya a few miles to the north of the town.

Thalpe and Habaraduwa: Sri Lanka’s villa scene is highly successful – with a collection of distinctive, luxurious villas, all staffed by a team of small, attentive and discreet staff. The coastline from Unawatuna, Thalpe to Habaraduwa is scattered with beach villas for the discerning traveller. These range from refurbished colonial bungalows to `tropical modern’ style beach villas with minimalist interiors.

North of Galle: Between Galle and Hikkaduwa, the Galle effect is slowly taking hold. Aditya brings boutique standards to the coast. This 12-suite hotel sits on a secluded stretch of beach and oozes class and style.

Food & Drink
Galle Fort has several options for high-class dining. Fusion food with Asian influences in a seductive setting makes Galle Fort Hotel a sought-after venue, and the bar-cum-coffee-shop is a social hub. Fortaleza – a boutique hotel and restaurant offers fusion cuisine in a courtyard setting. Fort Printers aims for the same high standards and Amangalla, the most expensive five-star in the Fort, has many pretensions as far as its restaurant is concerned. Lower down the scale, the Rampart Hotel offers tasty rice and curries and is wonderful at sunset. Small cafes include Pedlar’s Inn café, Barista coffee shop, Heritage café, Mama’s Roof café, Serendipity Arts café, and the Il Gelato ice cream house. A few miles away Unawatuna has a selection of characterful beach restaurants include Kingfisher and Wijaya Beach that serves fresh seafood, snacks and a range of wraps. Some of the popular bars in Galle apart from the GFH are Dick’s Bar at the Sun House, The Zaal at Amangalla, ands Cardamom Cafe at the Lighthouse Hotel. Further afield consider the Sea Lounge at the Fortress, Wijaya Beach at Dalawella and Unawatuna’s livelier beach shacks. If you want livelier still, head 25 minutes north to Hikkaduwa, Galle’s bohemian beach satellite.

Shopping
Galle Fort offers increasingly interesting shopping. Dutch period antique furniture and artifacts are available at the Olanda antique shop and the Historical Mansion. A small art and photographic gallery opens intermittently next to Galle Fort Hotel and deserves encouragement. The Elephant Walk sells local art works, elephant dung stationery, scented candles, spices and home made chutneys. Shoba Display Gallery has art works and ornaments which are mostly made within the shop. For gold and silver jewellery set with precious and semi-precious stones, visit Laksana, Shantha Weerasekera, Ibrahim Jewellers, Jo Jo's, Pedlar’s Inn gallery, Gekko’s and Chrystolite down Church Street. The Barefoot Gallery, a branch of the main shop in Colombo, has clothing and linen made of handspun and vibrantly-coloured handloom fabrics. Mimimango down Leyn Baan Street has a colourful collection of ladies wear including swimwear, sarongs and kaftans. Lollapalooza run by the same owners as Mimimango, has a colourful range of clothing and gift items. The Corner Shop is a new and vibrant addition in Galle Fort to brightens the end of Pedlar Street. This delicious independent boutique offers an eclectic mix of clothing, accessories, gifts and souvenirs inspired by Sri Lanka with a western twist. The Orchid House located on Hospital Street is a lovely shop with a range of linen clothing, silver jewelry and gift items including hand made pottery.

Events
Red Dot is a huge admirer of the efforts that have gone into developing the Galle Literary Festival. The inaugural Festival in 2007 rewarded the optimism of its organizers. It was immediately listed by Harpers Bazaar as one the six most appealing literary festivals, alongside such gatherings as the Hay Festival in Columbia and the Wexford Book Festival in Ireland. The 2008 Festival held in January enhanced Galle’s artistic renaissance with the likes of Gore Vidal, Vikram Seth, William Dalrymple, Simon Winchester and many well-known local authors conducting discussions, debates, readings, seminars and workshops. There were more than 70 events from which participants could choose from including guided architectural walks within the Fort, film evenings and delicious fusion dinners. Six consecutive literary festivals have been held since its beginning in 2007. We applaud the efforts of the Galle Festival organizers in celebrating and encouraging Sri Lanka's literary heritage. This annual event is a treat for those interested in English literature, the creative arts and the cultural heritage of Sri Lanka.
Activities
Galle’s 17th century Dutch Fort
Galle Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, originally built by the Portuguese and then further developed by the Dutch and the British, covers nearly four sq kms, and is protected by 12 bastions and connecting ramparts. During the early 18th century the Old Dutch Gate was the entrance point to the Fort. Subsequently the British built the Main Gate which is still used today. Buildings of interest include the Dutch Reformed Church, All Saints Church, Amangalla Hotel (formerly the New Oriental Hotel), the lighthouse and bell tower. The Dutch also developed what was then an innovative tide-based sewage-system within the Fort. A maze of narrow roads lined with small houses and shops with Dutch names still remain. Recently, a spate of old colonial houses within the Fort have been intelligently renovated and made into exquisite boutique villas and hotels retaining the colonial architectural features including arches and columned courtyards, verandas, and high ceilings.
Arts & Crafts
Exotic Roots and Sithuvili Gallery located within Galle Fort has traditional arts & crafts including jewellery, wall-hangings, and hand carved traditional masks. The Galle Fort Gallery down Church Street holds art and photographic exhibitions. The South Ceylon Industrial Agency & Handicraft Factories located on Kandewatte Road provides employment opportunities for rural villagers in traditional handicrafts.
Galle National Museum
Housed in an old Dutch period building in the heart of the Fort, the Galle National Museum represents all that is Galle – Portuguese and Dutch period history, the cultural and historical influences of the Moors, weaponry, porcelain plates used by the Moors of the area in the olden days, and indigenous crafts such as Beeralu lace making introduced by the Portuguese. Also on exhibit are masks from the Kolam folk dramas. The Museum is closed on Sunday and Mondays.
Galle Maritime Museum
Housed in an old Dutch period warehouse within Galle Fort, the Maritime Museum gives an insight into the marine biological and anthropological aspects of the southern region. There are exhibits of passenger crafts that were used by traders, fishing crafts and fishing techniques used by the coastal fisherman, and marine eco-systems and the fauna and flora found off the southern coast.
Koggala Folk Museum
The late Martin Wickramasinghe, one of Sri Lanka’s most whose works are treasured by school children and adults alike, grew up in the fishing village of Koggala. The Folk Museum that was the author’s dream was made a reality by the Martin Wickramasinge Trust. The Museum, opened in 1981, brings to life the Koggala that is vividly depicted in Wickramasinghe’s writings. Objects of folk culture acquired during his lifetime have been the starting point of the collection, which is growing annually. An interesting place to visit if you can drag yourself from the glorious southern beaches.
Yatagala Temple
Just inland from Galle is Yatagala Raja Maha Viharaya, a fine place to go and visit for temple lovers. This temple is built around and within giant boulder-like rock formations. Quiet and little visited, the temple looks out over paddy fields and small hamlets. It won’t take much time to visit, but Yatagala is interesting as a comparison to the bigger, more famous temples in Sri Lanka.
Katholuwa Purwarama Temple
Situated in the village of Katholuwa, this ancient Buddhist temple is an interesting excursion where chanting of stanzas and ceremonies are held daily and become a hive of activity especially on a full-moon Poya day.
Galle Aerial Excursions
Soar high above Sri Lanka for a bird’s eye view of the island’s magnificent landscapes, wildlife & nature, and ancient heritage. Deccan Aviation now offers aerial excursions in their Bell helicopters from Galle to the Cultural Triangle in the north central province, and Yala National Park in the Deep South. Taking off from Koggala airfield, travel low over Galle Fort, journey over the hilltop temple complex at Rhumassala and the turquoise seas of Unawatuna Bay. Then take in the spectacular views of the central hills and the serene Koggala Lake before landing.
Galle International Cricket Stadium
Galle Stadium is one of cricket's most-loved venues. The ground is flanked by the Indian Ocean and with the impressive 17C Galle Fort behind the bowlers at one end, you could barely imagine a more stunning environment in which to enjoy a cricket match. After the 2004 tsunami, it was thought that international cricket would never return to Galle. But thanks to the global cricket community, among them Shane Warne who took his 500th wicket at the ground, the ground has been restored to its former glory.
Scuba Diving
Scuba diving in Sri Lanka is immensely rewarding and around Galle there are some of the country’s best dive spots. Run by PADI centres based in Unawatuna, diving is suitable for beginners and advanced divers alike. Spotting bright corals and exotic fish is easy and there is the opportunity to go both cave diving and wreck diving. One notable wreck is of the cargo ship the Lord Nelson which has a cabin large enough to explore in comfort. Sadly no rumours of hidden treasure though! Diving is best from December to March.
Surfing in Ahangama
Blessed by some of the South coast's best surfing beaches, Ahangama and Midigama’s offers several surfspots and breaks that are suitable for beginners as well as more experienced surfers. The surfing season here is from November to April.
Rhumassala Temple Walk
High on the headland of Unawatuna Bay is Rhumassala Temple. With beautiful views stretching out over the Indian Ocean, a walk around the headland near the temple is very special. Famed for the natural medicinal herbs nearby you will walk through hidden villages and verdant jungle valleys eventually finding yourself on “Jungle Beach”- a little known and secluded beach. Aside from a few wandering dogs and local fishing boats there is little distraction on Jungle Beach.
Amangalla Spa
Amangalla is home to arguably the best spa in Sri Lanka, known as the Baths. With a vast number of treatments available, in exquisitely calm surroundings, the Baths are expensive but ultimately will leave you refreshed, cleansed and energized. There are five private treatment rooms, a hydrotherapy and water massage pool, sauna, steam and cold plunge pool. The male area is bathed in natural light during the day and the female area looks onto a private garden. There is also a beauty treatment area and a traditional barber's shop. Adjacent to the Baths and positioned in a quiet part of the hotel gardens is a combined yoga and meditation pavilion.
Jetwing Lighthouse Spa
The hotel’s spa treatments draw inspiration from the rich heritage of Sri Lanka’s ancient healing wisdom and global trends. Ayurveda, as well as European health concepts, aromatherapy and traditional remedies found throughout South-East Asia are all practiced at this stunning hotel. The massages, wraps, and body works offer everything from a pampering experience for couples to a soothing treatment for sun lovers and those who just need to relax. There is even a Spa dining experience to try – pure indulgence. An array of natural ingredients is used in the scrubs, wraps, and massages. This includes coconut, cucumber, sesame, and honey all from local areas. The Adam Eve Spa experience includes a floral bath under the stars and a three-course dinner by the spa’s plunge pool. Your privacy is assured.
Personal Yoga Instruction
There are a growing number of guesthouses, hotels and retreats offering Yoga now in Sri Lanka. However, some of our clients prefer private tuition and Red Dot is happy to organize this. The easiest area to do this is around Galle but private yoga teachers can also be employed in Bentota and Tangalle. We do not charge for this service and you would need to pay your Yoga teacher direct.
Kottawa Rainforest & Arboretum
Situated northeast of Galle, this 14 hectare rainforest arboretum which is a section of the larger Kottawa - Kombala Forest Reserve, is ideal for bird watching and learning about biodiversity conservation. Over 70 species of birds including 12 endemics such as the Yellow breasted Barbet and Grey Hornbill have been spotted here. The Arboretum is also home to numerous species of butterflies, the Purple-faced Leaf Monkey, Toque Monkey and Giant Squirrels. There are over 170 varieties of tropical foliage here of which about 100 species are endemic to Sri Lanka. A main pathway running through the arboretum, sign posts and benches to rest makes this patch of rainforest suitable even for families with children to explore. There is an information centre and plant nursery on Udugama Road.
Koggala Lake and the islands
Koggala Lake scattered with 16 small islands, is a peaceful setting where rural life unfolds and nature reigns supreme. Fish eagles to monitor lizards share this habitat along with generations of villagers with a rich southern heritage. Some of the more interesting islands on Koggala Lake include Fish Eagle Island where hundreds Eagles come to nest at dusk; Madolduwa – steeped in folklore, has remains of the home of late Martin Wickramasinghe, one of Sri Lanka’s famous Sinhala authors; and Cinnamon Island where four village families do processing of cinnamon into essential oils. Boating, kayaking, canoeing in a traditional 'oru' and fishing and trolling on the lake are possible.
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