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TV explorer Levison Wood is fascinated by Sri Lanka

Victoria Park is a delightful botanical garden. It is located a few steps down the hill, past the golf course and the post office, where the red letterboxes bear the seal of George V.

On the lawns of an adjacent hotel, white benches overlook the tennis courts. But nobody plays today because, despite the mild heat, a storm is brewing.

At the center of it all: Nuwara Eliya, in the central highlands of Sri Lanka, is a throwback to the British colonial period

This is Nuwara Eliya, in the central highlands of Sri Lanka. It has grown considerably since explorer Samuel Baker arrived in 1847 and began trying to recreate a little corner of Devon in this tropical paradise.

A place to get away from it all: Levinson stayed at Cape Weligama, an idyllic property on the south coast

A place to get away from it all: Levinson stayed at Cape Weligama, an idyllic property on the south coast

He made a living by planting tea and his ghost lingers. I find myself staring in disbelief as I wander between faux Tudor buildings hidden behind manicured hedges – floral scents filtering from the gardens of rhododendrons and rose bushes.

My first impressions of Sri Lanka had been no less intriguing: Colombo’s wide, tidy and clean streets and its blend of British, Portuguese and Dutch architecture.

The capital is a fascinating stop and a hair-raising tuk-tuk ride through the chaotic markets of Pettah and up to the 16th century fort is well worth the risk.

Capital class: Colombo is a fascinating stop: a tuk-tuk ride through the Pettah market is worth the risk

Capital class: Colombo is a fascinating stop: a tuk-tuk ride through the Pettah market is worth the risk

Sri Lankans are impeccable hosts. You will rarely meet someone who doesn’t exude a silky smile or give you a cheery “good morning”. Schoolchildren, resplendent in immaculate uniforms, line up on the sidewalks, beaming.

Cricket is played with energetic passion on Colombo’s Galle Face waterfront. As I wander around, I see street vendors at the outdoor food stalls, selling crab curries and fresh prawns.

It is hard to believe that, until 2009, this same boardwalk was a partially militarized zone. The entire island, in fact, was plagued by a civil war that had plagued the country for more than 25 years. Now, everything is calm, composed – as if a new era were firmly at dawn.

Simply spectacular: the steep Ella Gap gorge connects the highlands of Sri Lanka to the southern lowlands

Simply spectacular: the steep Ella Gap gorge connects the highlands of Sri Lanka to the southern plains

The journey east to Nuwara Eliya is an adventure in itself, an odyssey along narrow, busy streets cluttered with cars and people – old “highways”, built in colonial times, and spectacular, if a little terrifying.

Hairpin bends make their way through pretty villages, where monkeys stand alert on tin roofs. The route is littered with waterfalls, Buddhist temples, and shrines along the way.

There I pause in the cool of the hills for a few days of relaxation – then head south by train, passing the glorious Ella Gap – a steep gorge that cuts through the mountains and descends to the steaming plains below.

Calm Bends: Weligama Bay on the south coast is a great place to try surfing and scuba diving

Calm Bends: Weligama Bay on the south coast is a great place to try surfing and scuba diving

Making Waves: Cape Weligama sits in a pristine location on the cliffs above the Indian Ocean

Making Waves: Cape Weligama sits in a pristine location on the cliffs above the Indian Ocean

The lowland scenery could not be more different. Palm trees surround the rice fields where men in sarong prepare for the harvest and a road sign warns of the crossing of elephants.

After six hours traversing this kingdom of villages and agriculture, I reach the coast and my base for the next week.

The charming Cape Weligama resort is perched atop a cliff overlooking the Indian Ocean. From the isolation of my private villa, I can make out small spots in the sea beyond the beach. Surfers.

The sport is fairly new to the island, but perfectly suited to the southern and eastern coasts, no stranger to big waves.

TV Explorer Levison Wood was impressed by the hospitality and warmth of the people of Sri Lanka

TV Explorer Levison Wood was impressed by the hospitality and warmth of the people of Sri Lanka

I try scuba diving. Despite the damage caused by the infamous 2004 Asian tsunami, coral is making a comeback – and as you float languidly around the underwater boulders of Yalla Rock, a mile offshore, I am greeted by puffers, eels and even an eagle ray, flitting as graciously as its namesake plane.

There are endless business opportunities. This luxurious all-inclusive spa retreat will happily satisfy (most of) your whims.

There are year-round opportunities for whale watching, bike tours of rice paddies, excursions to national parks in search of elephants and tigers – and the rejuvenating experience of an Ayurvedic massage.

In search of lunch: Sri Lanka's famous stilts fishermen on Weligama beach on the south coast

In search of lunch: Sri Lanka’s famous stilts fishermen on Weligama beach on the south coast

But I am content to stare at the sea, to observe the fate of the fishermen on local stilts.

Using a method refined from generation to generation, they balance precariously on wooden poles from sunrise to sunset, the foaming waves around them – but somehow they always manage to carry a day’s catch, returning to the beach with wide smiles.

Development is coming to Sri Lanka and the country will change. But for now, its distinctive past is still visible. I hope it always will be.

Travel information: plan your escape to Sri Lanka

Group travel experience (020 3627 3081, www.experiencetravelgroup.com) offers a five night Sri Lanka holiday from £ 1,772 per person, including five nights B&B in Cape Weligama (0094 11 774 5730; www.capeweligama.com), flights direct from Heathrow with Sri Lankan Airlines and transfers.

Levison Wood’s new series, Walking The Himalayas, starts on Channel 4 at 8pm on Sunday December 27th.

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