Staying true to my travel motto to see four new places each year, 2014 kickstarted with two weeks in Sri Lanka.

And boy, was I glad it was Sri Lanka. My mental picture of Sri Lanka had always been wild elephants, majestic rock fortresses and crystal clear waters. Since I was a little late in booking a villa by the beach in Galle, I thought I would simply be content with my cute accommodation in Galle town and watching local fishermen sit on stilts in the sea all day.

Sri Lanka offered way more.

I’ll skip through my Cultural Triangle adventures and bring you straight to Kotmale. Nestled in the heart of the hill country, Kotmale is definitely overlooked by many whom are drawn to the popular destinations such as Nuwara Eliya and Ella.

As someone who tends to fall in love with out-of-the-way, barely functional places, I was delighted that Kotmale turned out to be a gem. It was a close-enough base to head out and explore Horton’s Plain, Adam’s Peak and the tea plantations while remaining far away from tourists. In order to get to a local market, it was necessary to drive for about 30 minutes. But this was also the draw of this place which led me to book four nights here. It alludes in landscape, architecture and flavour to many of the famous hill country destinations while maintaining wholly distinct.

Arriving in the heat of the afternoon, I was greeted by Akila, a staff from the villa, with fresh juice and cold scented towels. The boutique villa was stunning in an understated way. There were just seven rooms including a honeymoon suite, a lovely courtyard, living areas where you could just sit, nap or read for hours on end, and a dining area that was set out on a terrace overlooking the reservoir and valley.

Akila made me fall in love with Kotmale more and more each day. Over dinner, he would fill me in on the history of the Kotmale Valley.

“Sometime in the 100 B.C., the ancient King Dutugemunu lived in the villages and disguised himself as a young farmer to run away from his father King Kavantissa.”

He also shared with me that many parts of the villa were lovingly restored since the time of the late political leader Hon. Gamini Dissanayake — all of which helped me relate to Kotmale and the villa even more.

Always eager to recommend places to check out around the valley, Akila also reminded me to bring a jacket for the bone-chilling Adam’s Peak climb, and insisted on cleaning my muddy shoes after I returned from Horton’s Plain.

He really made me feel like there would always be someone to take care of things. All I had to do was enjoy my holiday.

More than ambling around tea plantations, you could also go cycling, hiking, fishing, whitewater rafting, and more. Even the neighbour’s dog would follow me when I go on my walks to the reservoir, perhaps to ensure I return safely. Kotmale was spellbinding, poignant, and very beautiful. I wished I had lingered longer.

On my final morning in Kotmale and desperate to cling on to any last memories of this place, I decided to take a walk around the village just outside. The surrounding hills were deep green and the rice paddy fields glittered under the sun. All through the walk, locals beamed with smiles as warm as the morning rays and were excited for foreign interaction.

“Hello, how are you?” they would shout as I passed their homes.

Amidst the spectacular landscapes and charming towns, I guess Sri Lanka really captivates with its simple and sincere locals who are happy to tell you about their history, their life stories and as a result, build friendships with everyone they come across.

I’m already planning to return next year.

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