Elegant in its English style, this hotel is a collection of luxurious tea-planter bungalows, scattered among the working tea fields that blanket undulating hills around the Castlereagh Reservoir. Deeply embedded in the colonial heritage, Ceylon Tea Trails is where butler service and traditional afternoon tea meet spectacular infinity pools.
We visited Sri Lanka for the first time during the dreadful times of the civil war. The hotels were vacant, and the ancient ruins of Polonnaruwa were as far north as we could go. Back then we focused on the Cultural Triangle and could not fit much else in our itinerary — but the Tea Country was already on our radar.
So this time round we set our eyes south of Kandy, with the aim of visiting the land of tea plantations — and we knew we had to stay at a hotel close to the action. The Ceylon Tea Trails was perfect to introduce us to the region.
The Ceylon Tea Trails comprises five bungalows, scattered widely around the Castlereagh Reservoir, and surrounded by working tea plantations.
They are in fact former tea planters’ houses, with heritage harking back to the days when the British Empire claimed the “teardrop island” as its own, and when the backbreaking work collecting fresh buds and leaves was the first link in the chain of tea trade that put the hot brew in the china sets of the society in London.
Today the bungalows have been carefully restored in a distinctive style that combines the old and the new. Authentic period furnishings, timbered ceilings, claw-foot baths, paneled libraries and bay windows call to the colonial history of the place.
A stay at the Ceylon Tea Trails is a rendezvous with the past, but the tea planters of yesteryear never had it as good as the guests checking in to the hotel today. From spectacular infinity swimming pools outdoor, fed by mountain spring water and refreshingly cool, to sublime spa treatments in the privacy of our room and the aromatherapy baths, the place offers luxuries that are very much of the 21st century.
Each property is fully staffed, including the butler and chef, who personally approached us every morning to discuss the meals. The menu can include international or Sri Lankan meals. There is a formal dining room, but we always preferred the intimate cushioned teak seating on the alfresco terraces, especially at the Dunkeld Bungalow, swept by the cool breeze coming from the lake.
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Ample space, beautiful furnishings and the quiet privacy of each house make it great to rest and relax, but it is worth leaving once in a while, as the area is perfect for hiking.
The five Ceylon Tea Trails bungalows are distributed over a wide area, and located between 2 and 15 km from each other — and a walk between them is an attraction in itself. We stayed at two of these houses: Dunkeld and Castlereagh, but visited some others too.
One day we came down to the shore of the lake and took a relaxing boat ride to visit the Summerville Bungalow. We also visited Norwood by walking from Dunkeld. Along the way, there are some truly beautiful spots for admiring the view over the lake and tea fields. And the locals, tending to the fields, would wave as we walked by, welcoming us to their beautiful country.
The traditional way of picking the tea leaves is a symbol of the unchanged nature of this area, and a reminder of its heritage and remoteness — not just geographically but temporally. In some important ways, the Tea Country has managed to fence itself off from the signs of encroaching modernity.