Weligama

Weligama, ("Sandy Village") meanders around a broad and beautiful bay, dotted with rocky outcrops and fringed with fine golden sand. It's an attractive spot, though it's never really caught on as a destination for foreign tourists, and despite a decent choice of accommodation, things are pretty somnolent and there's not much to do other than stare at the sea - which may be exactly what you're after. Weligama is famous for the stilt fisherman who perch on top of the stilts like storks with their long fishing rods waiting for a catch. A hallmark of Weligama.

Weligama itself is surprisingly attractive, as Sri Lankan towns go: quiet and relatively traffic-free, with a clutter of shops at the centre trailing off into lush streets of pretty gingerbread villas decorated with ornate mal lali wooden fret­work, peeking out from dense, green tropical gardens. At the western end ot town, near the railway line, stands a large megalith carved (probably sometime during the eighth or ninth centuries) with a three-metre figure known as Kusta Raja, the “Leper King”, usually thought to show an unknown Sinhalese monarch who was miraculously cured of leprosy by drinking nothing but coconut milk for three months. An alternative theory claims it as a depiction of a Mahayana Boddhisatva, possibly Avalokitesvara or Samantabhadra – a claim lent credence by the carvings of meditating Buddhas in the figure’s tiara.

Taprobane Island

The waters of Weligama Bay are relatively exposed, and suffer from pollution close to the town. The bay’s most prominent feature is the minuscule island of Taprobane, just offshore, virtually invisible under a thick covering of luxuriant trees. The island was owned during the 1930s by the exiled French Count de Maunay, who built the exquisite white villa that still stands, its red tiled roof poking up through the trees; The prettiest end of the bay is around Taprobane, where dozens of colourful outrigger catamarans pull up on the beach between fishing expeditions; you may be able to negotiate a trip round the bay with one of the local fishermen.

If you want to get out into the water, you can arrange diving through Bavarian Divers at the Bay Beach hotel, a German-run diving school offering the stan­dard range of PADI courses plus dives to local sites including coral reefs, the underwater rocks of the Yala Rock complex and the wreck of the &S.S Rangoon, which sank just outside Galle Harbour in 1863.

For something completely different, try the Snake Farm, about 14km from Weligama on the Akuressa Road, which has around fifteen different kinds of snake, including some enormous pythons, as well as some nasty-looking spiders. You can handle the snakes, if you think you’re brave enough.