Sitting in the front-row bus seats ‘reserved for clergy’, we bump along the coast road from Galle for four hours. This prime position is offered to tourists in the absence of travelling holy men, but we wonder who’d win a face-off if any Buddhist monks actually boarded the bus.
Dodging cars, taxis and bicycles in the thick of rush hour, a rickshaw whizzes us from the bus station to Paradise Road Tintagel Colombo, our boutique base in the evocatively named Cinnamon Gardens. As soon as our driver turns into the large driveway, the traffic noise subsides and our frazzled moods lift.
The one-time home of Sri Lankan prime minister Bandaranaike, who lived here until his assassination in the 1950s, and his widow, who became the world’s first female prime minister (go sister!), this is a hotel with serious history.
After being greeted with a fruity cocktail, we nose around the foyer while the staff sign us in, spying a grand piano that conjures images of an old colonel playing Sondheim, a small library of dark wood panelling and battered leather chairs, and a lap pool that twinkles invitingly in the courtyard. If I’d been travelling with a Mr Smith instead of a gal pal, this setting would’ve been seriously romantic...
A sweeping, creaky staircase leads to our palatial Superior Suite, with a four-poster bed, sitting room and a sunny terrace. We linger for a moment, then head downstairs to jump into the refreshing pool before returning to our room to order a sundowner. Feeling like royalty, we sit on the terrace as the sun disappears, sipping ice-cold beer and snacking on nuts.
Forgoing the air-conditioned cool of the restaurant, we opt for a balmy dinner on the courtyard veranda. After two weeks of eating mostly local dishes, we succumb to our cravings for western fare. The food is delicious: walnut, feta and mushroom salad, and grilled prawns with avocado to start, followed by pan-fried snapper, and fettuccine with lobster and crab.
Clearly we’re not the only ones who think we’re onto a good thing… the restaurant’s a favourite among the well-heeled of Colombo, which makes for great people-watching as we finish off a bottle of surprisingly good chilled house white.
The next morning we’re keen to explore. Sri Lanka’s coast, where we’ve spent all our holiday, is utterly beautiful but there’s not much in the way of shopping. We more than make up for it today, setting off on foot for Paradise Road, an interiors store run by Shanth Fernando, the design guru behind the hotel. Beautiful homewares abound, but we zero in on sarongs, napkins, scented candles and Buddha statues in every size.
Laden with vibrant finds, we join the locals in a walk around neighbouring park Viharamahadevi (Colombo’s largest), before hailing a rickshaw to the vast Buddhist Gangaramaya Temple, a short ride away. You can overdo the temple touring in Sri Lanka, but this one is worth it, thanks to its serene vibe, stunning colours, unexpected collection of lovingly tended colonial-era cars and, best of all, a baby elephant.
Next stop is Galle Road, Colombo’s main drag, where we lunch at an elegant courtyard restaurant called Green Cabin, serving dirt-cheap but delicious Sri Lankan food. It specialises in mango curry and hoppers, a local delicacy that resembles a spongy rice pancake. After lunch, the lure of sumptuous fabric boutique, Barefoot, across the road proves too strong, and I pop over to buy table runners and yet more napkins that I’ll probably never use.
A short stroll away is the famed Galle Face Green, a soothing expanse of lawn on the seafront known for sunset promenading and impromptu cricket matches. Heading back towards the hotel on foot, we stop at two must-visit places: the Cricket Club Café, a bar/restaurant in a colonial building brimming with sports memorabilia; and the Gallery Café, a cool, elegant place that serves amazing cocktails and western-style bites, also from the Paradise Road team.
Fizzing from our drinks, we visit another Paradise Road store next door, and after buying a few irresistible nick-nacks, return to the hotel with our bags bulging – and enough loot to start our own boutiques back home.