Skylark's Marketing and Editorial Associate, Arushi Mehra recently visited the picture-perfect town of Tangalle in the Southern Province of Sri Lanka. After a week of indulging in mouth-watering curries, sailing through lotus-filled lagoons, Instagramming dancing peacocks and visiting a 200-year old temple—the newest addition to our team is ready to report back on this Southeast Asian gem! 

By Arushi Mehra
Aerial View of Tangalle
Photo by Shutterstock

THE ISLAND

Tangalle is a pinprick-sized town on the southeast coast of Sri Lanka's Southern Province. After the 2004 tsunami, there was a decade-plus period of recovery and redevelopment; now the area is up and buzzing. Luxury resorts dot untouched stretches of tropical beach and locals happily welcome you to their slice of paradise. Crisp Ceylon tea, curry that leaves your tongue tingling, the balmy, jasmine-scented breeze, lush rice fields, the Indian Ocean sparkling in the background—Sri Lanka is a teardrop-shaped island that indulges all the senses. 

Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle Resort
Photo by Arushi Mehra

WHERE TO STAY

Sri Lanka's southern coast is bustling with hotels that have recognized and embraced the island's untouched beauty and charm. For our 4-night trip, we chose Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle ResortThe 5-star property perches atop a rocky outcrop on a secluded stretch of Sri Lanka's southernmost coastline. My family and I checked into our adjoining pool villas and were welcomed by the resident peacocks—radiant and stunningly playful. Each morning they danced in our backyards, some even sang and one took a dip in our pool!

From head to toe, the property embraces its surroundings: traditional Sri Lankan architecture and culture—there are several towering open spaces, modern design infused with indigenous wood-work and crafts, dramatic cliff-edge dining and an elaborate swimming pool overlooking the carved crescent shores of the ocean. Our favorite part? The two huge tennis courts that we enjoyed every evening, followed by cocktails and wine on the open-air terrace. Though I do admit, my only regret was not bringing enough activewear—it's pretty hard to play tennis in flip-flops.

From the refreshing concoction of lemongrass and cinnamon that awaited our arrival in the lobby, the local performers who greeted us with a traditional Sri Lankan folk dance, our personal butler Isuru who ensured that anything and everything was taken care of before we could even ask, to our driver Manju who stopped by a temple on our way back home to pray for our safe departure—the personalized service and attention to detail at Anantara was what kept us in awe each day. The best part? I managed to sneak tangible memories of Tangalle back to New York with me—the cardamom, Ceylon and sandalwood soaps from the resort are perfect reminders of my stay—and my oh-so-golden Sri Lankan tan!

Traditional Food and Drink
Photo by Arushi Mehra

THE CUISINE

Being a native of India, my first thought when I landed in Sri Lanka, was whether their cuisine was "like Indian food?" Of course, being situated next to the southernmost tip of India, there are some common elements found in both cuisines—but Sri Lankan food is definitely not your average chana-masala or lamb vindaloo take-out. Often referred to as the "Island of Rice and Curry"— the seafood-heavy, yet vegan-friendly island cuisine incorporates several local flavors like coconut, jackfruit, curry leaves (Murraya koenigii), lemongrass and whole chili peppers—the most important ingredient of any Sri Lankan dish! Did I mention the crisp, bold and aromatic Ceylon tea yet? Sri Lankans take their tea VERY seriously—each time we ordered tea during our stay, it was served with an hourglass sand timer to ensure that it brewed for the perfect amount of time. Ceylon Tea is an orthodox tea, meaning that it is processed by hand and carefully graded to ensure that only the best leaves pass the test. Rest assured, I brought several boxes of that treasure back home with me! 

For a local and authentic Sri Lankan dining experience, we headed to Tangalle Rice and Curry Restaurant, a family-run establishment on the same road as Anantara, known for its exhaustive buffet of curries ranging from prawn, lobster, fish, beetroot to pumpkin. Served with the curries is Sri Lanka's version of the hamburger—"Kottu", a traditional bread prepared with eggs, meats, and spices and mashed together with sharp metal blades. After a series of "swish" and "tings", the restaurant's owner Dipil presented us the final product—a hodgepodge of deliciousness with a side of mint chutney. 

The special culinary experiences at Anantara Peace Haven are as wonderful as the local restaurant. We dined twice at Verele, the resort's Sri Lankan-Teppanyaki fusion restaurant and gathered up a feast of grilled river sole, fried tiger prawns, and Wasabi-infused chicken curry, all served with Parippu, the island's staple lentil curry flavored with coconut milk and fresh green chilies. On our last day, we enjoyed a private cooking class with Anantara's head chef—who accompanied us to a local market to buy fresh vegetables and meats and then demonstrated the preparation of a traditional 5-course Sri Lankan meal. Between the Champagne, Vodka-infused king coconuts and golden-fried lobster, this was certainly the culinary highlight of our trip. 

Mulkirigala Raja Maha Vihara
Photo by Photos by Arushi Mehra

THE HISTORY

Sri Lanka is a land of diverse and rich culture, religion and history—full of timeless tales, ancient mythology and fantasies. Buddhism has long encompassed the lives of Sri Lankans—the first teachings were introduced in the 3rd Century and continued to flourish even after colonialism. While in Tangalle, we visited Mulkirigala Raja Maha Vihara, one of the many beautiful Buddhist temples present in the country. A little off the beaten path, it's built into a towering, 675-foot rock and spread over four levels—with 2500-year old cave paintings and Buddhist murals enchanting its walls and ceilings. The best part of our visit came as a reward to us in the end—after climbing more than 500 steps, we found ourselves at the top of the rock, resting on a cliff, overlooking the sweeping countryside as the sun set. It was THE perfect opportunity to reflect and appreciate the intoxicating beauty of Sri Lanka.

Photo by Arushi Mehra

THE MOMENT

Sailing through one of Tangalle's largest lagoons, our guide knowingly guided our gondola-style boat through the lush lotus leaves and vegetation. We watched as the bright warm sun carefully took its departure—the chirping Wood Pigeons, Grey Herons and Crimson-fronted Barbet followed suit, taking flight and bidding us farewell.