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Must visit spots in Matara

Located around 160 kilometres from Colombo, the city of Matara lies on Sri Lanka’s south coast and is one of the few southern cities that does not actively rely on tourism to power its economy. However, the city is home to a range of attractions that makes it something of a hidden gem on the island, just waiting to be discovered. With the general lack of tourists about, Matara is perfect for couples hoping for a holiday location that’s more secluded and far away from the crowds. If you’re thinking of hitting up this scenic coastal capital, here are a few of its must-visit areas.

Star Fort

An easy 10-minute walk away from Matara Beach near Nilwala River, Star Fort is named for the unique shape of its plan – a 6-pointed star that was defensible from any direction, with two large cannons defending each star point. Built by the Dutch in 1765 to protect the main Matara Fort from attacks originating from the river, Star Fort is surrounded by a deep moat that follows the lines of its walls, with a well in the middle that provided the fort’s water supply. Its walls were made from coral and granite rock, and it was built to be able to withstand attacks for a short period of time before needing to be re-supplied and defended with the help of the main fort.

In the late 18th century, when Sri Lanka moved from the hands of the Dutch to the hand of the British, the fort was converted into an administrative office, and then a library, until it was acquired by Sri Lanka’s Department of Archaeology in 1975 and restored to house a museum that today depicts the history of Matara.

The Old Dutch Market

A tuk-tuk from Matara beach will get you to this historic market in less than ten minutes. Known varyingly as the Old Nupe Market, the Old Dutch Market or the Old Dutch Trade Centre, this open-air building follows a T-shaped plan, housing two long corridors that intersect at the market’s grand entrance. Its origins are debated today, with some prescribing its construction to the British in the 18th century, and still others claiming that it could have been built by the Dutch before them.

The structure features large white stone pillars that support a wooden frame edged with stunning latticework, with the roof having been tiled in red clay tiles harking back to the Kandyan Era. Meat, vegetables, textiles and household supplies are thought to have once been sold here. The building might be more remarkable for those interested in colonial architecture on the island, but its long corridors and decidedly historic air make it well worth a visit for any romantic hoping for a glimpse at the past.

Polhena Beach

Of course, if you’re on the south coast, you’re definitely considering a visit to one of the many beaches dotted along the island. While the Matara beaches are known to lack the tourists that visit its popular neighbours, they are no less beautiful and are, in fact, more attractive for its absence of crowds.

Located less than 15 minutes to the west of Matara Beach, Polhena is a little harder to get to, but well worth the effort made. It features a small sandy cove with an offshore coral reef that breaks incoming waves to offer calm waters that are perfect for swimming. Locals visit the beach during the weekends, but it is pretty secluded and exclusive to couples who opt to visit during the weekdays. Polhena Beach is quickly becoming known as a romantic honeymoon destination, and is definitely worth being noted on your itinerary.

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