Sri Lanka – Taprobane IslandBack to Story

Taprobane Island - a slice of paradise

Taprobane Island

Taprobane Island is a small amaazing island just through the surf on the South Coast of Sri Lanka. I was inspired to travel to this island after watching an episode that English chef Rick Stein had made there. His show beautifully captured the romance of this exotic island. Staying at this unique hideaway makes you feel like an explorer from the last century who has stumbled upon this dream island and the glamorous occupants have just stepped out but could be back any moment.

The Island’s only building is now a hotel and was built in 1921 by the French descendent of Napoleon’s general, Count de Mauny-Talvande. He was an eccentric who had visited 10 years prior on a tea trip with the Lipton’s.  Rumours have it that he left Europe in disgrace.  The island would have suited his flamboyant style. To get to the island requires wading out through the surf adding to the sense of adventure.

Paul Bowles was the next major owner in 1953. He was an American writer and composer, sharing his residence between Morocco and Taprobane until his wife encouraged his return to Morocco full time. In one of the books on the island covering the history of Taprobane he talks of early breakfasts followed by time in the sea, a long curry lunch, siestas and working in the evening. What an amazing lifestyle in this slice of paradise.

The current owner, Geoffrey Dobbs, has turned the island into a unique hotel. Dobbs also runs two other boutique renovated hotels in Galle. Dobbs reputedly saw pictures of Taprobane Island in the 1970s and thought it was a magical spot.  He first secured the property as a rental and purchased the island in the 1990s.

The small island has many different views and sounds.  The northern side faces the beach so you can hear the waves rolling in and see the fishermen either preparing to go out or coming back from their evening catch in the Indian Ocean.  My host tells me that most of the fishing boats catch tuna and it’s a bad time at the moment because the seas are so rough. As a result fewer than normal are going out and the catch is not as abundant.  Earlier in the month fishing was excellent and both sides of the beach were selling fresh tuna from their boats.

The Ceylon Elephant Polo Association Championships were held on Weligama beach in front of the island every February when the tides were low. It seems both from the pictures on the wall and from the writings in the villa that Geoffrey has been instrumentation in bringing the match to the area.

Until conversion into a hotel the island has been a bit of a temporary holiday or party hang out for the elite, wealthy and their friends. The island has also inspired many writers and photographers and you can see why. It has a peaceful other world like quality that I certainly have never experienced.

Despite the fact or maybe because of it, there are pictures of the current owner Geoffrey Dobbs’ family scattered on various antique tables you feel like you’ve stepped into someone’s home.  However you could be forgiven for thinking it’s your home because the house has such a welcoming feel.  This is enhanced by the reception you receive from the island dog that promptly assumes his position at my feet and acts as a regular escort when I explore the nooks of the island.

While they take one booking at a time if you had packed the island with every room there are plenty of little hide away spots and privacy for everyone.  The rusted DVD can play some old disco tunes or you can plug in your iPod for your own taste to dance the night away.

Every book on the island speaks of the parties that have been held here.  Looking through the guest book this had continued through to recent times.  Guests have glued in a fabulous invitation for the millennium.  The invitation promises a complete paradise getaway complete with dancing and fireworks.  From the comments left to tell the tale guests fell in love with the island, as I did.

The interesting thing for me was looking at my own photographs during my 24 hours on the island.  As always I try to take photographs when I first arrive to capture the unique things seen on first glance.  Being a small island of 2 hectares you wouldn’t expect views to change in such a short time. However, having spent the night listening to the island’s music collection, reading all the old logs and books, talking to the friendly staff and immersing in the atmosphere, the photographs changed immensely.  The sign of a truly magic place.

Travel photographs from Sri Lanka\'s premier boutique island escape

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