BY the time the clocks go back, I’ve usually had my first cold of the year, my proper coat is on and I do not leave the house without an umbrella.
And with no Indian summer this year to ease us in gently to the time change later this month, I was desperate for a blast of heat — so opted for Sri Lanka.
Our former colony, off the southern tip of India, is a mecca for Brits seeking autumn and winter sun.
I headed for historic fort town Galle, on the island’s south-west coast a few hours’ drive from capital city Colombo and its international airport.
The influence of all the island’s settlers — the Dutch, Portuguese and British as well as the Chinese and visitors from the Arab world and Malaysia — makes the fortified town a reassuring blend of the familiar and the excitingly unknown.
On a gentle wander through the winding streets inside the fort I stumble upon churches and bell towers, as well as Buddhist temples with white cone-shaped pagodas that point towards the blue sky.
Ramparts line the coastal defences and are great for strolling along while taking pictures and picking the next street full of shops and cafés to explore.
At Jungle Beach, brightly coloured wooden loungers dot the small cove and families splash happily in the sea.
I buy a mojito from a tiny waterside bar and quickly forget that only a day earlier I had been contemplating putting on a second jumper for my walk to work.
Lively parties on the beach stretch well into the evening and it would be easy to pick a spot and never leave.
But far from being just a paradise for humans, the island is an animal lovers’ dream. The Indian Ocean waters to the south of Sri Lanka attract large numbers of blue whales.
I take a taxi down the coast from Galle to the tiny port of Mirissa, where whale- watchers head out to sea on guided tours every morning hoping to spot these giants.
It is not long before our guide is pointing into the distance at what at first seems like just a few spurts of water.
As our boat edges closer, it becomes clear the water is being sprayed from a whale’s blowhole — and we witness a moment even dedicated whale-watchers can spend years waiting for.
I hold my breath as a huge tail flicks into the air.
After a couple of days’ sightseeing, and the excitement of seeing blue whales in the wild, I am ready to lay back, relax and soak up the sun. And what better spot to do this at than the Amari Galle Hotel? Every room has a sea view and I look out from my balcony on to its own private beach and two pools.
My only concern is deciding where to go to enjoy being treated like a VIP.
Each sun lounger comes with a call button for bar service, so there is never any worry about where my next drink is coming from.
At the hotel’s Breeze Spa I am asked to choose how I want to feel at the end of my pampering massage. I select Rejuvenated — before letting the masseuse work her magic.
Tempting as it is to stay and relax at the resort, it would be a crime to come all this way — just over ten hours from London — and not explore some of the local highlights.
A 10km taxi ride from the hotel is the Japanese Peace Pagoda. This gleaming-white Buddhist temple is one of 80 similar monuments built around the world to promote, as the name suggests, peace.
Nearby is Unawatuna Beach, a charming crescent of golden sand fringed by palm trees, which is popular with tourists and locals alike.
It can get busy but the sea is warm and inviting. This year is the 150th anniversary of Ceylon tea being grown in Sri Lanka and the plantations that cover vast swathes of the country’s highlands have a reputation for producing some of the highest-quality tea in the world.
Black Ceylon tea — the kind blended to make English breakfast — is the default here, served with milk, and I am never far from someone offering a cuppa.
But a love of tea is not the only thing us Brits share with Sri Lanka — rice and curry is the national dish.
The Amari Galle’s restaurant offers a selection of local specialities — flavoured with the country’s famous cinnamon and using fish and seafood caught a stone’s throw from the kitchen.
A few days is not enough time to taste even a fraction of the dishes on offer but I am also keen to try out the rooftop cocktail bar, where I catch a stunning sunset on my last evening.
Their fantastic menu of reworked classics, and sharing drinks and food with friends, is the ideal accompaniment to another picture-perfect view.
It is enough to make me wish I could stay in Sri Lanka long after the sun has set for the final time on my trip.
Via The Sun