Blue Turtle Hotel in Tissamaharama: Stylish and comfortable boutique hotel in lush surroundings

The ride from Dalawella to Tissamaharama was long. We left Sri Gemunu Beach Resort: stunning location with friendly service before the noon, stopped briefly at Kataluwa Purwarama Temple: one of the finest temples in the southern Sri Lanka, did one more stop near Tangalle to check out a hotel and arrived in Tissamaharama just before the sunset. About 150 km of driving took us almost six hours. The road and traffic were ok, but things just take unusually long when traveling with a small child…

Anyway, we had shortlisted several hotels in Tissamaharama: Kithala Resort, Diyadahara Resort, The Rain Tree Hotel, Thaulle Resort, Chandrika Hotel and Blue Turtle Hotel. We chose Blue Turtle Hotel mainly for two reasons: it holds the Tripadvisor number one position, which usually means one cannot go too wrong, and they were very fast and professional in their communication (text messages).

We were more than pleased with our choice. The quality we got for approximately 50USD per night (including breakfast) was great. Rooms were very clean, simple yet stylish, came with a mosquito net and service was friendly. There was a wonderful pool we never got to use because we were the unlucky ones to get some rain (unlucky because apparently rain is not good for animal watching).  Blue Turtle opened in 2015 and everything is still very new.

Upon arrival we chatted with the Sri lankan owner who had  lived in Paris for thirty years. Being a former restaurant(s) owner means that he is serious about food, something that was proved to us at the dinner. The menu is limited (grilled meat and kottu roti), but the fact that most people only stay 1-2 nights in Tissamaharama explains it. Moreover, everything is so delicious that we didn’t mind eating the same thing twice! The only thing we regret is that breakfast was not Sri Lankan. Upon leaving I made a remark about this to the owner who explained that the reception should have asked whether we want European or local breakfast. Oh well, next time we know better!

We highly recommend staying at Blue Turtle. Most people arrive in Tissamaharama, sleep one night, go for a safari in Yala National Park in the morning and leave in the afternoon, but I would strongly suggest you stay two nights like we did and include a fascinating religious town called Kataragama in your itinerary. More about these two destinations in my next posts, so stay tuned.

PS There were surprisingly few mosquitoes wherever we visited in Sri Lanka, but most of them seem to be living in Tissamaharama, so do not forget your mosquito repellent.

Blue Turtle Hotel:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/blueturtlehotel/
Website: http://www.blueturtlehotel.com
Cell.phone: +94 77 5486836 (Text messages are most likely answered by the owner’s son Oliver who will help you in whatever you may need. He speaks French as well.)

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Previous Sri Lanka trip posts (in the order of appearance):

Planning Sri Lanka: Itinerary

Sea Shine Guesthouse in Dodanduwa: spotless seafront rooms that come with a smile and delicious food

Dalawella Beach: Picture perfect and safe for swimming

Sri Gemunu Beach Resort: stunning location with friendly service

Kataluwa Purwarama Temple: one of the finest temples in the southern Sri Lanka

Kataluwa Purwarama Temple: one of the finest temples in the southern Sri Lanka

Dodanduwa and Dalawella were perfect beach destinations to recover from jetlag and wind down, but after a few days we wanted to see more of Sri Lanka. As we had decided to completely skip the Cultural Triangle, it was all the more important for us to visit those few religious sites that exist along the southern coast and Kataluwa Purwarama Temple was one of them.IMG_4463.JPGWe had a bit of hard time finding the temple as our driver had never been there before. Upon arrival only silence greeted us. All the doors were closed and apart from some school children and birds, nobody was around. Eventually our driver found a monk  who he lives in a house (monastery) below, located sort of behind the pagoda. He kindly opened the door for us (pay attention to his massive golden key featured in the photo!) and we entered a very beautiful, peaceful shrine full of Kandyan-style murals dating from the 19th century. The monk spoke very good English and gave us a private tour. For a moment it was just the monk, his eighteen dogs, Buddha statues, some Hindu gods (Vishnu, Kataragama, etc) and us. A beautiful, spiritual moment, indeed a refreshing break from the beach life.

In addition to Buddhist tales, the paintings depict the 19th life and even Queen Victoria can be found in the wall paintings. Guide books (Routard, Lonely Planet and Rough Guide) and Internet do not seem to agree on the history of this temple that some say dates from the 13th century, so I am not going to go into this. All I can say is that the temple is definitely worth a visit! And while you are in the area, stop by at Ahangama to see the stilt fishermen.

PS Naturally there is no entrance fee but donations are appreciated. We left 500 Sri Lankan rupees for the monk and he seemed very pleased.

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Previous Sri Lanka trip posts (in the order of appearance):

Planning Sri Lanka: Itinerary

Sea Shine Guesthouse in Dodanduwa: spotless seafront rooms that come with a smile and delicious food

Dalawella Beach: Picture perfect and safe for swimming

Sri Gemunu Beach Resort: stunning location with friendly service

 

Sri Gemunu Beach Resort: stunning location with friendly service

If you read my previous post Dalawella Beach: Picture perfect and safe for swimming, you already have a pretty good idea about the area. We chose Sri Gemunu Beach Resort as our base in Dalawella beach, located on the northern end of this wonderful beach (where the big rock is). IMG_4424.JPG

We could choose between a downstairs room overlooking the garden (where the restaurant is) and the ocean (just behind the garden), and an upstairs room (comes with a proper sea view). Had we been just two of us, we would have probably chosen the upstairs room (around 95€/night including breakfast and dinner) but we took the downstairs room. It was very convenient for our daughter to be able to run straight from the room to the garden. The downstairs room -number 22, a nice one as it is on the far end of the building so very quiet- cost us just above 80€/ night (half board also).

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Our room 22 is located downstairs on the right. It had more privacy than many other downstairs rooms.  

Our AC room was clean and came with a four-poster bed with a mosquito net (that had some holes in it but the housekeeping fixed it very fast). The safe and fridge didn’t exist but we didn’t miss them (valuable can be left at the reception). The bathroom -again- was the weakest part of the room, but it was clean. There was a baby cot that however wasn’t in its best condition. The room was nothing fancy but it had a traditional design, and we were very comfortable and loved the fact that the ocean was just a few steps away.

The hotel staff was very welcoming. They let me use the reception telephone for local phone calls free of charge. The chefs was particularly kind and always prepared something special and extra for our daughter. He made sure we always had enough coconut and honey pancakes. One of the owners brought his little granddaughter to plays with ours. Small things maybe but all of our questions and requests were promptly responded with a sincere smile.

We ate at the hotel restaurant every night. There was a buffet, a mixture of Sri Lankan and Western food (this applied to breakfast too). After a few days the food got a bit boring but I guess buffets often do? We enjoyed Sri Lankan dishes but everything was a bit too westernized to our taste and we kept adding chili. Our daughter further extended her palate but pappadum and pumpkin curry remained her favorites. IMG_4367.JPG

The clientele of the hotel was mainly European: northern Europeans, Germans, English, Italians and French. The average age must have been around 60, but we did see some other families. The only thing that really bothered me was smoking as it is allowed in the outdoor restaurant. So when the wind blows from the right direction and you get a neighbor who loves smoking (regardless of smoke getting in your child’s face…), it is annoying, but not really a hotel’s fault (even if I would love to see all hotels in the world turn smoke free lol).

Would we return to Sri Gemunu Beach Resort? Definitely, any time! It is a great base to discover some important sites including Galle or just unwind at the beach.

Sri Gemunu Beach Resort: http://www.sri-lanka-resort.com

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Previous Sri Lanka trip posts (in the order of appearance):

Planning Sri Lanka: Itinerary

Sea Shine Guesthouse in Dodanduwa: spotless seafront rooms that come with a smile and delicious food

Dalawella Beach: Picture perfect and safe for swimming

Dalawella Beach: Picture perfect and safe for swimming

Sri Lanka is famous for surfing but if you want to find beaches safe for swimming, it gets trickier. When you read guide books that are full of warnings about dangerous currents, you start to wonder if swimming is safe anywhere -especially for small children. We did a considerable amount of research prior to our trip and I have to say that information I found was not very helpful. What people call “safe” seems to be very vague to…

After four nights -just enough time to recover not only from jetlag but also from Paris fatigue- we left Sea Shine Guesthouse in Dodanduwa: spotless seafront rooms that come with a smile and delicious food. Time to start exploring! We hired a car with a driver (more about this in another post) for the rest of our trip and decided to head towards Unawatuna, one of the most famous southern coast beach destinations. We decided to stay away from hustle and bustle and chose Dalawella beach because it was close to Unawatuna in case we suddenly felt like visiting the action center.

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We visited Unawatuna one afternoon and walked for an hour on the beach. That was sufficient for us. It was far too busy for us, not as clean as Dalawella, waves were strong and tourism in general very developed (sign boards were also in Russian!). If you want something quiet, stay at Dalawella like we did, or Thalpe.

We had been in contact with Wijaya Beach hotel, located on Dalawella beach, by email and telephone and were pretty sure we would choose to stay there (we usually like to see the place before making the final decision). Despite Wijaya Beach hotel probably being the most cool place to hang out in Dalawella, we decided not to say there. Instead we chose a more low-key, not as fancy but equally perfectly located Sri Gemunu Beach Resort.

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Wonderful Dalawella Beach, our favorite beach in Sri Lanka. Peaceful, very clean and oh-so-pretty. The beach is small as you can see, and there are many hotels along it. Sri Gemunu Beach Resort is located in the northern end of the beach (right where the big rock is). Right next to it is Rathna Guesthouse (the hut on the beach). The building on the right end of the photo with sun beds is Wijaya Beach. 

Every morning we extended our stay at Sri Gemunu Beach Resort. We developed a very good routine: breakfast, beach time, lunch & nap, visiting & beach, dinner. The hotel was nothing fancy, but it was clean, staff very friendly and we felt comfortable. Buffet food was good at most of the time. The hotel overlooks the beach and we had to walk about thirty steps from our room to reach the beach.

If you are thinking of staying at any of the hotels located on Dalawella beach, and if you want to be able to swim then continue reading (nobody on Internet tells you this!) : there is a coral reef in from of Dalawella Beach and during the low tide the reef appears, creating a sort of a natural lagoon. During our stay (January 2017) the swimming was best in late afternoons. Some people also snorkeled in the lagoon but you can see small fish even without the gear.

PS I read somewhere that it is common to see turtles on Dalawella Beach.  Maybe we just didn’t get lucky, maybe January was not an ideal month, maybe the moon should have been in a different position.. who knows! If you visit or have visited this beach and have seen turtles, let me know please 🙂

Previous Sri Lanka trip posts (in the order of appearance):

Planning Sri Lanka: Itinerary

Sea Shine Guesthouse in Dodanduwa: spotless seafront rooms that come with a smile and delicious food

Sea Shine Guesthouse in Dodanduwa: spotless seafront rooms that come with a smile and delicious food

Due to some last minute cancellations, we had no taxi reserved upon landing at the Bandaranaike International Airport at 4 a.m. We prepared ourselves for some serious negotiating but that was not necessary: as soon as we walked into the arrival hall, there were several companies offering taxi services with prices written on sign boards. We used the Bandaranaike International Airport Taxi Service (when you arrive, the first company on your right) and the fixed price to Dodanduwa was 8740 Sri Lankan rupees (about 55€/58USD) for an AC van. In addition we paid 300 and 400 rupees for the use of two highways: Colombo-Katunayake Expressway and Southern Expressway. Plus some tip.

My husband and our daughter fell asleep very soon while I watched the night turn into morning. Black became pink, moist air created fog and I could see silhouettes of birds against a rising sun. It was all very pretty and I wondered if this is what the depiction of Garden of Eden looks like.

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Depiction of Garden of Eden? No, just a typical image taken on the Southern Expressway on the way to Dodanduwa.

Sea Shine Guesthouse, where we arrived three hours later, turned out to be exactly or even better than we had imagined. Our room was very clean, came with a mosquito net and direct sea view. Like often in Sri Lanka (based on what we saw during our 15-day trip), the bathroom was the weakest part of the room, but it was clean and that was the main thing. We had reserved a non-AC room and as the house was built according to traditional Sri Lankan style, there was natural ventilation (but very few mosquitoes!) making it very nice to fall asleep while listening to the ocean.

Breakfast options were either Western or Sri Lankan and we opted for the latter (but it had to be ordered the night before). Delicious! We moved very little from our hotel, just wanted to relax, so we had lunch and dinner every day at the hotel. Mr. Sunil’s (the owner of the guesthouse) son Roshan took care of the cooking together with his mother, and everything was fresh, tasty and copious. We ate everything and never had any problem… Our daughter became a big fan of pappadums and expanded her palate to devilled chicken, fried noodles, grilled lobster, octopus, stringhoppers, dal, pumpkin curry and sambar.

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Missing this breakfast! Chef Roshan’s dal was particularly delicious!  

In overall, we had a relaxing and lovely stay at Sea Shine Guesthouse. Of course it is a homestay, do not expect 5-star service, but we felt that the family went out of their way to make our stay comfortable. They played with our daughter, they taught her how to feed aquarium fish and always made sure she had what she needs for meals. There is no high chair but we had ours.  In terms of sightseeing, there are a turtle hatchery nearby in Kosgoda (we didn’t visit),  Galle (we visited from our next destination) and Hikkaduwa (we took a tuk tuk and returned by the beach). We appreciated the fact that there are some activities and towns nearby, but that the location of our guesthouse was very quiet (Hikkaduwa beach is very busy!). The beach was super clean, there were no beach boys and at night we only heard waves. Perfect! My husband went for a swim but I didn’t dare. I don’t estimate that the beach is safe for children to swim in, but most of the beaches in Sri Lanka aren’t. One should always ask locals what the sea condition is that specific day (sadly, a tourist drowned during our stay in Dodanduwa).

Should you be interested in Sea Shine Guesthouse, I recommend you to contact them directly. I didn’t get response to my email, so the best is to contact them on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Sea-shine-Hikka-1548810175394587/ (type “Sea shine Hikka” on Facebook if the link doesn’t work)  or by WhatsApp / cellular phone +94-71-9725703. Facebook and WhatsApp messages are responded by Mr. Sunil’s friendly daughter Dily (say hello from me 🙂 ). We (2 adults and a toddler) paid 5500 Sri Lankan rupees per night for a nice non-AC room (number 2), including breakfast, and in the end we were given the room for 5000 rupees. Websites like Booking.com etc have higher prices, so contact the guesthouse directly!

Sea Shine Guesthouse: http://www.seashinehikkaduwa.com

To read the first post about our Sri Lanka trip, see Planning Sri Lanka: Itinerary

 

Planning Sri Lanka: Itinerary

When Emirates sent out its winter offers last November, we didn’t think for a very long time before reserving the tickets: 1200€ for two adults and one child (less than two years), not bad! Hadn’t we chosen a Dubai stop-over, additional ticket flexibility and 30kg of baggage allowance per person (instead of 20kg) we could have gotten our Paris-Colombo return tickets for as low as 1000€. Flying an airline based in an oil-rich country has its advantages…

Sri Lanka had been on our travel list for a long time, and it felt like a safe yet fun option with a toddler. This was going to be our first long-distance trip with our daughter so naturally we had questions and hesitations in mind, but everyone we talked to was very reassuring. Comments like “It is not exactly Singapore, but Sri Lanka is VERY developed, clean and safe” and “Your daughter will love it; they love children over there” sealed our decision.

Loyal to our habit, there we were, planned another self-organized trip, still resisting to book an all-inclusive holiday that comes with toddler activities and clubs…

We were going to have 15 full days in the Emerald Ile of Asia. The initial plan was to do like most tourists do: get one or two nights of rest either in Negombo (where the airport is located) or in Colombo (located south from Negombo) before continuing to explore the rest of the island. I soon abandoned this idea, for the following reasons.

  1. Negombo didn’t feel like a place we would like stay: the sea is too dirty and dangerous to swim in and hotels seemed expensive for the quality one gets.
  2. Colombo, on the hand, seemed interesting, but we were just too tired to do city sightseeing, especially in the beginning of our trip. Big cities can be really tiresome with small children and our Palermo experience (http://wp.me/p35gzD-IA) was fresh in mind.
  3. Since Colombo was at least one hour away from the airport, I started to wonder “if we are going to sit in the car anyway, why not to drive a bit further to a really lovely beach destination?” Our flight was to land early in the morning, so we could also benefit from quiet roads. I was pretty sure our daughter would sleep in the car, so two hours in a car instead of one hour would make no difference.
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The Negombo beach isn’t really as pretty as this photo lets you think… The beach is quite dirty, the sea is rather dangerous, beach boys follow you around and you can smell sewage. We did eventually spend 1.5 nights there in the end of our holidays but hope we will never have to return.

So, the plan B was born: I started looking into beach destinations that were not too far from the airport. The Kalpitiya Peninsula caught my eye and it was only 2 – 2.5 hours away from the airport. The idea was to rest here for few nights and recover from the jetlag prior to intensive visiting in the Cultural Triangle where the ancient Buddhist sites are. The Kalpitiya region has only recently opened up to tourism  and is famous for kitesurfing, dolphin and whale watching, as well as for some of Sri Lanka’s best eco lodges. Unfortunately, many of the nicer hotels were not in our budget. We started to worry a bit; nobody had told us you need to spend more than 200USD/night  in order to get something comfortable in Sri Lanka!

This is when the plan C kicked in. All along my husband had kept reminding me “do not make us do too much driving, the goal of this trip is to rest”. I took a closer look at the most common circuit, which usually heads first to the Cultural Triangle and tea plantations, followed by beach time  (or the same circuit but in a reverse order). Distances seemed important… Had it been just two of us, no problem, but having a toddler sit in a car for a half day or more, several times during a 15-day holiday, started to look like a bad idea. So, sadly , we decided to entirely skip the Cultural Triangle and said to ourselves that we will just have to return to Sri Lanka another time. We decided to spend most of our holiday by the sea on the southern coast and try to include a visit to Yala National Park and some (rare!) religious sites of the south.

I started looking for a hotel around Hikkaduwa, the world-famous surf town. I purchased a print version of the Rough Guide and finally started to get a feel for Sri Lanka (I hadn’t appreciated the French Routard guide book). Beaches looked more attractive while prices started to seem more reasonable too. This is when I stumbled across a small town called Dodanduwa, just few kilometers south of Hikkaduwa, and we ended up spending first few days of our trip in a lovely small beachfront guesthouse, but more about that in the next post!

PS Sri Lanka is such a hot tourism destination at the moment so I bet many of you readers have visited this wonderful island. Do you have a perfect itinerary to suggest? Were you traveling with or without children? If you are planning a trip to Sri Lanka at this very moment, congratulations on your great choice and I hope my post helps you to plan. Meanwhile, the Rough Guide has very good maps including different itineraries, see https://www.roughguides.com/destinations/asia/sri-lanka/itineraries/

 

 

Comeback attempt

Time flies when you are having fun, but also when you have a baby… And not that much really changes when the baby becomes a toddler!

Nineteen months have gone by since the birth of our daughter and not a week has gone by without a thought “tomorrow I will write a new post”. But by the time tomorrow arrives, something has already happened; my mind has already traveled miles away from blogging, priorities have directed me into doing something else, or extreme fatigue has decided to pay a not-so-rare visit.

Having a child at 40+ is not a piece of cake. Lack of support network adds its own challenges. Time has never felt so precious and “did you sleep well?” has become a question associated with irony. I know there are things I could do differently in order to increase the amount of free time and to decrease the level of fatigue, but the reality is I want to make decisions that I am comfortable with, that I believe are the best in the long run. Have I made decisions that are thought to be typically French -no. Have I done things in the Finnish way -not really either.

Despite all this lack of this and that, life has been treating us well during these special months. Choupette (a nickname given to our daughter by a doctor –also known to be Karl Lagerfeld’s cat’s name lol) has embraced the world with open eyes and we have tried to shower her with love, wisdom, kindness, humility and patience. At the daycare where she goes part-time four times a week she eats four-course meals. Based on my latest calculations, she has already tasted nearly 20 types of French cheese. She has been to more restaurants than I did during the first ten years of my life. Choupette has already accumulated quite a bit of travel experience, too. Five trips to Finland, Sicily (https://pearlspotting.com/2015/09/16/palermo-with-a-baby/), island hopping in Greece, Liguria and Côte d’Azur (trips I would like to write about on day…), and this week she will discover Venice. In January she will travel to her first exotic destination: Sri Lanka. Elephants, Buddhist sites, beach and culinary discoveries are to be expected. Luckily she has been expanding her palate at Saravanaa Bhavan (https://pearlspotting.com/2013/10/31/my-love-affair-with-saravanaa-bhavan/) here in Paris!

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Just the tip of the iceberg, more to follow inch’allah! Meanwhile, please drop me a note to tell me how your life has been. Inside tips about Venice and Sri Lanka will be highly appreciated too.