- Sea-stained walls, sandy shores
- Coast life
- Cultured colonial calm
A jaw-dropping fortress crammed with colonial flashbacks is at the heart of cosmopolitan Galle, a fishing town of 100,000 people on Sri Lanka’s sultry south-west coast.
Galle’s history dates back centuries, and this strategic port was once a bustling centre of maritime trade. Today, the fort’s richly preserved, Unesco-listed buildings bear indelible reminders of the European colonialists who built this bastion, and exude an easy calm that’s worlds away from the colourful new town and its market-lined streets. With seductive beaches in reach at Talpe, Dalawella and Unawatuna, it's no surprise Galle tops many travellers must-see lists.
Genuinely GalleBuilt by Dutch colonialists in the 1660s, Galle Fort is a living, breathing museum. Spread over 36 hectares, the World Heritage-listed space has always been a centre for commerce, and today is home to hundreds of houses, temples and hotels, as well as cafes, bars and boutiques fronted by creative locals and savvy expats. The chaotically colourful new town, on the other side of the cricket stadium, is worth a wander for its bustling markets, but at the day’s end, the historic fort will lure you back with the promise of an ice-cool G&T or dinner in a centuries-old hotel.
- Tourists attract tuk tuks like magnets, and they’re in plentiful supply. None are metered, so agree on a fare before you ride; bartering is common and humour works best. Night owls should arrange for tuk tuks to come back and pick them up or risk a lengthy walk home. Book a car with driver for longer trips.
- Tipping culture
- Most restaurants automatically add a 10 per cent charge for service on top of the bill; if they don’t, add it yourself. Tipping bell boys, guides and drivers, although not expected, is appreciated.
- Siesta and fiesta
- Early to bed, early to rise characterises the Sri Lankan tempo, so if you’re out late, there are few people (and even fewer tuk tuks) around. Shop and restaurant opening hours are in cadence with the west, although banks shut by 3pm Monday–Friday. ATMs are plentiful in town.
- Packing tips
- Bikinis and Bermuda shorts for the beach, cover-ups for temples and town (having a sarong handy helps); binoculars for out-to-sea sightings of whales and dolphins.
- Recommended reads
- Around the Fort in 80 Lives by Daisy Perry and Juliet Coombe offers a glimpse of Galle Fort’s fascinatingly diverse residents. A Year in Green Tea and Tuk Tuks by Rory Spowers presents a tongue-in-cheek peep into a pair of eco-loving expats’ travails at setting up home in paradise. Madul Doova by famed Sri Lankan folk-author Martin Wickeramasinhe is a heart-warming read about the escapades of two friends beside the Koggala Lake, 15 minutes south-east of Galle.
- Sri Lanka’s fiery curries play a starring role in restaurant menus, with a supporting cast of grilled seafood, fish and steaks. Marlu ambulthiyal is an intensely spiced fish curry with a distinct sour flavour from goraka, or gamboodge, a fruit belonging to the tamarind family. Woodapple is another weird and wonderful local fruit which, despite appearances (its juice resembles an unappetising brown sludge) is delicious with a sprinkling of palm sugar and a generous squeeze of lime.
- Sri Lankan Rupee (LKR).
- Time zone
- GMT + 5.5.
- Dialling codes
- Country code for Sri Lanka: 94; local code for Galle: (0)91.
- Do go/don't go
- December–April is the most popular time of year for visitors who like their days sunny but not too steamy, and the sea at its most serene. By May, humidity soars, storms intensify and the rain falls in short, sharp bursts until June and again from October–November. Don’t be deterred: the northern summer months falling in-between see plenty of sunshine and this is when Galle’s beaches are at their full-bodied best.
Don't go home without...
... purchasing one of the world’s most expensive teas at Handunugoda Tea Estate, 14 kilometres southeast of Galle. The white tea is plucked by gloved hands and carefully processed on a very small scale, and the current going rate is a gasp-inducing US$1,000 a kilo. Tasting and buying sessions (white tea's sold in affordable five-gram pouches) provide a fitting end to insightful plantation tours (+94 (0)77 771 3999; www.devostea.com).