Colombo

Whether or not this bustling, surprising, cosmopolitan city was named from the Sinhala Kola-amba-thota - "harbor with leafy mango trees" – it is apt. Strategically-placed in the Indian Ocean, this port has been a wide open door to visitors for centuries. With each wave of new influences from afar - from the early Arab traders to the 21st century Western fashion manufacturers - Colombo re-invents herself, rising like a victorious phoenix from the ashes of colonization. This chameleon city absorbs new influences, while still retaining her own unique Sri Lankan character: Like the gems this island is known for, each chip off the original only seems to enhance the stone’s reflectivity and innate beauty.

The shopping opportunities reflect the many and varied faces of Sri Lanka’s capital city: from the sophisticated nursery slopes of Paradise Road and its glam gifts, via the un-missably original Barefoot, to the black runs of the Pettah, Colombo’s teeming, tantalizing pavement bazaar - spices, sharbat, cell-phones, a big smack of South Asia, just under the shadow its second-tallest building.

And if all this character and colour is too much, you never have to look far for a shady mango tree to recover under: Don’t be surprised to find an uber-sophisticated urban retreat nestling in a historic retro-chic villa. Tapas at ZaZas, sushi at Nihonbashi – or re-live the Raj on the verandah at the grand old Galle Face Hotel. If you can’t even handle first gear, slip into neutral at the serenely minimalist Buddhist ‘island’ temple on Beira Lake or get a massage at a Spa, tucked behind the wide avenues of Cinnamon Gardens and its stately white mansions.

Wallawwa

The Wallawwa Boutique Hotel, was once a country estate belonging to the head chieftain of Galle, and it's ideally situated for a stopover on your way in or out of Colombo airport. But with its small spa, excellent chef, gorgeous pool and exotic gardens, it's the kind of place you might want to linger. Use it as a base for exploring the city's shops, museums and nearby golf courses, or a couple of days' gentle acclimatisation. The 17 rooms are spacious and comfy with en-suite wet rooms. It's beautifully quiet - you would never know you're only 20 mins from the international airport. The Wallawwa is a great hotel by any standards - not just a great stopover near the airport.

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