TRAVEL: Sri Lanka Sojourn Saga-Style; Sri Lanka Lies like a Tear Drop at the Southern Tip of the Indian Subcontinent. Thanks to the Devastation Caused by Last Year's Tsunami, There Have Been Reasons Enough for Tears of Late - but This Alluring Island Is Making a Strong Recovery. Tim Ware Reports

Article excerpt

Byline: Tim Ware

As a place for a tropical holiday, Sri Lanka has few peers. If you're adventurous and love good beaches, history and scenery, there are few better places in which to while away a week or so in the middle of the British winter.

The Sri Lankan holiday season conveniently runs in tandem with our winter. While Britain freezes, the daytime temperature in Sri Lanka hovers between 85-90iF.

Although in such a climate it's tempting to spend your time on the beach or beside the pool, don't. You'd be denying yourself some of the best aspects of Sri Lanka - for example, the wildlife parks and historic landmarks like Polonnaruwa and Sigiriya, both of which are now Unesco heritage sites.

An 11-night holiday put together by the over 50s specialist Saga Holidays gives you the opportunity to sample the country's beaches, wildlife parks and those memorable historic sites.

You begin on the south west coast in Beruwela, about 26 miles south of the capital Colombo, set on one of those beaches that actually lives up to the holiday brochures description. It's set on a smooth stretch of sand backed by coconut palms swinging in rhythm with the offshore breeze.

Coconuts figure prominently in the Sri Lankan way of life. They are everywhere on this greenest of islands, shading the laid-back resort hotels or framing exotic views of rice paddies and jungle-clad hills.

Their distinctly flavoured milk adds a dash of subtlety to many a fiery local curry and the sap of the blossom is distilled to make the country's high octane national drink - toddy - another word to find its way into the English language.

In Beruwela you stay at the Riverina Hotel, where Saga clients enjoy a free bar open from 11am to 11pm where you can enjoy toddy and other local alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks.

From here you travel inland to Giritale - a journey that takes you through landscapes most painters and photographers can only dream about, the soft hues of the gently rising hills providing a contrast with the vivid green sea of the tea plantations.

In the centre of the island the mountains rise to more than 8,000 feet and from these great outcrops of rock fast flowing streams and rivers begin their headlong rush to the sea.

It is in such an impressive location that you spend the next seven nights of your holiday. The Banyan Tree Deer Park Hotel is set amid the tropical flora of Giritale's ancient royal hunting grounds.

You stay in one of the 77 cottages dotted around the hotel gardens, each with an outdoor shower, mini bar and tea and coffee making facilities.

The hotel itself comes complete with two restaurants, two bars, a three-tier outdoor swimming pool and indoor spa pavilion - perfect surroundings for relaxing after a day's sightseeing. …