|A Visit to Sri Lanka|
|Sun House Recipes|
Travellers are forever seeking the perfect little place far from the madding crowd. For some it’s a deck chair under a huge umbrella on a palm edged beach in the Caribbean. Others seek adventure, ancient monuments or a glimpse of endangered wildlife. I myself am in search of beautiful, tranquil surroundings, cool crisp linen, freshly squeezed juices and of course good food, sounds simple enough but you’d be surprised how difficult it is to find. I’m not at all interested in bling, most hotels have all the wrong things right for me, lots of glitz, acres of fancy buffets with indifferent food, undrinkable coffee and staff who can never quite deliver the little things that seem to matter to me.
Well at last I’ve found a place that for me comes close to perfection; sadly it’s a very long way away in Galle (rhymes with Youghal) in southern Sri Lanka - The Dutch House - so named because it was an admiral’s palace built during the Dutch occupation of the island in the 18th century. The beautifully proportioned classic bungalow is built around three sides of a square with wide verandas overlooking the croquet lawn. After hours of travelling it was balm to the soul to arrive in this haven of sophistication and gracious living. There are just four beautiful bedrooms each with a peaceful sitting room and lovely bathroom - an elegant marriage of antique and modern. No flat screen TVs, mini bar, or tea makers here.
The owner Geoffrey Dobbs is a bit of a legend, not just in Galle but in Sri Lanka as a whole. Whenever, his name was mentioned everyone from tuc-tuc drivers to ex pats (of whom there are many) told us about his contribution to Sri Lankan tourism, the success of the Galle Literary and Film Festivals which he founded and ‘Adopt’ Sri Lanka a charity which instigated after the tsunami in 2004.
He is an accidental hotelier. Originally he was a trader in Hong Kong who like so many others was seduced by the magic of Sri Lanka when he first came on holidays in 1992. He arrived with his then girlfriend and left a couple of weeks later, minus the girlfriend but having bought the beautiful island of Taprobane.
The tiny tear shaped island with just one beautiful neo-Palladian house perched on top was originally built in 1927 for the bohemian Count de Mauny-Talvande. It is a mere 200 yards off the shore like an improbable mirage which can only be accessed by wading through the warm shallow surf of Weligama Bay. It’s just a few miles along the coast from Koggala where the famous stick fishermen perch precariously on poles firmly embedded in the sand to catch their fish. According to Geoffrey, buying Taprobane fulfilled innumerable fantasies of his childhood and now helps him to escape from the tyranny of fax and email. At first he regarded his purchase as a ‘hobby island’ but was soon persuaded to ‘let it’ to friends. Further temptations soon came his way, he found a gracious old villa, Sun House built for a Scottish spice merchant in Galle. The Dutch House just across the road also proved irresistible and in 1997 he added the Beach House at Tangalla to his collection. The latter has been described by Tatler as “the best beach house on earth”. The four properties defy the usual definitions and are best described as a cluster of guest houses under the same management. Somehow, Geoffrey has managed to create an atmosphere where guests feel instantly comfortable and relaxed. He is adamant that he doesn’t employ anyone from the hotel school. “They are too blinkered and are not prepared to go the extra mile, the best training is learn on the job from someone who is confident in what they are doing and who doesn’t have anything to prove.’’ Geoffrey’s guests are travellers rather than tourists.
Sri Lanka an island off the toe of India is virtually the same size as Ireland but has a population of 21 million. The south coast was particularly badly affected by the Boxing Day Tsunami in 2004. In just ten minutes over 200,000 people died. Six years later thanks to the efforts many, including ‘Adopt’ Sri Lanka – the brain child of Geoffrey and his friends, the area has recovered well and has a renewed appreciation of the importance of coastal vegetation, coral, sand dunes, mangroves, beach grass and plants as a barrier against natural seaborne threats. Ironically though there is growing concern about the over exploitation of fish stocks. Pre-tsunami fishing was primarily a sustainable cottage industry but now due to over provision of bigger more powerful boats to the fishing community the stocks are diminishing, as ever it seems difficult o get the balance right .
The food in both the Dutch House and the Sun House was truly delicious. I spent some time in the kitchen with the chefs and found lots of recipes that I can reproduce at home, I can’t wait to go back to learn more.