Uncovering the Secret Charms of a Tea Plantation Hotel
Recently, a friend was eager to check out Southeast Asia, and even though it was the rainy season in August, I indulged her and went along. I’d been to Thailand and Indonesia but never to Sri Lanka, the small island in the Indian Ocean where we ended up. I didn’t really have preconceived notions about the trip, but I did insist on having at least a few nights at a luxurious resort to round out the trekking and the crowded metropolis of Colombo—this, I admit, is always a must for me, really. And so it was we ended up at the jaw-droppingly beautiful Ceylon Tea Trails in Sri Lanka.
Billed as the world’s first tea bungalow resort, it sits 4,000 feet above Sri Lanka’s panoramic Ceylon tea region and borders the World Heritage Central Highlands. The details may not mean much to the average traveler (tea fanatics maybe, but not being one, I wouldn’t know), but it is also Sri Lanka’s first Relais & Chateaux resort (other hotels in their collection include the Ocean House, Blackberry Farm, Meadowood Napa Valley and The Surrey in New York City), and that counts for a lot in my book—I’m a luxury hotel junky when I’m feeling flush.
Open since 2005, this peaceful plantation in the country’s southern region (a four-hour haul from the capital city of Colombo) consists of 27 restored colonial era tea planters’ bungalows that are connected by walking trails through the scenic Ceylon tea gardens.
Tea Trails’ rooms and suites are named after the former British tea planters/estate managers who lived and worked in the bungalows since the 1900s (Sri Lanka was a British colony until 1948). The best views can be found in the 900-square-foot Greig Master Suite at Dunkeld, perched at an altitude of 5,000 feet, with stunning 180 degree vistas of the Castlereagh lake and the Great Western mountain range.
Upon arrival, your bungalow’s butler will greet you by name, and remember such things as whether you prefer Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc, and there’s nothing so crass as a room key or a bill (rooms start at $664 for double occupancy, but that includes all meals and drinks including spirits). By all means tour the tea plantation, but otherwise do nothing except enjoy the afternoon cream tea (served at 4 p.m.) and eat watalappan (coconut custard) to your heart’s content like I did. Beware: there is no air conditioning, so pack your lightest pajamas, because the rooms can be quite warm at night.
Since you are in tea country, after all, one “must do” is the signature Misty Mountain High Tea tradition. “Our traditional English High Tea is served high up on a hilltop with views of the mystical mountain Adam’s Peak through the mist and a panoramic spectacle of mountains and tea fields,” says Ghazzali Mohideen, Ceylon Tea Trails’ general manager. He also recommends the night walk with resident naturalists through the wild landscape of eucalyptus trees, tea bushes, and forest. “Since we border the Peak Wilderness sanctuary, there is even a chance of spotting the elusive leopard and the fishing cat, the second largest wild cat in Sri Lanka,” he says.
In all honesty, we didn’t avail ourselves of too many of the aforementioned activities as this portion of our Southeast Asian trip came after extensive cross-country trekking, so we left the property as little as possible. During our three-night stay, it was a welcome respite not to have to lift a finger, but we did manage to kayak around and hike nearby Adam’s Peak, home to the Buddha’s footprint—worth it for the Instagram fodder alone. But if you can’t be bothered to venture far afield, hey, don’t sweat it, put your feet up by the pool reading your favorite book (mine was Delia Ephron’s Siracusa), and enjoy the resplendent service and amenities of this lavish Southeast Asian resort—because, hey, we did do that.