As you snake your way up into the central highlands of Sri Lanka the air becomes cooler, the palm trees thin and disappear and are gradually replaced by sub montane and montane forests cloaking the sides of the steep mountains. The height of the tree canopy of these cloud forests decreases with altitude and brambles trace the roadsides. Neat rows of camelia sinensis begin to appear with brightly dressed Tamil ladies dotted among them picking their leaves for tea. Miss the turning, and go up too high, you will reach the high grass plains at 2000 meters where cows graze and winter can bring frosts.
Taking a minor road left at 1700 meters, you climb still further. Turning again and crossing a ridge you enter a hidden valley, tucked away in the folds of the mountain, a remote, idyllic hideaway. The scenery is breath-taking, the views magnificent. This is the stunning location of The Warwick Estate, and the 18th century Scottish planters’ house.
The views from an ideal lunch spot in the garden.
The hotel has just five bedrooms, all comfortably furnished and fitted with modern bathrooms. The master suite of this once family home has a beautiful view of the Estate and is large, airy and bright with windows on two sides. Downstairs, there is a large communal dining and living room
The master bedroom and bathroom.
Perhaps for me, best of all was breakfast served out on the lawn or patio. The air was crisp and cool, the view stunning, the fruit fresh and the juice newly squeezed. Buffalo curd and treacle followed by an omelette of choice and toast. It was hard not to linger over freshly brewed tea, but a moderate hike was awaiting.
Al fresco breakfast.
The young lad from the local village having served breakfast is free to take guests on one of the thirteen walks around the Estate and beyond. He proudly showed us his beautifully kept village and pointed to his own home, neatly set on a terrace. He took us to the villagers’ large verdant vegetable gardens, kept immaculately, their produce their staple diet. He showed us his chickens and hens. He walked us around the well-kept tea plantations and took us to the best viewpoints. Whenever you start to climb, your lungs reminded you of the altitude.
Afternoon tea (left). The Gardens (right).
One day we went up to the plains in Ambewela and watched the cows happily munching in what is known as ‘little New Zealand’. We did not walk the much favoured but often oversubscribed Horton Plains National Park footpath, preferring the solitude of our own estate. Another day we went to the Hakgaka botanical gardens to see the stunning orchid collection. For me, staying at home on this beautiful estate, enjoying the solitude, walking, reading and watching the large birds of prey was more than sufficient.
Hakgala Botanic Gardens (image from Wikipedia).
Dinner was beautifully served in a communal dining room. The food was very good with an abundance of fresh vegetables. The stuffed chicken and medley of spring vegetables was perhaps my favourite dish but there was nothing I did not enjoy. We were on our own most nights, it is always the luck of the draw in these situations as to whether the company of other guests at your table will enhance your evening or in fact theirs. We enjoyed their company on the one night we had fellow guests.
Coffee was served in the sitting room, a time to read and relax before bed.
What made this hotel and tea plantation so special for me is that it so beautifully sited, a true Shangri-La. It is said that there is only one other plantation of comparable beauty. Together with the charming local village, the lovely walks and the friendliness of the people, it was utterly enchanting. The hotel itself was very comfortable with good food, a friendly and helpful manager and delightful staff. The ambience was not hankering back to its colonial past, but it was exactly what it was, a beautifully and sympathetically restored planters’ home.
I would go back tomorrow if I could.