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An Introduction to Sri Lanka:
Winning the Avis Travel Blogger of the Year award was one of the highlights of last year for me. Apart from the kudos, an £800 travel voucher to spend with British Airways was a fabulous prize. Of course I did have to decide where to go – and my initial planning seemed doomed because either the flights were too expensive or the house move made it difficult to plan. Good karma came in the form of a very welcomed invitation from Cinnamon Hotels to visit Sri Lanka – a destination that also enabled me to stopover briefly in Chennai.
Once I’d spent a few hectic days navigating Chennai, I was both apprehensive and exhausted. I wasn’t sure that I’d cope with what appeared to be a packed schedule taking me from the capital, Colombo, up to the north of Sri Lanka, before travelling back through the spice gardens and tea plantations to reach the South, visiting colonial Galle, the moonstone mines and mangrove swamps. The reality was that although it was busy, I wouldn’t have lost anything from the schedule and the general sense of calm made it easy to do a lot in just a few days. Keeping bite sized pieces of the elephant for my review of the trip, this particular post is just to thank the people at Cinnamon Lodge, Habarana for my stay there. There will be more covering some of the destinations in more detail and reviewing Cinnamon Bey which turned out to be very different to Habarana, though no less appealing.
There is something quite charming about Sri Lanka. While the roads might not be perfect, everything seems a little less frenetic than Tamil Nadu. Tuk Tuks come in black, red and green, often personalised by the drivers with family photos, buddha statues and garlands of flowers. School children all wear the national uniform of cricket white shirt and trousers for boys and box pleated skirt for girls, with matching burgundy ties. Everyone seems to smile a lot. The three hour drive from Colombo to Habarana really didn’t seem too tiring, perhaps helped by a stop at one of the Spice Gardens for lunch, where I particularly enjoyed the banana flower curry.
Cinnamon Lodge, Habarana was everything I’d anticipated. My lodge house looked out over the lake and was beautifully equipped with a vast four-poster bed, a comfortable lounge area and a bathroom with tub and two showers (one with a glass roof). The plan was to take an evening safari trip, but the Rangers advised that there was little point. There had been no rain for months and the dry weather meant that most of the animals had moved away. Instead we went for a short walk around the park looking for monkeys and bats by torch light. There wasn’t really a lot to see and I have to admit to feeling just a little cheated.
I shouldn’t have worried though. The next morning I drew the curtains to troops of monkeys, two different types, chattering, feeding and generally enjoying the sunshine. And, at breakfast I sat looking out over the pool watching the monkeys on the other side playing Tarzan games in the trees. The early start, on the advice of my driver, was so that we could visit Sigiriya.
It is somewhere that deserves a post of its own, a 5th century fortress with frescoes and ancient water gardens.
The advice to start early was easy to understand – at 8am the prospect of climbing over a thousand steps to reach the top was daunting but not impossible. As the temperature rose the likelihood of success diminished and those we met making their way up as we came down were generally finding it much harder.
We returned briefly to the hotel for lunch. The food turned out to be excellent throughout the trip, although I was a little disappointed by the wine list. Lunch is served buffet style and there’s an excellent selection of local and international dishes. Walking back to my lodge, I was just a little concerned at what I thought was the sound of building work. A team of workmen building more lodges was not what I’d anticipated in this tranquil setting. But, as I approached it turned out that repairs to the lodge roofs were being carried out by a troup of monkeys. Each one working the tiles off the roof to uncover the berries from overhanging trees that had dropped down. And, as they did so, throwing the tiles to the ground and chuckling. Even the babies were joining in.
After lunch we visited Polunnaruwa, a medieval city with temples, statues of Buddha and palaces. Again, this is somewhere that warrants a more detailed explanation than there is space for here.
As the skies clouded over and the heavens opened we stopped in the monsoon rains to watch elephants.
Back at the lodge, the devastation wrecked by the monkeys became evident as one poor guest was explaining how her roof was leaking badly. I don’t suppose there’s much you can do to constrain the workings of nature here especially as Cinnamon Lodge, Habarana is known as an Eco resort, with its own organic farm producing most of the fruit and vegetables for the hotel, with nearly 2,000 species of trees and over 130 types of birds, alongside a thriving butterfly garden.
In truth you could come to this part of Sri Lanka and just stay at the resort without needing to travel anywhere. There’s a stunning pool, a discrete spa and plenty of wildlife in the grounds. Food ranges from casual dining through to spectacular fine dining. Do try hoppers for breakfast and lagoon prawns. It’s one of the best places to visit for fresh fruit and vegetables too.
But, it would be a shame to miss seeing a little more of the country, whether your interest is culture, wildlife or beaches. Habarana is a great base to explore northern Sri Lanka and an excellent space to relax and enjoy the warm, sunny weather.
For this part of my trip to Sri Lanka I was a guest of Cinnamon Lodge Habarana