MANY HAPPY RETURNS ... the War's over and BA Has Resumed Flights to Sri Lanka -- So Get Going, Says
Byline: MAX DAVIDSON
ENGLISH?' asks the wizened old man selling bananas on a street corner in Galle. Well, it's a safe bet. My lobsterpink face has Home Counties written all over it. Ditto my baggy shorts.
Sri Lanka is one of England's opponents on the cricket pitch and, every few years, the Barmy Army descends on this beautiful colonial port at the southern tip of the island. Other foreign visitors have been more wary, put off Sri Lanka by the long civil war, which concluded in 2009. And the 2004 tsunami that devastated Galle was shocking. But better times are around the corner.
British Airways has resumed flights to Sri Lanka after 15 years, which is a golden opportunity to discover one of the world's most beautiful islands, a lush landscape topped by densely wooded mountains ringed by white sandy beaches.
Probably the first thing that strikes you is the sheer richness of the vegetation. In rural areas, it is thrillingly green. There is hardly a bare patch of ground as fruit and flowers of every description, from mangoes to orchids, pineapples to tea roses, papayas to camellias, burst out of the soil.
There are meant to be more than 20 varieties of banana in Sri Lanka, and my stall-holder friend in Galle seems to stock most of them, judging by the rich palette of colours on display, from lurid yellow to dainty pink. I buy one of the smaller ones and, as I sink my teeth into the sweet flesh, let out a little purr of pleasure.
'Good?' he asks with a gap-toothed grin. 'Magnificent,' I reply.
Galle was colonised by the Dutch, and the old Dutch fort that dominates the town is now a lovingly maintained conservation area. The ghosts of the past are all around as you stroll through the narrow streets past 18th-century churches, dusty libraries and gnarled old banyan trees that look as if they have been there since the dawn of time.
A cat sleeps under a white Morris Minor parked outside a tea shop. A faded sign promises 'Elocution lessons for age 4 to 15'. A boy scurries past with a cricket bat, his face aglow with excitement. A sea breeze gusts the tablecloths of a restaurant promising 'finest curries' and '99 per cent approval rating'.
If Galle is a hive of activity, with its plethora of shops and cafes, the Fortress hotel, ten miles along the coast, is a haven of luxurious calm. The only sound is the waves pounding the beach and the wind rustling the tops of the palm trees that soar high above the swimming-pool, bent at crazy angles. …