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This year I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Sri Lanka for the second time in my life. As many of you know, my mother is Sri Lankan and grew up there before moving to England in her late teens to pursue a career in modeling. As a child, aged 8 years old I visited Sri Lanka with my whole family on a holiday that I never forgot. I had grown up hearing stories of this fabled island from my grandmother and my mum, the ancient temples, giant lizards, elephants, monkeys, tea, spices and more all of which were world renown. As a young boy, I was mesmerized by this voyage as every myth my granny had told me came true.
This year I was able to visit Sri Lanka once again and bring my family including my dear mother as guests of Cinnamon Hotels. My personal memories had never faded from my childhood visit but I wasn't sure whether time had embellished what I remembered. My children Jack and Jasmine were beyond excited to see the country they had heard so much about from my mother and me - were the kabaragoya lizards really as big as I remembered, could this island in the Indian ocean really have such a rich history with palaces built atop mountains and temples thousands of years old carved out of the hillsides? Our trip was no let down and in fact since our return it rates as the number one place my family has visited by far. Our itinerary was taken care of by Cinnamon Hotels in Sri Lanka who arranged for us to be picked up from Colombo airport upon arrival by the stunning Madusha Mayadunne a former Miss Sri Lanka. Maddy as she became affectionately called by our family took care of us for the length of our trip. Maddy was there opening doors and translating the marvels Sri Lanka had to offer in true style.
Our trip started with a breakfast and fitting by local designers Indi by Indi and Hameedia for Envoy Mansions. Outfits we were to pick up and wear to a book signing event held at the Envoy Manion store for my new book Models Of Influence at the end of our trip. Immediately after breakfast we headed to Habarana staying at the Cinnamon Lodge. We were welcomed by elephants and dancing locals in full traditional costume at the lodge which was to become the customary welcome we received at every Cinnamon hotel. Every moment of our trip was mapped out in advance, just as well as really you could spend months in Sri Lanka soaking in the wealth of history, tea plantations, beaches, jungles, mountains and legendary hospitality. Given we had 10 days, we hit the ground running and after our first night dining in the wilderness to the sounds of distant elephants trumpeting in the distance, we woke up fresh and headed to the magical Sigiriya Rock that I climbed as a boy and now was experiencing with my family,scaling up the same ancient steps to witness the majesty of the ruined palace and the 360 degree views that let you see for hundreds of miles. I knew at this point that my memory had served me well and our trip to Sri Lanka was going to be everything I had hoped for my children and well for me too.
On our way back to Cinnamon Lodge we visited the ruins of Polonnaruwa which was teaming with monkeys and reminiscent of the movie Jungle Book. Of course our trip to Habarana wouldn’t have been complete without a safari at the Minneriya National Park where our Cinnamon safari guides showed us sights and sounds reserved for a very lucky few.
Traversing the island is no easy feat but fortunately for us we had a wonderful driver and a big new mini van that took us everywhere throughout our journey. Our next destination was Kandy to visit the sacred Temple of the Tooth. We stayed at the Cinnamon Citadel Kandy which was the perfect combination of location and five star hospitality. The visit to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth was other worldly. We were there as fate ( or great planning) would have it on a day when the tooth was unveiled for a brief 15 minutes, a sight only a rare few get to see a few times a year. As a result there were literally thousands of pilgrims lined up for hours waiting to glimpse and pay homage with spectacular flower offerings. Maddy and our tour guide managed to get us VIP access and right up to the tooth as it was revealed. Jack and Jasmine gave our flower offering before the masses who were reaching fever pitch pushed us along like a serpent through the temple and into the streets. The whole affair was straight out of an Indiana Jones movie.The day would not have been complete without a visit to a local Kandian dancing performance where if you can believe it I ran in to a friend from England….
The following day we headed to Beruwala to relax on the Southern shores of Sri Lanka and stopped by to visit a tea plantation to experience the process of tea production. Our visit was punctuated by roadside stops to try the local fare and experience what it means to live and breathe Sri Lanka. Cinnamon Bey Beruwala was the ideal respite from the city and jungle safaris and of course we were treated to the marvels of an ancient martial arts dance native to the island.
Next stop was Yala National Park with the world’s highest density of leopards. Arriving at the Cinnamon Wild Yala we were greeted by a welcoming pool and fabulous lunch at their 5 star buffet. The food at all the hotels was second to none and certainly a delight to come home to and start our days off to all along our stay. The following day we hit the safari trail with a Cinnamon Nature Trail specialist for a memorable safari. Even though we didn’t see any leopards, we did see a sloth bear, elephants, crocodiles, antelope, boar and simply tracking the leopards in our off road vehicles made us feel we were hot on the scent of the elusive animal much to my children’s delight. Our safari was no ordinary safari however and halfway through our Cinnamon guide stopped the truck and we alighted on the coast to experience a tea break out of a novel. White linens, silver tea service, cucumber sandwiches and so much more right in the middle of the jungle perched on a cliff looking at the ocean… A wild deer stopped by to say hello literally, a spotted deer walked right of the jungle and allowed my children to pet it! The magic never ended.
Our trip wound up with our return to Colombo where we stayed at the Cinnamon Red Colombo. Instead of driving we opted to fly on Cinnamon Air directly from Yala to Colombo in a sea plane no less. For my children the wonders never ceased and even a veteran traveller like me was overwhelmed.
We had an extraordinary time in Sri Lanka and can’t wait to return, barely a day goes by when we don’t reminisce on our wonderful trip to the pearl of the Indian ocean. Thank you to Cinnamon Hotels for their gracious hospitality, we can’t wait for our next trip back!