Where the experts holiday: Ruby Lovell, Sri Lankan author, film producer and hip hop artist

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

As the daughter of a former High Commissioner of the Sri Lankan Embassy, Ruby Lovell was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka and spent her childhood between Russia (where her father was posted) and Sri Lanka. Ruby would spend every summer in Colombo with her extended family, and during these holidays, her grandmother would teach her about her heritage through day time excursions around the city and traditional Tamil bed time stories. In 1985, Ruby’s father was reposted to London and her family moved to Putney when she was seven. Ruby has lived in Putney ever since.

Now with her own young Anglo-Asian children, Ruby takes her her sons on regular trips back to Sri Lanka to explore their cultural heritage where they have visited tea plantations, volunteered at orphanages in the Northern territory for children effects by the civil war, learned to play traditional mridangam drums and visited elephant sanctuaries.

When Ruby struggled to find a picture book representing her Anglo-Asian children, she decided to write her own story celebrating diversity, adventure and interest in other cultures. Ruby Rides an Elephant is a vibrant and colourful exploration of Sri Lanka, inspired by the bedtime stories Ruby grew up listening to in Colombo, as well as the visits back to her homeland taken with her own children, helping them discover and explore their cultural heritage and experience some of the amazing adventures Ruby had as a child.


tea plantations in Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan tea plantations

What do you like to do on holiday?
Anytime I visit another country, I really like to make sure I’ve steeped myself in as much of their culture as possible. I’m not really one to sit on a sun lounger by the pool for a week. I love to take in the local architecture and famous cultural sights, and also love to go out of my way to taste the best local food and wine. I also try to scout out the best hole in the wall places that you’d find the locals in and avoid the tourist traps. It involves a certain amount of research, chats with random people to get recommendations, and maybe even some people watching to see where locals regularly stop into. I feel these places are where you get a real feel of the country and its people.

Where did you last go?
I last went to Barbados in the Caribbean in June 2017. We stayed on the West Coast as the waves allow for swimming and they have great local restaurants and shops. Barbados is split into regions known as Parishes, and we stayed in the Parish of St James near a town called Paynes Bay in a rental property right on the beach. The colour of the sea is spectacular here – pure turquoise – and the scenery is breath taking. There are lots of local restaurants like Mullins Bay where you can go on a Saturday or Sunday and eat, swim and be entertained by a local live band. It was fabulous. Barbados is known for its fresh fish and seafood, so trying a local flying fish dish is a must, washed down with the famous Rum Punch produced on the island and a real favourite with the locals.

Do you know where you’re going this year?
I’m very excited to be heading off to New York for the summer. This will be a city break and I have some live music performances lined up (as I’m also a hip hop/RnB artist). Whenever I go to New York I always check out what’s happening in Madison Square Garden as it’s a fantastic venue for shows. When I was there last Christmas, I watched the theatre adaptation of Elf which was superb. Not to miss sights are the views from the Observatory Deck at the One World Trade Centre. It is fantastic and you see the whole of the Big Apple from 1,300 feet high on the 102nd floor. The views from the Empire State Building are also spectacular and be sure to check out the Comedy Store in Greenwich Village for well know comedians who just pop up on the night to perform. I will be travelling with my children and will rent an apartment in the Soho district which is cool, hip and bustling with great restaurants and shops.

Sri Lanka tea estate

Of all the places you’ve been to, which was your favourite and why?
I would say my country of origin, Sri Lanka. I was born there and grew up between Colombo and Russia until I was seven years old (my father worked as a cultural attaché at the time).
In 1983, I moved to London, but would spend every summer back in Sri Lanka with my family. It is such an amazing island with so much to offer: breath-taking cultural heritage sights, spectacular beaches for relaxing on or for surfing, tropical jungles for hiking and exploring. The food delicious, mouth-watering and spices, smells and aromas are always enticing. There is also the world renowned tea industry (grown and produced in the hills of the island). The whole culture and landscape is bursting with colour, from the fabrics to the jewellery, the fruits to the animals. Not to mention the vibrant atmosphere of local markets which are a must see attraction of this magical island.

Which destination do you wish to travel to, but haven’t yet been?
Japan is on the top of my bucket list. The best way to find out where to travel is by word of mouth, in my opinion. And I’ve heard from so many sources that it is a spectacular country. Kyoto is a stunning cultural hub full of history and heritage, while Tokyo is the ultimate big city experience that I’m sure will be totally unforgettable. I’ve always dreamed of visiting the oldest temples in Tokyo with spectacular pagodas, and travelling at the speed of light almost on the famous Japanese bullet trains is a must do. Heading south to Kyoto I’d like to visit the shrines, palaces of the feudal era and the famous rock gardens – all of which are sure to be a real cultural eye opener.

How often do you go away?
I’m fortunate enough to get away about three times a year. I usually find a long summer away is the best way to ‘recharge the batteries’, which I think harks back to my childhood summers spent in Sri Lanka. As a mother with children, I must adhere to school holidays, but we make it work somehow. Christmas holidays are almost always spent in the mountains, skiing.  A favourite of ours is the French Alps and we usually head to Val D’Isere. There’s always great snow, amazing restaurants and if you like après ski bars, you’ll find some really good ones here complete with live bands flown in from all the world! At Easter, we usually head for sunshine to either Sri Lanka or Dubai.

Sri Lanka elephants; they will have seen more tourists last year

Who do you travel with?
I travel pretty exclusively with my children and family. But I sometimes take short breaks with my friends. They’re quite the party animals so we always love a city break that offers great nightlife like Berlin or Amsterdam.

Where do you see tourism in your country in 10 years?
I see it growing very rapidly. Tourism in Sri Lanka is one of the biggest contributors to our economy. Strangely the island’s tourism was not so badly affected during the Civil War in the 80s and 90s, largely due to the fact that most of the unrest was in the north of the island and not in Colombo or other tourist areas. I can only foresee it growing and growing: it’s a great time to invest in Sri Lanka too. It has the best mix of big city, beaches, tropical climate and culture. What more could you ask for? Paradise!

Ruby Lovell is a children’s book author whose debut picture book Ruby Rides an Elephant is published today (8 March;£4.99, Lychee Books). This beautiful book explores the vibrant colours, sounds, flavours of Sri Lanka and introduces children  aged 3+ to South Asian cultures and is available to buy on Amazon and Waterstones

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