So, you like history – forts, bastions and colonial structures? And cricket too? Oh, you want to spend a weekend by the sea as well? I am sure you want to sample some fine spicy food! And you want all this in one little place; isn’t that asking for a little too much? Well, Galle is one place that will have something for the Mister and something for the Missus as well!
The famous traveller Ibn Batuta visited Galle and referred to it as Qali in in his travails. The city was a Portugese colony in the 16th century. The Portugese had to surrender to the Dutch in the 1640. The Dutch fortified the city with a thick wall and built three bastions. The Dutch rule gave way to the Britsh rule in 1796, but the fortified Galle fort continued to stand tall in all it’s glory and is now, the most well preserved fortified city in entire Asia.
Galle is about 120 km from Colombo. You can reach Galle by road or by rail. If choosing the rail tracks, climb on a train that is headed towards Matara from Colombo Maradana or Colombo Fort station. Here is the link to the Sri Lankan railways website.
We visited Galle from Kandy and chose to travel by road. The drive was scenic, albeit a little slow and it took us about four hours to get to our destination. From Colombo, it takes almost two hours to reach Galle by road.
Where to stay
Galle has plenty to options to spoil you. You can stay by the beach in a resort, within the fortifications of the Galle fort or in a bunglow that was occupied by a senior Dutch or British officer.
Our choice was Tamarind Hill, a boutique hotel that was once the residence of a British Admiral. The building is about 250 years old! Tamarind Hill truly took us back in time…to the times of the glory of the British Raj that we have seen on television. The furniture was made of solid wood and the room was so big that it could accommodate a family of 4. The bathroom was as big as the bedroom! Considering that there are only 8 rooms in the bunglow, the place is never over crowded. The best part was being asked in the evening ‘What would you like to have for breakfast in the morning?’ – the staff truly made us feel special!
What to see/do at Galle
The tsunami that hit Sri Lanka in 2004 caused Galle a lot of damage. However, plenty still remains to be explored and resortation work was done at a war footing. Here is a list of things to do to keep you busy during the day while you are at Galle:
Walking the ramparts of Galle: The thick walls of the fort have a high component of coral and shells. These were preferred construction materials due to their porus nature. These walls withstood the impact of the tsunami and still protect the city. We could not find a guided tour to take us around the fort. However, there are individual guides who may walk upto you and offer a tour – worth taking up the offer (you will need to bargain the price) as there are no signs marked.
Lighthouse: I find a lighthouse mysterious and fascinating, both at the same time. Regardless of the advancement in science and technology, the lighthouse still stands tall, its importance unaltered. The lighthouse, which was built in 1939, is part of the Galle fortifications. We would have loved to climb up to the top, but were not allowed to do so.
Maritime Archeology Museum: The warehouse of the Galle fort now houses the Maritime Museum. Galle has always been a key port and has welcomed traders from South East Asia as well as the Middle East. It is obvious that the Sri Lankans knew the maritime world well. The museum is worth a visit, if ships and sailing interest you.
Dutch Reformed Church: This church was built by the Dutch as an offering to the Almighty, thanking Him for birth of the daughter of the then Commander of Galle. The baby girl was not baptised until the construction of the church was completed. While the church is small, it is the stories associated with it that make it worth your time.
Dinner at Amangalla: Amangalla is five star property within the walls of the Galle fort. The building was constructed in 1684 as the Dutch Governor’s house. It was later converted to a hotel in 1865. It continues to exhibit that same grandeur that it would have centuries ago. Staying in this hotel was a pricey proposition and hence, we chose to have a candle lit dinner here. The food and the service surely did make our anniversary special.
More around Galle
There are a host of day trips possible if you wish to do some day excursions – snorkelling and diving at Hikkaduwa, whale watching at Mirissa, safari at Yala National Park. Take your pick, pack your picnic basket and enjoy a lovely day!
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Let the travellers’ tribe grow!