Encircled by verdant hills, Kandy is Sri Lanka’s second largest city. Culturally, this sprawling centre is the island’s most important, being home to Sri Lanka’s most sacred religious shrine – the Temple of the Tooth – and the country’s most energetic festival – the 10-day Esala Perahera, held annually in July or August. Dating back to the early thirteenth century, the kingdom of Kandy was the last to fall into the hands of the European colonialists – to the British peacefully in 1815 – and as such it has preserved its own unique characteristics, which are keenly exhibited in the city’s unique forms of music, dance and architecture.

Carpeting a bowl-shaped valley, the university town of Kandy is a sizeable settlement and surprisingly busy. At the heart of the city lies the meandering Kiri Muhuda, a large artificial lake constructed in 1807 encircled by a pretty white parapet and tree-lined walkway added later by the British. To the north of the lake is the Dalada Maligawa (the Temple of the Tooth), encircled by a number of museums and devales, and the city’s low rise grid of streets, home to a disproportionate number of bakeries, many souvenir shops and a scattering of restaurants. On the city’s fringes lie theforested hills of the Udawattakele Sanctuary, the Hantana Tea Museum and the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens.

A large part of Kandy’s attraction lies in its verdant, hilly hinterland. A number of Kandyan-era temples, such as Embekke, Lankatilake and Gadaladeniya, are dotted to the south west of the city and to the northeast lies the stunning, yet little-visited Knuckles Mountain Range, home to some of the island’s best wilderness trekking. To the west of the city, and just off the main road linking Kandy to Colombo, is the village of Pinnewala with several elephant orphanages where you can glimpse scores of peaceful pachyderms enjoying a morning or afternoon swim in the river. To the east of Kandy at Digana, lies the Victoria Golf and Country Club. Kandy is the launch pad for journeys into the Tea Country, best done by train.