Sri Lanka - Getting to know Galle
The commanding fortified city of Galle is one of Sri Lanka’s seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and often tops many a visitor's ‘travel wish list’. Old Galle and its 17th century fort are delightful, whether you spend a little time enjoying their heritage and culture, or use one of the boutique guesthouses or hotels as a base whilst exploring Sri Lanka’s south coast.
Galle’s place on the old trade routes led to Sri Lanka booming on exports of spices, gems and, later, tea, and you can still lose yourself for days just wandering the small antique stalls and spice shops, hunting for bargains and treasure, visiting museums, and enjoying excellent local cuisine in the many street side cafes. The town has many great dining options, but we especially love the Old Dutch Hospital, one of the oldest buildings in the area and buzzing with bars and upscale eateries, many of which are side-shoots of Colombo’s best restaurants.
Originally built by the Portuguese, Galle fort was also inhabited by the Dutch and English, during their respective Colonial eras. Its popularity then was due to its strategic position in the middle of a wealthy trade route between Europe and the Far East.
These days, people come for the beautiful, elegant jumble of architectural styles and meandering streets, a legacy of so much Colonial influence - and to catch a spot of cricket! The sport is a Sri Lankan obsession, and Galle International Cricket Stadium is a picturesque test match venue.
Getting off the trail
- Whale watching opportunities are rich in Sri Lanka, especially around Galle - blue whales migrate all the way from the Antarctic each year to breed in the island’s warm coastal waters, where you can see them alongside other smaller whale species and dolphins between Nov-Apr. Boats depart regularly from Mirissa, operated by ex-fishermen who know the waters well.
- The Paddy Island is not an island, but a serene private property surrounded by a sea of rice paddies, in Yatagala, outside Galle. Its excellent cookery class begins with a guided walk through local produce and spice markets, with an introduction to the unfamiliar ingredients you’ll use as you learn to prepare traditional Sinhalese curries with the help of expert chefs. Afternoon tea is also available, and you can stay overnight.
- If you won’t have time to visit Tea Country, the Handunugoda Tea Estate is a worthy substitute. This 200 acre estate outside Galle produces traditional black tea, as well as world-renowned white tea. Its tour includes a talk on Sri Lanka’s tea culture, a tea tasting session, and tea and cake in the plantation bungalow.
- Twelve miles north-east of Galle lies the Kottawa Reserve Forest, a small protected patch of lowland rainforest containing a sizeable population of birds, mammals and butterflies.
- The region is also blessed with many gorgeous beaches to relax on.
What to do in Galle
- Perhaps on first impression a bit of a cliché - certainly every guidebook on Galle will suggest it - but a morning or evening stroll around the fort's ramparts really highlights any stay here, and offers a perfect opportunity to chat with the many locals who are doing the same.
- If your visit coincides with a cricket match – and you can find any space – then you can look straight down on to Galle International Cricket Stadium from the northern section of the ramparts. To guarantee prime viewing, of course, you can always buy tickets for the match!
Sri Lanka exported cinnamon as early as 1400 BC, probably via Galle
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Green turtles nest all year at Kosgoda, about an hour’s drive northwest from Galle, and at Rekawa, which is just under two hours drive to the east. Loggerheads have been seen in both these locations, while Leatherbacks and Hawksbill turtles are most likely spotted near Bentota. Olive Ridleys can be seen all along the Sri Lanka’s south coast.