(originally published in Newsweek, November 20 2010)

The road from Colombo to Kandy was a traffic jam of cars, tuk-tuks (three-wheeled taxis), and buses—along with the occasional cow—so we didn’t arrive at Mackwoods’s Labookellie Tea Estate until after dark, missing the scenic hills and waterfalls of Sri Lanka’s central highlands. The next morning, when we opened the doors out to the patio, my friend Oleg and I were greeted not only by the stunning, terraced hills, but also by the strong, rich fragrance of tea coming from the thousands of surrounding bushes. We spent the morning strolling the grounds of the plantation and taking a tour of the tea factory. (The company makes its own brand of tea and sells wholesale to companies like Lipton). Then I had an in-room massage. Not a bad way to start a holiday.

Opened to guests last year, the three luxury bungalows on the estate are just a few of the upscale plantation properties—including rubber, coconut, and palm oil—that Taprospa (a subsidiary of the Mackwoods Group) runs across Sri Lanka. It’s a good time to get in on the action. Since Tamil Tiger rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was killed by government troops 18 months ago, effectively ending Sri Lanka’s decades-long ethnic conflict, the country has seen a boom in tourism. The number of annual visitors remained stagnant at about 400,000 for the past decade, but this year has seen a 46 percent increase. More than 700,000 are expected to visit in 2011. According to Nalaka Godahewa, the chairman of the Sri Lanka Tourism Board, the number of new hotel rooms will also rise by 30,000 by 2015. Hotel chains such as Shangri-La have already plotted out sites in Colombo, while Four Seasons and Hyatt have expressed interest in creating luxury properties on the island. “There has not been any investment in the north and east of the island in the last 30 years because of the conflict,” says Godahewa. “But these are some of the most beautiful areas of the country, and investment is coming.”

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Warsaw Comes of Age

by Ginanne Brownell

(originally published in Newsweek)

I lasted only six months in Warsaw. I moved there from London in the autumn of 2000, and the city was still suffering its communist hangover: gray buildings stood drearily over streets short on bars and restaurants. The place depressed me, so I left. But a decade on, Warsaw is a completely different city, as Poland’s membership in the European Union (since 2004) is showing its privileges. The skyline is littered with construction cranes; six new major museums are opening in the next few years. The streets are buzzing with swanky new bars, restaurants, clubs, and galleries. Tourists from Israel or India can be found struggling with words like prosze (which means “please,” and is pronounced “Prussia”) and dziekuje (“thank you,” pronounced jen-coo-yah).
The new energy stems from the fact that Poland was the only country in the EU to experience positive growth last year, and the same is expected for this year. According to FDI Markets, which monitors cross-border investments, the city already saw $945 million in foreign expenditures in the first three months of this year (Berlin, by comparison, received just $113 million). Two decades after the Berlin Wall fell, Warsaw is fast becoming one of the great cities of Europe. Read more