When you fly 11 hours overnight, the person in front of you reclining their seat to leave you with about an inch of legroom, you’re not doing it for the love of planes. If you’re anything like me, you’re doing it because it’s winter in Europe with all the requisite rain and cold, and you’re desperately seeking some sunshine. My stay in Galle, Sri Lankan’s southern beach city, offered plenty of that, and only a little seasonal rain to boot. In fact, in terms of Project Winter Sun, it ticked all the important boxes; indulgent food and drink, glorious outdoor scenes, mesmerising sunsets and hours of time to read, relax and refresh.

Galle is about two hours away from Colombo, the country’s capital. The city itself is vast, but tourists come for its 17th century Dutch fort (itself built upon Portuguese development) and the pleasingly petite old town within it. It’s a delight of a place; spice and tea shops jostle for space with chi chi boutiques selling gorgeous printed scarves and cushion covers, while food options are everything from local Sri Lankan cuisine to gourmet Mediterranean.

The main artery of the town is along the wonderfully named Pedlar Street; within minutes of arrival you can be enjoying a delicious meal in the shaded courtyard of the Heritage Cafe, where I had some of the best hummus I’ve ever tasted, or cooling off with an ice cream at Isle of Gelato.

Galle Fort is a daytime place, where you’ll want to spend a few hours walking the ramparts and taking in sights such as the clock tower, the old hospital or the lighthouse, or simply gazing into the distance at ocean that from there keeps on going until Antarctica. What it’s not, be warned, is a boozy spot; although a few places offer gin and tonics or cocktails, the old town is mostly dry and the buzz tends to die down by around 9pm.

You’ll want an early night at least once, though, because about 40 minutes down the road is Mirissa, a more backpackery beach town offering laid back mojitos in the sand and, more importantly, the departure point for a whale watching adventure. Blue whales and dolphins are regular sights in this part of the world; hordes of boats carrying eager, camera-clutching tourists depart the port daily at 6am through the winter months for that rare glimpse. Not all the boats offer the same experience and some take little account of environmental ethics; book in advance and go with the standout Raja & the Whales.

Closer to Galle itself is Jungle Beach, a hidden piece of paradise with perfect plush sands and calm waters to swim in; you have to hike down from the main road (persevere, even though it looks questionable) but there’s a bar on the beach and it’s well worth the effort. The area is also home to a number of hot surfing spots, if that’s what you’re after.

Galle is also a good starting point for numerous of Sri Lanka’s other attractions, from Yala National Park (where you can take in a safari and see elephants and leopards), to the many tea plantations of hill country. But travelling a few kilometres in Sri Lanka can take hours because it is so mountainous and because traffic is busy; if you want to see the sights you’re better off building a few days of travel into your itinerary and heading to Galle at the end for some well-earned respite.

Accommodation options inside Galle Fort are limited, but avoid the over-developed nearby town of Unawatuna if you can and instead stay a few minutes down the road at the palm-lined Amari Hotel. Newly opened last summer, this 172-room resort is modern, luxurious and comfortable without breaking the bank (rooms start from approximately £160 per night). Its crowning glories are the vast swimming pool surrounded by more than enough deckchairs for the number of guests, a private beach which has been cleverly engineered to offer a shallow segment of sea to swim in, and the rooftop Boomu bar offering more than a few cocktail choices, plus exquisite sunset views. Visiting over New Year’s, when a riotous banquet was in full swing – with a buffet so expansive it was almost intimidating – we found the food and hospitality unparalleled.

Half a day on a plane to get to Sri Lanka, but Galle is more than worth it; for winter sun in a beautiful, memorable location, look no further.

For more information on Amari Galle, see the hotel’s website. More details on tourism in Galle is on offer via Sri Lanka Tourism.