Judith Baker journeys to Sri Lanka to discover the island nation’s hidden gems...

Sri Lanka is firmly back on the tourist radar and anyone visiting in 2023 will encounter not only the country’s amazing cultural and historic sites, beaches and wildlife but also a wealth of fabulous new hotels, previously unexplored hiking trails and eco experiences.

Read More: nhow London: 'I Stayed At One Of London's Wackiest Hotels & Left Surprised'

In Sri Lanka’s bustling energetic capital, life is getting back to normal after a wave of disruption and the tourists are trickling back. 

There is no indication of shortages or queues for fuel that were highlighted in the media.

On the contrary, fashionable shops and spas such as Aroma Bliss are full of indulgent products, and smart coffee shops and bars are packed with visitors and locals alike.

The Resident: Pekoe Trail, Sri LankaPekoe Trail, Sri Lanka (Image: Supplied, Judith Baker)

Certainly, there is no shortage of high spirits as Drunken Lankan (also known as Ash Holi, a Sri Lankan mixologist who has honed his skills in Shoreditch and who now makes cocktails with a twist) gets to grips with a Pineapple Express. 

He is shaking his stuff in the fashionable Park Mews quarter of the city, introducing a group of visitors to cocktails which only use local spirits. 

I toast the country’s newfound optimism and head off to explore the city’s less visited corners in a Forgotten Colombo retro jeep which takes me on a whistle-stop tour spotting old colonial buildings, lighthouses and temples culminating in delicious street food in food street Aluthkade.


Colombo has a number of stately grand hotels including the lovely Galle Face Hotel, but there are new boutique hotels such as Zylan Luxury Villa with lovely airy rooms and a rooftop bar and pool. Just a short hop from the city centre in an elegant residential area it oozes calm and tranquillity.

The Resident: Galle Fort, Sri LankaGalle Fort, Sri Lanka (Image: Galle Forte)


Galle UNESCO site Galle Fort with its cobbled walkways was built first in 1588 by the Portuguese, and then extensively fortified by the Dutch during the 17th century.

As well as its archaeological sites it is as home to some exclusive shops, galleries and bars. 

I explored the fort using a new audio App, My Balamu, which tells interesting stories behind the atmospheric site at various stops along the route.


Newly opened Tabula Rasa Resort is a short drive from the beach at Galle. It has 24 rooms, some of them individual bungalows in a village like setting. There are monkeys and wild peacocks. My room had its own plunge pool with views over lush countryside down to the sea and there is a Sky Bar terrace for sundowners and to see the stars.


Next year will see the opening of the 185 mile Pekoe Trail, and the first of 22 stages is already complete.

Pekoe’s official trailhead is at Kandy but there are many entry and exit points across dramatic countryside, villages and towns.

We pass through trails originally used to transport tea while spotting beautiful birds, wildlife and people working in the paddy fields.

The Resident: Villa Kumbak, Kalundewa RetreatVilla Kumbak, Kalundewa Retreat (Image: Kalundewa Retreat)


The next day I am waking up in what feels like a magical forest to the sounds of nature - a flowing lake, rustling trees and birds chirping amid a paddy field.

I am staying in the heart of Sri Lanka's cultural triangle at Kalundewa Retreat, a 100 acre paradise.

It is a unique place to stay with distinctive rooms named after the trees in the property such as Ehela, Nika, Damunu, Bakmee & Kumbuk, each with floor to ceiling glass walls designed by award-winning architect Sarah Liyanage.

The Resident: Kalundewa RetreatKalundewa Retreat (Image: Kalundewa Retreat)

I am told that celebrities including Tine Tempah have stayed here for the peace and isolation of the setting, but for me the real stars are a family of monkeys which parade in front of my room and a water monitor that fixes me with his dinosaur stare as he makes his way across the lake to my window.

Dinner is served beneath the stars in the sustainable resort’s Tree House restaurant with the breeze floating through and the sounds of cicadas, monkeys and frogs make the soundtrack for the evening.

For more information visit secretsofceylon.co.uk or SriLanka.travel

Read More:

Sommerro House: 'Like walking into the film set for a period Agatha Christie movie'

The Lodge: Richard Branson's Luxurious Alpine Bolthole

Escape London: Go Leaf Peeping & Northern Lights Gazing in Finnish Lapland