Along the strip of coast of Tangalle is the new Anantara resort. Anantara means "without end" in Sanskrit and it's clear the hotel very much aims for this spirit of freedom, movement and harmony. As a complex it has been thoroughly thought through. It's well landscaped and there's something for everyone. Buggies take you to tennis courts or you can bicycle instead.
There are three restaurants, all offering the balanced diet of these health conscious times. "Journeys" has a wide mix via a fully-stocked buffet, "Verele" sticks to the unique flavours of Sri Lankan cooking and there's Italian food at Il Mare on a cliff top overlooking the ocean. It's set amidst a coconut plantation beside a golden crescent shoreline.
Guests get a theatrical welcome with traditional blessings. A bearded man in full costume blows his conch and three girls alternate with singing and drumming. As for the design, it's principally functional with its red roofs typical of the locality. The decor is consistent with the hotel's wheel motif echoed throughout.
The rooms have jac and teak wood and the furnishing includes rattan chairs with tweed cushions. The round baths and power showers appeal to both the masculine and the feminine and the electric blinds cleverly break the room up to allow for privacy. The verandahs look out to sea and all around the resort are little lobster basket lights giving off a spiders' web effect. Lounge chairs are actually cemented into two lengthy infinity pools and out to sea fishermen brave the rocks. And it's mercifully mosquito free. Peace haven or "piece of heaven?" It's certainly pampering and tranquil.
On I went, past the famous temple at Dikwella and the large sprawl that is Matara, past the beautiful half-moon bay at Mirissa and the already developed Weligama. Finally up inland to Lake Koggolo. I decided to take a boat trip and visit the Buddhist monastery established there for monks. They looked amazing as they wondered around in their vivid orange tunics waiting to be initiated into their calling.
As for the amazing range of wildlife. There's music in the jungle. Especially with the dawn chorus. Colourful birds abound, peacocks strut upon their stage while fireflies shine out like mini stars and I was soon a twitcher, straining to spot the cormorants, eagles, kingfishers, blue pigeons and grosbeaks.
I also discovered iguanas, mongoose, giant squirrels and the mighty, waddling monitor lizards. The natural habitat consisted of mango trees, rubber trees and the vibrant bourgainvillea and the kithul tree the locals use to make jiggery, a sweet honey like maple syrup but with an interestingly smoky taste.
The lovely crescent beach at Unawatuna has beautiful yellow sand but is sadly swamped by tourism. I managed to regain a sense of peace at the nearby Japanese pagoda with its pure white paint offset on all four sides by gold statues. It has an impressive 360 degree view of the jungle, the bay and the Galle Fort I was next to visit. I felt immersed in Galle, this extraordinary colonial outpost. It was the lure of the highly profitable trade in spices and gold that had drawn the Europeans.
First the Portuguese in the 16th century and then the Dutch and English in the 17th. The name Galle is attributed to a Portuguese mariner who was first to spot the natural harbour in 1505, when they were blown off course heading for the Maldives. He is said to seen a cockerel and shouted out from his crow's nest "galla buonvista", Portuguese for "a cockerel, what a beautiful sight."
Transport has its own challenges even now with the right of way always open to question. So renting a car would not be my suggestion. Tuk-tuks are fun to take and breezy especially on the minor roads. While dishing out advice, I stress you just have to respect the midday intensity of the sun and likewise the savage currents of the Indian Ocean.
Unlike other popular tropical destinations, Sri Lanka remains relatively untouched and unspoilt. The war is finished, the tsunami is a decade past and the highways now connect the island efficiently. With tourism rates projected to explode over the next few years, now is the perfect time to visit.