Sri Lanka has the hotels, the food, the climate and the charm to offer the perfect holiday, says Ruaridh Nicoll. It’s just a pity about the increasingly despotic
“So are you a Buddhist?” I ask the driver.
“No, I am Hindu.”
“Oh, so you’re a Tamil?”
“I am a Tamil,” the driver says, and then shouts: “BUT I AM NOT A TERRORIST!”
Sri Lanka is the travel destination of 2013, at least according to the travel industry. After decades of war, peace is opening up the northern reaches of the wondrous isle off the tip of India. British Airways has just created a route to Colombo via the Maldives. Set against this (although not affecting visitor numbers) is Sri Lanka‘s increasingly brutal government. The Rajapaksa family is tightening its grip. The Tamils are cowed. Even Sarath Fonseka, the former general credited with beating the Tigers (and accused of killing 40,000), has found his bid for political power stymied.
We are heading north to visit Palagama Beach, a collection of cabanas on the unfashionable west coast. They were designed by the architect and engineer Cecil Balmond, who with Anish Kapoor co-designed the Orbit, the helter-skelter in the Olympic Park. Balmond is probably the most significant Sri Lankan architect since Geoffrey Bawa, who was very significant indeed.
Of course, the country is so popular because on the surface it doesn’t feel as if it’s emerging from slaughter. After arriving, we stayed at theWallawwa, an idyllic hotel of reflecting pools and courtyards. It mimicked a private house in having no reception, nor any outward sign of authority. If you wanted something, someone just seemed to turn up. We wanted black pork and red chicken curry – one of the finest curries I’ve ever tasted.