Girl Travels World – Top Five Places to Visit in 2018

 

It’s that inevitable time of the year when we are collectively encouraged to reminisce on the last 12 months of our lives. Personally, I’ve always preferred to look ahead. I must however, take a moment to be grateful for an incredible year of growth for Girl Travels World. Visitor numbers to the blog increased 345% (year to date) and number of views increased by almost 300% for the same period. I was fortunate to travel to fascinating destinations and bring forth captivating stories and images which hopefully played a small part in inspiring you all to travel more. Girl Travels World social media channels (namely Instagram and Facebook) also reflected the immense growth of the blog and now have a collective following of almost 25,000. For all of this I am grateful.

Furthermore, I’ve had the opportunity to form inspiring partnerships with worldwide destinations, luxury brands and work alongside exceptional PR companies, travel writers, bloggers and journalists. 2017 also brought me the good fortune of becoming a contributing writer for award-winning TikiChris.com and Seen in the City magazines. (Thank you to my editors Chris Osburn and Natasha Colyer for taking a chance on an inexperienced writer with a gigantic dream). All of this drove me to work as hard as I could to create the best content for my audience and brands I work with. As a result my rewards were plentiful and I am grateful.

2018 promises to be even bigger and better for Girl Travels World. With several key collaborations, travel documentaries and food related ventures all in the pipeline it is exciting to look ahead. To show my gratitude for the support I’ve received in the past year I’ve rounded up my top five (short-haul) destinations which I think you will all love. I’ve been to all of these places. They made the list because they are currently vastly underrated and I believe they will trend in 2018.

Happy travelling wanderlusters! Thank you for everything.

1. Lake District, UK

Lake-District-Conde-Nast-Traveller-26Sept13-Alamy_b
Image – Conde Naste Traveller

2017 was the year that England’s largest national park was at long last declared a World Heritage Site. Located in the county of Cumbria it is home to Scafell Pike – the highest peak in England (YES, I’ve climbed it) and you guessed it…lakes. It’s the epitome of the picturesque green and pleasant land. Long hikes  through the park are highly recommended as is summiting Scafell Pike. You will need the help of a local guide to appreciate its wilderness and enjoy the astounding beauty of its caves, caverns and waterfalls.

herdwicks-at-tilberthwaite-john-hodgson
Image – Evening Standard

There are luxury cottages, local inns, log cabins, hostels and  bunk houses to stay in which are dotted around the surrounding area of the park. It’s a five-hour drive to The Lakes from London which means you can make it a road trip to remember.

2. Madrid, Spain

IMG_5527

This year I realised that Spain as a country needs a revisit. It’s a destination that Brits in particular take for granted. The number one city which needs an urgent revisit is Madrid. It is the home of Spain’s bloodiest battle during the civil war and is bursting at the seams with history. Landmarks and monuments for victorious heroes as well as fallen ones are dotted throughout the city and makes for remarkable walking tours.

IMG_4864

It must also be said that Madrid’s food resurgence is nothing short of incredible. It’s no easy feat to cling to your roots while moving forward in the name of change and modernity. But this city appears to have done it. From traditional tapas restaurants which have seen little change since the 19th century to Michelin starred gourmet restaurants the city now boasts it all. In under just 3 hours’ flight time from London you could be sipping a traditional chicken broth at the world’s oldest restaurant while picking on black label ham. Stay in five-star hotels or cool private rentals but remember to look at Madrid with new eyes.

3. Tallinn, Estonia

IMG_1591 2.JPG

This Baltic capital which is home to a Unesco World Heritage Site (The Old City) is beginning to make a name for its cuisine. Tallinn is seeing a generation of young chefs reviving its restaurants by adding new twists to traditional food. With a focus on local, seasonal produce delivered directly from farms there is a quiet food revolution in Tallinn. The city hosts Restaurants Week, twice a year, to promote the variety of food available. It’s a great time to visit if you want to sample the best of what’s on offer.

IMG_0501

The plot twist here is that this harbour town held the sailing event of  the Summer Olympic Games hosted in Moscow in 1980. V. I. Lenin Palace of Culture and Sport was purpose-built with facilities in preparation for the Olympics. The brutal grey structure, now eerie, abandoned and covered in graffiti stands as a cold reminder of a not so distant past. The building was renamed Linnahall and is currently under the city council’s authority awaiting renovation and construction. Go see this part of human history before it’s changed forever.

4. Tel Aviv, Israel

IMG_8882

Travel broadens our horizons and bring our focus back to the things which unite humanity rather than divide us. This is the lesson I learnt in Tel Aviv. I was grounded here for two days due to bad weather in London which gave me the perfect opportunity to do what I do best – explore. Tel Aviv’s promenade runs along the Mediterranean seashore and is a place for walking, jogging and generally showing off your physical prowess/perfection. All through the day joggers, yogis and sporty types practice their craft in full view of passers-by. At night, parts of the beach are floodlit for beach volleyball games.

IMG_1249

In the heart of the city approximately 15 minutes’ walk from the promenade is Carmel Market which caters to all your street food needs and funny slogan tees. Running parallel is Nahalat Binyamin Craft Market where you can browse for ceramics, jewellery and fascinating pieces of art along a long leafy street. Under six hours’ flying time from London and all of this awaits you.

5. Nimes, France

IMG_4710

Nimes is possibly the most underrated of all the cities on this list. It sits along the Cote d’Azure and enjoys hot summers and mild winters. It was an important city in the Roman Empire and the evidence is everywhere. A magnificent amphitheatre, Arena of Nimes, which dates back to AD 70 dominates the centre of  town. Maison-Carrée, a 2000 year old temple, is one of the best preserved Roman buildings in the world and sits alongside modern museums, coffee shops and galleries.

IMG_4675

Pradier Fountain (pictured above) greets visitors arriving by train and has been the centre-piece of the  urban garden Esplanade since 1845. What is baffling about this little town is that with such perfectly preserved Roman buildings it’s yet to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. An application is due to be presented in the summer of 2018 and in my humble opinion I see no reason why it would be unsuccessful. Also, did I mention…Musée du Vieux Nîmes (free entrance) has a room devoted to Nime’s most famous export – it’s where denim was born. Go see this marvel of a town before the crowds get there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

La Francesca Resort – Italy’s rose by the sea

Whilst I’m no expert I know certain things to be true of Italy. Firstly that one will eat the most incredible food. You will eat the best pasta, ragu, ham, ice cream and you will sure as hell drink the best coffee. Italians, much like the French, don’t do bad food. Secondly, it will be sunny no matter which time of the year you visit. Even during winter months Italians enjoy clear blue skies which means there is eternal sunshine. Thirdly, everyone will be straight forward. If you ask for a pizza in a farm house they will simply direct you out of the door to a pizzeria.With all this in mind I decided to visit a lesser-trodden part this summer; a place where Italians themselves like to spend their holidays. I visited La Francesca Resort in Liguria set amidst one of the most astonishing coastlines in the world. Read on to see why I called it Italy’s rose by the sea.

La Francesca Resort

IMG_3151-2
IMG_3192

La Francesca Resort is approximately seven miles from the UNESCO heritage site of Cinque Terre. I flew to Genova airport and took a train along the dazzling coast all the way to the village of Levanto (population 5,500). From here the only way to the resort is by pre-booked taxis of La Francesca Resort’s nominated drivers.

The taxi driver went up the mountains expertly manoeuvring the car along hair pin curves. Cliff after steep cliff appeared, disappeared and reappeared all the way until we arrived at the resort some 20 minutes later. The first thing I noticed, as I climbed out of the car, is that the trees here are tall. The second thing was that the sky is a shade of blue which I’m convinced is reserved only for the sky above Italy.

La Francesca Resort occupies a natural woodland of 15 hectares on a hillside. 55 self-serviced cottages set in to the cliff makes up this incredible place. Evergreens dominate the forest. I look up and I’m grateful for their canopy providing relief from the unforgiving sun. This is in October. The green and brown of the trees are broken in places with deliberately bright bougainvillea. I imagine they must be even more conspicuous at the height of summer.

Gloria

IMG_8667

The resort is independently owned. An extract from the sale and purchase agreement of the land signed in 1957 reads (translated from Italian), ... Site named la Francesca, rocky, uncultivated and loose soil completely neglected, with rare pine trees and twigs, since the woods were destroyed during the war...

Gloria Bortolotti De Poli, a poet, journalist and writer purchased the land with the intention of creating a commercial rose garden. However, with no drinking water, electricity, telephone or a road to transport flowers the project became increasingly challenging. In 1958 a road to the land was built through the villages and Gloria breathed life into a new idea. Amidst apprehension from the local villagers and onlookers, she set about unwittingly creating one of Italy’s first eco tourist resorts. It would take the tourism industry another 60 years before it caught up with the idea.

Gloria began the construction of 34 small cottages set in to the slope without harming the unique bio diversity of the coast. In the summer of 1961 La Francesca Resort was completed. To those who questioned her motive as a poet and writer building a holiday resort Gloria replied, “because I want to build a house in the middle of the woods for those who need to find themselves; the same love and sensitivity went into creating La Francesca as for a beautiful poem”.

Cottages by the sea

IMG_8269

There is an obvious 1960s aura to La Francesca Resort. It’s in the architecture, the furniture and decorCandy stripe awnings sit over every balcony. The buildings are painted in shades of terracotta and mustard with contrasting deep green windows framing everything you see out of them. La Francesca Resort is a perfect balance of wilderness and tranquility. A haven for those who find strength in silence and solitude if they so wish.

As I already mentioned there are 55 cottages now. Each offers undisturbed and more importantly unique views over the cliff; no two cottages are the set same. Inside there is a bedroom, bathroom, living space and kitchen. After dinner I sat in the balcony listening to the stillness. Music from a nearby cottage drifted over. There was a family sat in their balcony too with a person strumming a guitar and others singing a familiar song. It’s that kind of place; no distractions except for the quiet murmur of crickets.

The Ligurian Sea Sanctuary

IMG_3175-2

Early next morning I walked to the beach. Narrow steps lead down to three rocky coves. The sea shimmered like polished glass as far as I could see reminding me that the beauty we attach to far-flung places can be found right under our noses. Layer upon layer of sea grass in shades of green and yellow spread across the sea bed. I later learned that this provides a safe place for fish to lay eggs as dolphins and whales pass. This part of the ocean, within the boundary of La Francesca Resort (but not owned by it), is part of the Ligurian Sea Cetacean Sanctuary. It’s a Marine Protected Area covering the Mediterranean seas of France, Italy, and Monaco.

Mini Market

IMG_8668 (1)

The quaint mini market on the resort is a throwback to its early days. It’s a low building with clay walls and friendly staff. The store sells everything you’d need for a short break. There’s bread, cheese, pasta, wine and fresh fruit: locally produced or sourced. Once inside the resort this is the only place to buy essentials unless you bring your own supplies.

Cafe

IMG_7695

A cafe attached to the mini market sits adjacent to the resort’s tennis courts. Outdoor seating set on chequered tiles amongst the tall pine trees gives the space a wonderful feeling of magic. I could think of worse places to sip my coffee. If you travel with children the soft play area is within your eyesight from here which makes for a rather convenient coffee break.

Tennis Courts

IMG_8296

Two tennis courts sit on a slightly elevated level in the woods. They are surrounded by pine trees with the sea on one side glistening against the sky. If you stop the game to stare at it you’d be forgiven. Rackets and balls are provided but you may also bring your own. During high season the courts will need to be booked in advance during check-in. Other times when they are empty you will need to collect the keys kept at the reception.

Pool

IMG_3219-2

Of the two pools on the resort the main sits where Gloria initially dug a lake for watering the roses. The second is lower downhill towards the beach. Both were closed closed during my visit so I could only imagine dipping into the cool water in sweltering heat.

The upper pool is complete with deck chairs, snack bar and a children’s pool. The lower pool set with views of the sea is for the more adventurous. It has hammocks for relaxing and also a snack bar.

Restaurant

IMG_8418

The restaurant too was closed in October. I was unable to sample any of the cuisine. However, it was not difficult to appreciate the enthralling  terrace commanding a picture perfect view of Liguria.With both indoor and outdoor seating and the best Ligurian cuisine you can imagine I aim to return and sample the menu. So stay tuned.

Two things you must add to your Ligurian itinerary

Hiking

IMG_3188
IMG_3181

If you do only one thing: hike. The trails are perfect and picturesque. The scenery is astounding. This stretch of coast has allegedly remained unchanged since 1722. I walked through quaint medieval villages paved with cobblestone, train tunnels which are no longer in use but connect one village to another and olive groves with their tiny leaves shimmying in the sea breeze.

You could hike east or west of the resort and arrive at almost identical villages. Levanto sits to the east. It is an old port with a maritime history. The train service from here will take you to Cinque Terre within five minutes. If you’re hiking in high season I suggest the obvious: sunscreen, hat and plenty of water. I did this in October when the weather was much milder and was still sunburnt at the end of the hike. I had no special footwear. The hike isn’t particularly difficult. My trainers did the job.

Bonassola

IMG_8468 (1)
IMG_8652

Bonassola, so sweet, unforgettable, inexahustible. Ernest Hemingway

West of La Francesca Resort sits Bonassola: a sleepy hamlet between the mountains and the sea. I got here through an old railway tunnel used by villagers. Only 962 people live here. Mass tourism hasn’t touched it’s shores mainly because there’s little to do. Also, most visitors come to nearby and far more famous Cinque Terre. What you will experience is an immersion in authentic everyday Italy. You’ll hear very little English, see old ladies hanging washing over balconies and children running around freely. It’s the Italy romanticised by old Hollywood. It still exists. If you’re willing to travel.

IMG_9614
IMG_8559 (1)

The black sand beach in Bonassola is a place used by local families for sunbathing, teenagers for cliff jumping and old people for sitting in the sun enjoying card games and dominoes. I saw no other tourists. If you are visiting Cinque Terre and need a little respite from the crowds I suggest Bonassola. There’s a boat service connecting the village from Cinque Terre which goes all the way to Portofino.

At a time when Italy’s big cities are struggling to cope with the unmanageable inflow of tourists the key is not to avoid the country altogether but to discover other places. La Francesca Resort and these coastal villages does just that. They are for those who like their travel slow. Count me in.

For more information visit: lafrancescaresort.it This article has been updated with the latest prices for 2019. Costs start from £110 per night for a one bedroom self-service cottage with kitchen, living area, bathroom and balcony. There is free parking for the duration of your stay if you travel by car.

La Francesca – A Rose by the Sea

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet; (William Shakespear)

Italy has always had a special place in my heart. My first time there was to Milan. I did the regular tourist thing and visited the Duomo and queued up to see Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper. Since then I’ve visited Florence, Chianti, Bologna, Verona and have even been fortunate enough to roam the hills of Tuscany, pick my own olives and press my own olive oil.

I can say three things for certain about Italy – 1) You will eat the most incredible food. Not in fancy restaurants serving gourmet food cooked by top notch chefs. I’m talking run of the mill, regular food. You will eat the best pasta, the best ragu, the best ham, the best tomatoes, the best ice cream and you will sure as hell drink the best coffee. You see Italians, much like the French, don’t do bad food. They are more likely to spit it out than allow terrible food to violate their tastebuds. 2) It will be sunny. Even during winter months Italians enjoy clear blue skies which means there is eternal sunshine. If you happen to be there in the summer, well, it will be VERY hot. Hence why the entire month of August is a holiday and doing very little in August is scheduled in to everyone’s calendar. 3) People will be straight forward. If you ask for a pizza in a farm house they will kindly ask that you leave and look for a pizzeria. If you ask for an Americano Italians will think you are crazy and bring you an espresso to calm your nerves.

Now I’m no expert but I promise you these three things will be true pretty much anywhere you go. So with this in mind, I decided to visit a lesser trodden part of Italy at the end of this summer. A place where Italians themselves like to spend their holidays. I visited Resort La Francesca in Liguria which is set amidst one of the most astonishing coastlines in the world. This part of Italy is no longer the undiscovered heaven it once was but, honestly, it’s Italy. So, who cares?

La Francesca

IMG_3151-2

IMG_3192

Resort La Francesca is approximately seven miles from the UNESCO heritage site of Cinque Terre. I flew to Genova airport and took a train along the dazzling coast all the way to the village of Levanto (population 5,500). From here the only way to the resort is by pre-booked taxis of La Francesca’s nominated drivers.

My taxi driver went up the mountains expertly manoeuvring the car along hair pin curves. Cliff after steep cliff appeared then reappeared all the way until we arrived at the resort some 20 minutes later. The first thing I noticed, as I climbed out of the car, is that the trees here are tall. The second thing was that the sky is a shade of blue which I’m convinced is reserved only for the sky above Italy.

La Francesca’s occupies a natural woodland of 15 hectares on a hillside. Evergreens dominate the forest. I look up and I’m grateful for their canopy providing me a little relief from the unforgiving sun. This is in October. The green and brown of the trees are broken in places with deliberately bright bougainvillae. I imagine they must be even more conspicuous at the height of summer.

Gloria

IMG_8667

La Francesca is independently owned. An extract from the sale and purchase agreement of the land signed in 1957 reads (translated from Italian): “... Site named la Francesca, rocky, uncultivated and loose soil completely neglected, with rare pine trees and twigs, since the woods were destroyed during the war…».

Gloria Bortolotti De Poli, a poet, journalist and writer purchased the land with the intention of creating a commercial rose garden. However, with no drinking water, electricity, telephone or a road to transport flowers the project became increasingly challenging. The nearest drinking water source was a few miles away in the hamlet of Scernio and Gloria regularly carried water for herself and her family in a cloth bag.

In 1958, at long last, a road to the land was built through the villages and Gloria breathed life into a new idea. Amidst apprehension from the local villagers and onlookers, she set about unwittingly creating one of Italy’s first eco tourist resorts. (It would take the tourism industry another 60 years before it caught up with the idea).
She began the construction of 34 small cottages set in to the slope without harming the unique bio diversity and profile of this strip of the wild Ligurian coast. In the summer of 1961 La Francesca resort was completed and Gloria’s ambitious project turned in to reality. To those who questioned her motive, as a poet and writer, building a holiday resort she replied: because I want to build a house in the middle of the woods for those who need to find themselves; the same love and sensitivity went into creating La Francesca as for a beautiful poem.
This remains true six decades later. True to its founder’s vision this is a perfect offering of wilderness and tranquility. The place is a haven for those who find strength in silence and solitude if they so wish. Today, La Francesca is managed and run by Gloria’s son Marco (pictured far left in the featured image) and continues to prosper in his hands.

Cottages by the Sea

IMG_8269

Thanks to its beginnings there is an obvious 1960s aura to La Francesca. It’s in the architecture, the furniture and decorCandy stripe awnings sit over every balcony. The buildings are painted in shades of terracotta and mustard with contrasting deep green windows framing everything you see out of them.

There are 55 cottages now and each offers undisturbed views over the cliff. Inside each cottage there is a bedroom, bathroom, living space and kitchen. After dinner as I sat in the balcony listening to the stillness. Music from a nearby cottage drifted over. There was a family sat in their balcony with one person strumming a guitar and others singing a familiar song. It’s that kind of place – a place where there are no distractions except for the quiet murmur of crickets.

The Ligurian Sea Sanctuary

IMG_3175-2

The next morning I walked down the slope from my cottage to the beach. Narrow steps lead down to three rocky coves and the sea shimmered like glass as far as I could see. There was layer upon layer of sea grass (posidonia oceanica) spread across the sea bed. Naturally this provides a safe place for fish to lay eggs and for dolphins and whales to pass. I was informed that this area of the ocean within the boundary of La Francesca (but not owned by it) is part of the Ligurian Sea Cetacean Sanctuary – A Marine Protected Area covering the Mediterranean seas of France, Italy, and Monaco.

Facilities

Mini Market

IMG_8668 (1)

The quaint mini market on the resort is an evident throwback to its early days and provides everything you’d need for a short break. There’s bread, cheese, wine and fruit amongst other things. Everything here is locally produced or sourced. So you’d be missing out on little by buying basics inside the resort.

Cafe

IMG_7695

There is also a cafe attached to the mini market. It’s adjacent to the tennis courts with outdoor seating amongst the trees – a great place to sip a cup of coffee while you watch a game.

Tennis Courts

IMG_8296

Two tennis courts sit on a slightly elevated level in the woods. They are surrounded by pine trees with the sea on one side glistening against your eye line. If you stop the game to stare at it you’d would be forgiven.

Pool

IMG_3219-2

There are two pools on the resort. The main pool sits where Gloria initially dug a lake for watering the roses. The second is lower down the hill towards the beach. Both were closed closed during my visit so I could only imagine dipping into the cool water in sweltering heat.

Restaurant

IMG_8418

The restaurant was also closed out of season and I was unable to sample any of the cuisine. However, it was not difficult to appreciate the enthralling  terrace commanding a picture perfect landscape of Liguria.

Two Things you Must do Around Resort La Francesca

Hiking

IMG_3188IMG_3181

The natural trails are made for relaxed walks and the scenery is astounding. This stretch of coast has allegedly remained unchanged since 1722. I walked through quaint medieval villages paved with cobblestone, train tunnels which are no longer in use but connect one village to another and olive groves with their tiny leaves shimmying in the sea breeze.

You could hike east or west of the resort and arrive at identical picturesque villages. The village of Levanto sits to the east. It is an old port with a maritime history. The train service from here will take you to Cinque Terre within five minutes.

Visit Bonassola

IMG_8468 (1)

IMG_8652

Bonassola, so sweet, unforgettable, inexahustible. (Ernest Hemingway)

I hiked west of La Francesca and arrived at the nearby village of Bonassola through an old railway tunnel. It’s a sleepy seaside village wedged between mountains and the sea with a population of just 962 people. Mass tourism hasn’t arrived here yet mainly because there’s little to do. Also, most tourists come to visit nearby Cinque Terre. So what you get as a result is an immersion in to authentic Italy. You will hear lots of Italian, see old ladies hanging washing over balconies and there will be families and children running around freely.

IMG_9614

IMG_8559 (1)

The black sand beach in Bonassola is a place used by local families for sunbathing, teenagers for cliff jumping and old people for sitting in the sun enjoying card games and dominoes. I saw no tourists here except me. So if you are visiting Cinque Terre and need a little respite I suggest a visit to Bonassola. If you don’t fancy hiking in the heat of high season there’s a boat service connecting the village from Cinque Terre and it goes all the way to Portofino. So, now you have every good reason to visit.

 

 

Resort La Francesca is located at Località La Francesca, 19011 Bonassola SP. You can find more information at lafrancescaresort.it

 

 

 

 

Kandy, rediscovered.

“And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.” T.S. Eliot

Kandy is one of Sri Lanka’s heritage cities located in the Central Province. The city lies on an elevated plateau which is surrounded by hills and tea plantations. The air here is cooler than the rest of the island. Kandy was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988 and is home to one of the most important places of worship in the Buddhist world – The Temple of the Tooth relic. Kandy lake and the decorative wall which surround it are as famous as the temple itself.

A childhood spent in Sri Lanka means I have visited Kandy on numerous occasions. We mainly visited the Temple of the Tooth. For the most part it was a quick stop on our way elsewhere. As such, I had never really explored or experienced Kandy outside of the Temple. All I knew of this city I had learned through my grandmother and her fantastic bed time tales of legendary kings and kingdoms past.

Kandy Railway

Processed with VSCO with c6 preset
Podi Menike chugging up the misty hills of “up country”.

So, with high hopes and nostalgia I arrived in Kandy. The 5.55am train Podi Menike from Colombo brought me to Kandy through sleepy villages and winding hillsides. We stopped briefly in the small towns of Gampaha, Peradeniya and Kadugannawa. As we ascended to higher ground Podi Menike chugged along slower and slower up the hills. This is a wonderfully scenic journey not to be missed. Each time the train stopped I was treated to quaint colonial train stations where time had changed nothing, not even the chairs.

Kandy Railway Station was no different. It’s a hive of activity; platforms are abuzz with people going about their daily lives alongside travellers on their way out or arriving with excitement. Outside, rows of local tuk tuk drivers wait eagerly to take you to your destination. My journey from the station to my hotel Ozo, Kandy was a mere 5 minutes and cost just Rs.300 (£1.65 approximately).

Ozo, Kandy

I arrived at Ozo to a warm Kandyan welcome. My room was ready and the check in was quick even though I had arrived almost three hours earlier than scheduled. They staff at Ozo are mostly Kandyans which means you have access to great local knowledge. They were all eager to help when I explained that I had visited the Temple of the Tooth several times and did not plan on visiting again. I had several alternative places suggested before I finished my welcome drink.

Freshened up and changed I walked up to Bommu Bar and Lounge on the rooftop. When you get here, order yourself a cold lemon juice while you take in the spectacular views of the hillside which include the Knuckles mountain range. I felt the weariness of my early start fall away as I exhaled and synchronised with the nature surrounding me. Similarly, the attached pool was an oasis of tranquility. The deep blue tiles against the lush greenery of the hills offered a harmonious mix of nature and luxury – a fine balance perfectly achieved. A graffiti mural by Parisian street artist, Marko 93, sets a dramatic backdrop against the pool bringing this ancient city to a whole new generation of modern day travellers.

fullsizerender-2
Beautifully presented Hummus starters.

Processed with VSCO with a10 preset
Colourful chicken mains.

I finished every day of my stay back at Ozo to nap, refresh and sample it’s famed  dinner. I was spoilt for choice between traditional Sri Lankan cuisine. Miniature starters were beautifully presented. Mains were a range of vegetarian and meat dishes. Vegetables and salads were seasonal and colourful.  Deserts were either mini sweet delights or an array of bright and juicy tropical fruit. Nothing had been spared and the attention to detail was not lost on me. Needless to say all of it was simply delicious.

Bommu Bar

img_2174
Bommu Bar & Lounge by night.

After dinner each evening I headed back up to Bommu which transforms into a pulsating venue after dark. Each night I stayed up far later than I intended to enjoying the cool mountain air and smoking shisha under the stars.

The Room

My bed was cosy because Kandyan air is pretty crisp at night. I had soft down pillows and crips white sheets – essentials for a restful night. Sri Lankans are early risers in general and each morning I woke up earlier than usual, refreshed and rested to stunning views of the hillside.

The Eat2Go restaurant here turned out the most incredible breakfasts. A buffet style offering ranged from traditional Sri Lankan favourites such as hoppers and lunu miris to continental breakfasts of croissants and waffles were a feast to behold. My heart skipped a beat as I watched the chef whip up the most welcoming breakfast of all – A perfect English breakfast in the Kandyan hills. Now that’s luxury!

I spent two nights here and planned to explore the path less travelled. If you visit Kandy for first time Temple of the Tooth is a must see. The Royal Botanical Gardens in Peradeniya 5km west of Kandy is another. Visit both – you have not seen Kandy if you haven’t experienced these two places.

Udawatta Kele Sanctuary

My first stop was Udawatta Kele Sanctuary which is a protected forest. At 257 Acres it covers a larger area than the gardens at Peradeniya. I gave myself 3 hours, wore hiking boots and carried water. Snacks are not a great idea as littering is not encouraged and also because the forest is home to Torque Macaque (monkeys) – notorious snatchers!

There are nocturnal mammals here including the slender loris. Flying squirrels, Vampire bats, mongoose and many species of birds and snakes inhabit the forest but don’t expect to see them all. It is said that Udawatta Kele was used as a pleasure garden by Kandyan kings and the pond at the entrance was used for bathing. There is also religious importance here – three Buddhist meditation hermitages and rock shelter dwellings for monks are also in the forest. As such this protected area is an amazing hike encompassing all that this heritage city has to offer.

The map I was given at the entrance with my ticket was vague and basic. I found it difficult to follow and used my instincts and sense of direction to find my way around. It’s also humid inside the forest so plan your time before you enter it.

Disclaimer: This is a forest and animals, though accustomed to people, are still wild. There is no emergency call system. Please exercise good judgement and common sense when visiting. Animals should not be approached and flash photography may alarm them. (There is a fee of Rs. 660 (Approximately £3.70) to enter). 

Kandy Garrison Cemetery

Processed with VSCO with c2 preset
Sign leading to Kandy Garrison Cemetery.

My second stop of the day was a more pensive visit to the Kandy Garrison Cemetery also known as the British Garrison Cemetery. Established when the British captured Kandy in 1817 it contains graves of 195 British nationals who lived and died in Ceylon (as Sri Lanka was known prior to Independence). The most notable aspect here is that almost all died young of tropical diseases such as cholera and malaria. On most of my previous trips I have stopped here to visit these graves. Although this is not a tourist attraction it still forms a part of Kandy’s heritage. This cemetery exists on the grounds of the Temple of the Tooth and is still maintained by the British but the land maintained by the “Diyawadana Nilame” (chief custodian of the Temple of the Tooth) – a historical balance of power dating back to colonial times.

Kandy Town Centre

My second day plan was to really get to the heart of this town. So I headed to the city center by tuk tuk for a day of walking, sampling street food and general rummaging around. It’s a safe but busy place to walk around but I did find the touts here irritating and dealt with them firmly. There are markets selling vegetables, clothes, lottery tickets and every local product imaginable. For the foodie in me there were bakeries and street food stalls selling a variety of sweet and savoury treats – all of which I tried. (Do exercise caution if you’re unsure of something).

Kandy Lake

The best part of my walk around town was getting close to the lake. Walking is a national pastime in Sri Lanka. Walking around lakes in the shade are even more popular. Kandy lake is a good place to get close to Kandyans. You will find families feeding ducks after visiting the Temple. Street food vendors here cater to all your culinary needs. The last Sinhalese king created the lake in 1807 beside the Temple of the Tooth and decorated the lake with the walakulu (clouds) wall. He couldn’t have known that it’s simple charm would stand as a focal and meeting point centuries later.

All in all this time round, I felt that I had rediscovered the Kandy of my childhood. It certainly has a great deal to offer the most ardent traveller. I found everything I wanted to experience in one place – history, culture, cuisine and nature. Kandy has restored itself to the bustling melting pot of it’s heritage. My grandmother would have been proud.

 

 

In collaboration with OZO Kandy Sri Lanka. www.ozohotels.com/kandy-srilanka

Prices start from GBP 64 per night for a Sleep King room, based on two sharing a room (exclusive of VAT and service charge and subject to availability). For stays until 30 June 2017, stay a minimum of 3 consecutive nights at OZO Kandy Sri Lanka and receive 15% off your booking.

Fact check: Wikipedia, Lonely Planet, Wikitravel.