Pledge Holidays’ hometown Negombo, dubbed the gateway to Sri Lanka because Bandaranaike International Airport is just 20 minutes down the road, is full of colonial charm.

A Sunday Observer feature notes that the capital Colombo is only 30 minutes away, thanks to the Airport Expressway, or rather longer via a picturesque road that follows the old 19th century Dutch (Hamilton) Canal, a major tourist attraction.

The canal runs from Colombo to the southern end of the magnificent Negombo lagoon before heading north through the town and up behind the tourist beachside strip to Puttalam, more than 120 kilometres away.

The Observer notes that “like many other coastal towns in the country, Negombo was an important spice port long before the Portuguese set foot on the island”.

“Cinnamon flourished in the hinterland (though now it is only cultivated in the country’s South) and Negombo was an important Port for Moorish traders until the Portuguese took possession around 1600. The Portuguese then built a small fort there.”

What’s left of the fort is well worth a visit, as is the nearby Fish Market, with its adjoining beach and lagoon creek from which many of the traditional outrigger ‘catamaran’ fishing canoes operate.

Meanwhile, the fact that Negombo is also known as ‘Little Rome’ hints at the town’s pre-eminent cultural and religious mainstay—the Roman Catholic Church, with its dozens of places of worship.

Chief among these legacies of the Portuguese colonial era is the landmark St Mary’s Church, which looms over the town’s western reaches and is visible from miles out to sea.

St. Sebastian’s Church in Katuwapitiya, “is yet another prominent church etched into history, as is the Church of Our Lady of Good Voyage in Doova, which banks the ocean and fills the area with the aura of reverence”.

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