Galle Fort, Sri Lanka: A bit of order in the middle of chaos

Galle Fort is a little bit like George Clooney: old but still incredibly charming and gorgeous.

As I walked along the Fort walls gazing at the ocean, a little town to my left with its cobbled streets, quaint cafes and ancient houses caught my eye.

Galle Fort is my kind of place. It’s got history, art, good food and the ocean. It’s a place that is made for sauntering, not walking and preferably hand in hand with someone you love. Sri Lankan aunties selling lace dresses, a singing coconut wallah, old Sri Lankan men gossiping on street corners, music from the trendy cafes that finds its way to the streets and the colourful gelato shop that does a sale in the afternoons all add a sort of warm fuzzy feeling to the Galle air. It’s the sort of place that appeals to subtle romantics like me who live with a mortal fear of cliches.

Street corners in Galle seem to be laden with stories and memories
As we were sauntering (hand in hand of course) one balmy evening we came across Lucky Restaurant. Named after the lady of the house the white board sign outside the restaurant said 10 curries for two for 900 Sri Lankan Rs ( 7USD). What got me more than the attractive offer however was a note scribbled on one corner of the board that said “Mama Makes”. As someone who absolutely loves her mother’s cooking I was sold. Lucky, the mama who makes, is a lady who loves a chat just like I do. Shy for just the initial minute, she not only cooked for us but also serenaded us with 70s Bollywood music. She sang in Hindi, a language she doesn’t actually speak but has picked up solely from movies and songs. As Lucky herself puts it she has an “inborn talent” for music and cooking. After loving each of those 10 curries and her singing, my full belly, happy heart and I agreed wholeheartedly.

The rest of the family is just as lovely and it was in fact the son who decided to use the empty space outside their home and his mother’s cooking skills to the family’s advantage. Along with studying to be an engineer he also plays co-host at the restaurant. Eating at Lucky’s Restaurant feels a lot like being invited to a friend’s house. Their idea is to bring home cooked Sri Lankan food to the forefront and Lucky uses a lot of traditional vegetables like Yam, Lotus Stem, Local Gourd etc to achieve this. Among the Hummus platters, coffee lounges and dessert shops of Galle, they’ve carved a niche and it seems to be working. In less than 6 months, they’ve garnered a dedicated fan following – me included- and a stream of positive reviews.

A very poor quality photo of Lucky’s delicious restaurant. Try finding my  favourite bit: “mama makes”

In the homes within the Fort walls live not only generation old Sri Lankan families but also a talented group of expats who contribute wholeheartedly to the Fort community. Just the way the Dutch , Portuguese and Sri Lankan architecture blends in seamlessly so do the people who live amongst those buildings. Artists, poets, writers, photographers and musicians from around the world thrive and find a sense of belonging here. Maybe this is what Paris in the 1920s awith Hemingway, Miro, Stein and the rest felt like? I’d like to imagine it that way. I loved hearing snatches of conversation as I wandered around. A local fiction writer managed to sign a new book deal, someone else wanted to create art from abandoned construction materials while a third wanted to open a Sri Lankan Tapas restaurant. Despite all that was lost and destroyed in the 2004 Tsunami, Galle is a place that focuses on creation and new beginnings.

An Art store where rickety stairs lead you to a tiny bar: It’s easy to stumble upon the quaint & kitsch in Galle

Out of all the lovely cafes, Serendipity Arts Cafe stands out for its ambiance. There are a range of free books for bibliophile foodies as well as photographs of Galle to admire or purchase. The fusion food while creative and delicious is a little overpriced. The owner, a British writer, also conducts walking tours of the Fort area. If you’re keen, all you need to do is walk saunter up to the Cafe and ask. Should you decide to sleep in Galle Fort, which I’d recommend, try Travellers Tree. The property is run by the same folk who run Shobha, Life to Hands: a gallery selling local handicrafts made by local women. The gallery is downstairs, the rooms upstairs and there is even a tiny cafe on the premises. The whole place is built around a large open courtyard with lots plants, birds and natural light. At 2000 LKR (15 USD) the rates for their cosy, charming and comfortable double rooms are very reasonable, especially when you consider the tariffs in the area.

Old Dutch churches, concrete remnants of a colonized era
Pedlar St: One of the Fort area’s many European sounding street names

Galle might not be one the most spectacular places you’ll ever visit but it might just be one of the most memorable. As you wander among its quaintly named streets passing by old churches and stark white lighthouses while tiny monkeys jump from roof to roof swinging on crisscrossed electric wires, you’ll realise: Galle has plenty of stories to tell and all you have to do is listen.