For me, travelling has always been about exploring a country and embarking on adventures in an exciting new location. Of course, I've done my share of ‘fly and flop' beach holidays before too: sometimes all you want is a relaxing break from work, with no reason to move from your sun lounger other than to order another cocktail. But what if you want both within a short time frame? Invigorating adventures and cultural learning, alongside a spot of relaxation and well-deserved pampering? Multi-centre holidays are a perfect solution for travellers who like some variety to their holidays, and what's more, this type of trip feels like two amazing experiences for the price of one vacation.
Sri Lanka: A diverse destination, ideal for a multi-centre trip
My most recent foray into the world of multi-centre holidays was during a trip to Sri Lanka, famed for its verdant hill country, complete with tea plantations, exhilarating hikes and incredible panoramas. While the island nation is perhaps best known for its tranquil inland destinations, it also boasts a beautiful sandy south coast where you can kick back at a beach bar, meet adorable sea creatures at a turtle sanctuary or grab a surfboard and hit the waves.
I had a maximum two-week window for my Sri Lankan adventure, and while I was confident I wanted to hike in the hills and take in the scenery, like many holidaymakers I also wanted to relax in order to return home rejuvenated. There's nothing worse than arriving home from a trip and immediately feeling like you need another holiday.
Diverse Sri Lanka offers very different types of holidays, depending on where you choose to stay. By dividing my fortnight between a number of destinations, I was able to experience a beach holiday, a sightseeing holiday, and an adventure hiking holiday - all packed into two incredible weeks. I've always found this type of trip is good for the soul - not to mention the fact you get so many more experiences for your money.
I was happy to be pretty active during my trip, and opted for an ambitious itinerary encompassing four destinations: the holy city of Kandy; Ella - a hill country haven; beachy Mirissa, and the historical Galle Fort. However, multi-centre holidays often include just two destinations, allowing you to more fully explore each one and ensuring relaxation is included in the schedule.
Preparing for a multi-centre holiday
Packing for a multi-centre holiday can be much like preparing for two or more trips at once. It's essential to think about what you want to do in each destination - as well as the varying climates - and pack with this in mind. For example, we packed walking boots and rucksacks for the trekking part of our holiday in Ella, pumps and conservative clothing for sightseeing in Kandy, and flip flops and swimwear for our time on the beach in Mirissa.
In a less-commercialised country like Sri Lanka, it can be difficult to find a shop that has exactly what you need - so it's best not to forget anything in the first place. Try and pack clothing that is adaptable and can be used in different ways in multiple locations. This will prevent you from having vast amounts of luggage.
Planning your transport ahead of time is also essential; you don't want to end up stuck in one place. Sri Lanka is famous for its old-fashioned trains, and I would heartily recommend experiencing a journey on one of these locomotives during your time in the country. They're an easy and enjoyable way to get from A to B - but ensure you check train times way ahead of time, and book your transport in advance where possible. If you do get stuck, there are always plenty of private drivers you can hire, and while this will be much more expensive than using the trains, they don't charge much by western standards.
Here's why I chose my four destinations:
Kandy: Sri Lanka's sacred city
Kandy is Sri Lanka's sacred city, and - until 1818 - was fiercely independent from the rest of the country, being the final region to succumb to colonial rule. Nowadays, it's one of Sri Lanka's biggest cities, and is thronging with activity. With attractions such as the Buddhist Temple of the Tooth and Kandy Lake on offer, it's a common city for travellers to visit, but with Sri Lanka still being somewhat off-the-beaten track, it certainly doesn't feel touristy.
The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic is Kandy's most famous attraction - and one I definitely wanted to see in order to learn more about Sri Lanka's biggest faith. As is insinuated by its name, this striking white structure houses the relic of the tooth of the Buddha. After ensuring we were appropriately dressed and handing in our shoes, we were taken on a tour of the intricate, gilded interior and placed lotus flowers at various points as an offering.
Kandy was also our jumping off point for a trip to Sigiriya Rock - one of Sri Lanka's most iconic and historical sites. The dramatic 200-metre high rock was firmly on our bucket list, with its summit having played home to King Kashyapa's fifth-century kingdom, and incredible views to be seen from the top. We spent half a day in Sigiriya's breathtaking surrounds, and hiked our way up to the top of the rock, past the famous lion's gateway carved near the peak. Sigiriya can be difficult to reach by public transport, so you may want to pay for a private car, but it's definitely worth the trip for the panorama alone.
Kandy is definitely one of Sri Lanka's cultural highlights; from the city you can explore the nearby spice gardens, tea factories and museums. It provided us with a foundation of understanding about Sri Lankan culture that would inspire us throughout the rest of the trip.
Ella: Trekking in ethereal surrounds
Ella was perhaps my favourite of the four locations, thanks to its incredible greenery, fantastic hikes, and tranquil, laid-back atmosphere. It's the perfect place to relax and recharge from the fast pace of modern life, so we stopped here for four days.
A typical Ella day goes something like this:
Enjoy a breakfast of fruit while looking out over the verdant hills and valleys before really immersing yourself in the scenery with one of the many hikes on offer. Then it's time for a light lunch and a cup of Sri Lanka's famous tea in the garden of one of its hillside retreats. Next, undertake a spot of afternoon yoga in the incredible outdoors and perhaps some reading in a hammock, prior to dinner and a beer in the rustic-yet-vibrant centre of the village, where you can choose between local dishes or western cuisine. Then soak up the epic views once more before bed. Sound good? Perhaps you can see why Ella was the star of my trip.
There are two main hikes to do during your time in Ella: Little Adam's Peak - a relatively quick and easy walk up to a breathtaking vantage point, and Ella Rock. The latter is a tougher trek that takes around half a day, but leads you through varied scenery - from rural train tracks to forests and waterfalls - and up to a viewpoint in the clouds. There is no doubt that my trip would not have been as incredible as it was had we not stopped in Ella.
Mirissa: A beachy south-coast paradise
Mirissa is a sandy paradise, lined with palm trees and laid-back beach bars. Many of the hotels are right on the beach, meaning you can step straight out of your accommodation for a swim in the warm waves. There are plenty of other locations on Sri Lanka's serene south coast, from old world Tangella to the city of Matara, but we chose Mirissa for its laid-back pace and the potential for relaxation. And relax we did! If you're not one to lie on the beach all day, there's plenty to do along the south coast too: from visiting turtle sanctuaries to surfing.
Whether you choose Mirissa or find another beach paradise, it's always great to schedule some relaxation time into your schedule, and Sri Lanka's south coast offers ample opportunity to do so.
Galle Fort: Colonial history and great food
Galle is a fascinating destination that provides much insight into Sri Lanka's colonial past. We chose to stay within the walls of Galle Fort. Steeped in history, the fort was originally constructed in the 17th century, acting as Sri Lanka's main port for over 200 years. At different times it's been under the rule of the Portuguese, Dutch and British, and the evidence of this can be spotted to this day, sitting alongside Sri Lankan culture.
These days Galle Fort is simply charming. The whitewashed buildings and historic architecture make you feel like you're in an idyllic part of Europe. You can visit Galle Lighthouse, the old post office, the old Dutch hospital, walk along the walls, or explore the numerous museums it has to offer. Galle's Historical Mansion Museum is a particular highlight, with unending shelves of dusty trinkets - from typewriters and cameras to currency and letters - leftover from colonial times.
The Fort also offers plenty of opportunities to tuck into a delicious meal - with international and Sri Lankan restaurants available - or kick back with a drink in beautiful surrounds. If you fancy a more traditional Sri Lankan experience, you can venture out to the city of Galle, or even hit the nearby beaches.
Galle Fort was certainly the most luxurious part of our trip, and a relaxing way to finish our holiday in Sri Lanka. It contrasted with the other destinations and provided the final element of our trip, ensuring we went home feeling like we'd experienced as much of this beautiful, fascinating country as we could in two weeks.