The coastal road that winds around the coconut groves and beaches of southern Sri Lanka is an excellent introduction to the gentle lifestyle of the island.
An eclectic mix of tuk-tuks, bicycles, thundering buses and smiling pedestrians happily share the cramped tarmac with a refreshing lack of aggression. The intertwining streams of traffic and livestock are confusing at first, but go with the flow and you’ll enjoy the camaraderie.
Just keep your eyes peeled and don’t be distracted by the sand and sea you will see through the rainforest. The southern coast of Sri Lanka is a long stretch of headlands and beaches, one of which is presided over by the Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle Resort.
The bustling little town of Tangalle juts out into the Indian Ocean, its former Dutch fort offering stunning sea views. If you swam south, you wouldn’t reach land until you landed in Antarctica.
There are temples here and a popular beach, but it’s the palm-lined coast to the west of town that attracts most visitors.
Anantara’s Peace Haven resort enjoys a prime location, with its main restaurant perched atop a rocky promontory and villas dotted with landscaped gardens leading down to a sheltered beach.
What to do
You really don’t have to do anything at all – the beach, gardens, private villa pools and Ayurvedic spa will soak up a stay at Peace Haven – but there are also more energetic activities available.
Beginner surf lessons are offered year-round (although the swell is heaviest from April to October) and surf packages can be arranged for enthusiasts. When the seas are calmer, from December to April, you can go whale watching instead: on a day trip by boat in Weligama Bay, you will have the chance to spot sperm whales, killer whales and even huge blue whales.
Closer to home, a nature walk through the resort, which sits on either side of a mangrove-lined stream, is a great introduction to the flora of southern Sri Lanka, as well as some of the birds living there.
Anantara Peace Haven is a half-hour drive from the Mulkirigala Cave Temples, a collection of Buddhist places of worship built on a 200-meter finger of stone. Rock carvings in the region date back to the 2nd century BC. The hotel can arrange an excursion to Mulkirigala and several other temples in the area.
Rekawa Beach, about 13 km along the coast, is a breeding ground for hawksbill and leatherback turtles. Between April and September, you can join local volunteers who protect the mothers and their eggs, and you can even watch their babies take their first steps in the sand.
The leopards of Yala and the historic streets of Galle are just about within reach for an ambitious day trip – but since Tangalle sits between them it serves better as a restful post.
what to eat
On the headland, overlooking the bay, the resort’s main restaurant offers sumptuous breakfast buffets as well as à la carte dishes throughout the day. Two beachfront establishments, Il Mare and Verala, offer fine Italian and Japanese cuisine in an elegant setting.
For a more immersive take on Sri Lankan cuisine, sign up for the Harvest Table dining experience, which begins in the hotel’s organic vegetable garden (below). After a fisherman has rowed up the creek to deliver his daily catch, it will be served to you in a shaded hut overlooking the outdoor kitchen.
when should we go
For a small island, Sri Lanka has a surprisingly diverse range of climates, from tropical beaches to temperate highlands. On the south coast, Tangalle is firmly in the first category – hot all year round, with highs of 29-31C, and most months mostly sunny. Heavy showers are common in April and May, and possible at any time of the year, with more persistent rain expected from October to December. The high season runs from Christmas to the end of March.
Rooms available from around £258 per night on the Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle website. SriLankan Airlines flies non-stop from London to Colombo from around £840 return. Qatar Airways, Emirates and Etihad fly via the Middle East from several UK cities, from around £550.