Every now and then, if you’ve been a very good girl and worked hard and planned well you get to stay at a place that is so unbelievably incredible you can’t quite believe it. This stunning group of ‘bungalows’ (mansions) in Sri Lanka’s tea country is one of those places. Let me share with you my review of Ceylon Tea Trails.
Ceylon Tea Trails is the worlds first tea plantation resort. Owned by the founder of the Dilmah tea company clever Mr Merrill Joseph Fernando, who was one of 6 young Ceylonese men allowed to train as tea tasters in 1950. Merrill Fernando’s two sons, Dilhan and Malik (‘ Dilmah’), continue in the family business with Malik heading up the leisure tourism side of the business, forming Resplendent Ceylon (Ceylon Tea Trails) , which opened in 2005.
Set among the scenic tea-carpeted hills of the Bogawantalawa region around the Castlereagh reservoir it consists of five colonial-era tea planter bungalows which have each been converted to form a private luxury resort. Each of the bungalows offers 4 to 6 unique rooms and a dedicated butler, chef, and house staff. Ceylon Tea Trails was the first Relais & Châteaux property in Sri Lanka and remains one of only three in the country ( all owned by Resplendent).
The five bungalows are dotted around the reservoir near the town of Hatton and are located between 2 km and 15km (1.25 to 9 miles) from each other. Like everywhere in Sri Lanka moving from place to the other is not quick however – for example it takes around 45 minutes to get from Summerville to Tientsin, but all transfers are included in your tariff if you chose to stay in more than one as we did.
Tea Trails offers an inclusive experience. Tariffs are steep starting from around US$600 per night to US$1500 but you do get a lot of bang for your buck including all meals and drinks, laundry, a factory tour and High tea. You can also arrange to have meals at any of the Tea Trails bungalows during your stay – we popped down to Castlereagh after our Tea Factory Tour and had a really fabulous lunch. This is a walkable distance but they will also happily organise to drop you off and deliver you back if you prefer.
On our stay we spent 2 nights at Dunkeld Bungalow and 2 at Tientsin and this was a great combination with the former having amazing views over the lake and they are at opposite ends of the trail. Dunkeld and Castlereagh would be my pick with Summerville also a good spot to stay a night especially if departing or arriving by sea plane, as this is where the jetty is.
A bit about the Bungalows ( * we did not visit Norwood so am not including it. By all accounts it is of course lovely but, like Tientsin, is not on the lake)
Dunkeld Bungalow was built in 1925 and offers 4 guest bedrooms and the detached Owners’ Cottage. This is the most recent bungalow to open at Tea Trails, being restored in 2015. It is situated in a position high above the reservoir and offers amazing views over the lake, tea fields of the Dunkeld estate, the Dunkeld Tea Factory, and mountains. There are jaw dropping view from the deep verandahs and infinity-edge swimming pool as well as a hot tub, sun deck, library( with fireplace) and croquet lawn. It really is the pick of all the bungalows with the best views and close to the tea factory which is where the included tour is held.
Tea Trails offers a daily Tea Trail Experience tour that is complimentary for all guests as occurs at Dunkeld Tea Factory on the Dunkeld Estate. You can stroll down from Dunkeld bungalow or can be shuttled like guests from the other bungalows. The Tea Factory has a scenic location and is surrounded by tea fields as well as housing a medical care center, and a small school for the workers. Upon arrival, we were greeted and led into a room where there are informational exhibits on the tea industry in Sri Lanka and the tea making process. The tour then takes you through the working factory to see the whole process live and ends with tea and biscuits back in the Visitors Centre. With a bit of luck you will also be there when the ‘pluckers’ bring their leaves in for weighing. This happens 3 times a day so chances are good. The tour is quite fascinating and gave us a whole new appreciation for every cup we drink !
Castlereagh Bungalow was built in 1925 and offers 5 guest bedrooms, and is a popular guest favorite with its elegant colonial style and its lakeside position. It’s located on the opposite side of Castlereagh Reservoir from Summerville, and offers great views of the lake. You can be taken over to Summerville for a meal or transfers and its easy to enjoy the lake on a kayak too. It has beautiful gardens and offers a swimming pool, croquet lawn, and a library.
Tientsin Bungalow was originally built in 1888 but rebuilt in 1939. It has 6 guest bedrooms, and is decorated in a contemporary colonial style This one is located the furthest from Hatton compared to the other bungalows and is about 45 minutes by car from Summerville. It doesnt have a view of the lake but does overlook parts of the World Heritage Horton Plains National Park as well as a local village. As well as the usual facilities – a swimming pool, billiards room, library, croquet lawn, and extensive gardens it also has a tennis court.
Summerville Bungalow was built in 1923 and 4 guest bedrooms, decorated in the style of a country cottage. Summerville is situated on the banks of the Reservoir and offers great views over the water and tea-covered mountains.
It has a rather plain exterior but lovely furnishings and fixtures inside. It is the most accessible Bungalow with the sea plane and helicopters arriving here which can make for extra noise and transferring guests at times but is well worth a visit. It has a swimming pool, sun deck, summer house, croquet lawn, and gardens.
Many people who stay at Ceylon Tea Trails like to trek up nearby Adam’s Peak which is sacred to three religions. Buddhists believe the human-foot-shaped hollow on the pinnacle boulder marks one of the personal appearances of the Buddha. Muslims believe that the depression marks Adam’s expiation of his disobedience by standing there for an age on one foot. Hindus, by whom the Peak has been venerated for millennia believe the ‘print’ remembers the Creative Dance of the god Siva. It has been a pilgrimage centre for over a thousand years.
It is believed to take roughly 5500 steps to reach the top and you need to leave around 2am to do it. For this reason we did not climb it !