For countless centuries Sri Lanka was a meeting place, where trading boats including Arab dhows and Chinese junks converged to trade.
So it has attracted travellers from almost the beginning of recorded history. Now, after a long and bloody civil war, visitors are returning.
More than a million tourists jetted in to the island last year and arrivals this year are up another 13.1 per cent.
It is easy to see why; it has beautiful tropical beaches, spectacular mountain scenery, a fascinating history and very friendly people. And if that is not enough - it's cheap.
Just outside the clamour and cacophony of Colombo's teeming streets and clanking railways sits an ageless and graceful symbol of Sri Lanka's past and present.
The Mt Lavinia Hotel is a jewel of the country's history, preserved in aspic from the days of the British occupation of then Ceylon, and still sitting in high majesty on a headland with a view of the nation's capital.
Through its heavy timber and glass doors pass the great and the good of modern-day Sri Lanka to celebrate feasts, conferences and beauty pageants - but most of all, weddings.
This is largely because the Mt Lavinia Hotel has a romantic history that stretches back 200 years, and a story that can still be imagined amid the ornate porticos, lavish reception areas and chandeliers that have been faithfully retained and maintained to this day.But more of that story of hidden love later. Sri Lanka as a holiday destination was off the map for 27 years as the multiracial tapestry of the country of 22 million tore itself apart.
The pitched battles in the north of the country were global news as the Tamil Tigers, fighting for greater independence, waged war against the predominantly Sinhalese army.
The casualty list grew to more than 100,000; in July 1983 alone, hundreds of Tamils were beaten to death in riots across Colombo.
To add to the misery for the country and its inhabitants, in 2004 it was struck by the huge Boxing Day tsunami that swept across the Indian Ocean, destroying towns, villages and railway lines, and claiming 30,000 lives.
But in 2009, Sri Lanka's army finally claimed victory with a defining battle in the north that killed the Tamil Tiger leadership and set the nation on the road to peace.
Slowly, the more curious travellers, backpackers and others seeking fresh fields started to arrive at Bandaranaike airport.
What they discovered, as those who have kept close ties with Sri Lanka have always known, is a beautiful tropical island blessed with an abundance of good soil and rainfall that yields heavy crops.
Known for centuries for its tea, it also has a huge variety of tropical fruits, spices, fresh fish and herbs. Then there are its people.
Somehow remaining cool and even elegant amid the oppressive tropical heat through the middle of the day, the tuk-tuk drivers, self-invited guides, hotel staff, police and general population have the widest smiles imaginable as soon as you first make eye contact.
It's a blend of natural and personal attributes that can make each day of your stay pleasant and inviting.
And there is so much to see once you venture beyond the municipal buildings, teeming trains, and weaving and chaotic traffic of the capital.
But as always, the choice of hotel is very important, so we'll go back to where we started our holiday - the Mt Lavinia Hotel, and its romantic history.
Sir Thomas Maitland, the second governor of Ceylon, was not impressed by his lodgings when he first arrived to rule the island in the name of the British Empire in 1805.
He explored outside the capital till he saw the headland that the hotel now sits on, in the village of Galkissa, and decided to build a grand country mansion that reflected his rank and status.
The residence that was started the following year allowed him a view from the promontory back along the coast to the city, while enjoying the fresh sea breezes that keep the humidity and heat at bay. Here, he administered the island's growing economy and helped set the standard for the proper society that was paramount in Britain's colonial outpost.
But King Tom, as he was known, yearned for excitement and entertainment amid the stuffiness and rigid social mores of this society.
This arrived in the form of an exotic mestizo dancer, half Portuguese and half Sinhalese, who was the lead dancer in her father's troupe.
As Lovina Aponsuwa danced before him, "enticing him with her long flowing dark tresses, and fixing his attention with her large expressive hazel-brown eyes", he was said to have been mesmerised.
According to the account of the story contained in fading posters in the hotel's early 19th century-era corridors, King Tom fell instantly in love with Lovina, who became a regular performer at the Governor's house.
Lovina was from the lowest caste of the Sinhalese community, the Rodiya, and was looked down upon by the other castes. She lived in a humble dwelling near the governor's residence.
As the legend goes, a tunnel ran from a disused well near her village to the cellars of the governor's mansion. For six years this passage allowed Lovina to keep secret nightly trysts with Sir Thomas Maitland.
Eventually poor health forced King Tom to leave Ceylon, but before he did so he presented Lovina with a large piece of land at Attidiya, some distance from Galkissa.
Lovina's name is remembered as providing the inspiration for naming the governor's residence, and her statue stands in the middle of the fountain in the hotel's courtyard.
It is a romantic attachment that forms the backdrop for wedding photos most weekends, as Sri Lankan families seal their union with pictures beneath the hypnotic gaze of "Lady Lavinia", who won the heart of a British king of Ceylon.
The colonial-era hotel, and its legend, are a welcoming first stop for visitors to Sri Lanka, and all the other natural and historic wonders that await beyond Colombo.
The civil war kept the nation in a time warp as much-needed infrastructure spending was put off, but the government is intent on modernising transport links and new roads and trains are arriving.Sitting on the poolside terrace high above the Indian Ocean's rolling swell, listening to a tinkling piano and watching the setting sun, it's easy to imagine falling in love with such a place.