A stay at Sri Lanka’s Ceylon Tea Trails is a charming lesson in history, as Nick Goodyer discovers.
Summerville Bungalow, a former planters’ residence built in 1923 in the Bogawantalawa Valley in Sri Lanka’s Central Highlands, has a collection of books entirely in keeping with its Raj-steeped history. Among these is the splendidly titled Rifle and the Hound in Ceylon, penned by Sir Samuel W Baker, MA, FRS, FRGS, and published in 1853. The introduction leaves readers in no doubt as to the tone of what follows.
While there’s no doubt that not all facets of the Raj were glorious – some very far from it – to stay at one of the four bungalows managed by Ceylon Tea Trails is to wind the clock back and immerse oneself in better times: a foreign country where people really did do things differently. The passing of the hours here is gentle, punctuated by meals, a dip in the pool, or even a game of croquet, the frenetic dance of Hong Kong rendered a vaguely absurd memory.
Established in 2005 by the Dilmah company, Ceylon Tea Trails, which comes under the umbrella of Relais & Chateaux, is the world’s first tea bungalow resort. It comprises four bungalows, all former planters’ residences – Summerville, Norwood (built 1890), Tientsin (1888) and Castlereagh (1925) – loosely scattered about Castelreagh Reservoir. Each offers a slightly different take on the tea-planter experience. Summerville is very much in the style of an English country cottage, where the cream teas served at four in the afternoon might have you thinking you’re in the Cotswolds rather than a tropical island on the tip of the subcontinent. Norwood, which was rebuilt in 1940, has a charming, distinctly ’50s feel to it, while Tientsin is in the highcolonial style. But whichever you choose, all are delightful, and this has everything to do with the location. Each is surrounded by beguiling gardens, established by the planters’ wives who longed for a reminder of the home country.
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