If you want the genuine tea planter experience, this can claim to come as close as anywhere in the Sri Lankan uplands. It’s an 1870s tea planter’s bungalow refurbished to preserve as much of the traditional furniture and layout as possible, without compromising modern comforts. It’s owned by a Sri Lankan family who converted it to a hotel in 2016.
The staff to guest ratio is large enough for everyone to feel as if they are being looked after by their own personal butler. Articulate manager Claire Holman (and her beguiling dog) create a private house party atmosphere, introducing guests over drinks before dinner, never lost for topics. Guests don’t have to mingle, but they mostly do, and enjoy it. The majority of guests eat communally at the long dining room table, but separate tables are swiftly erected if your party wants to eat alone. Alternatively, when the weather is right, dinner is served outdoors overlooking the pool and its stupendous view south to the coast. After an hour or two you find this way of life getting agreeably under your skin.
Our bedroom was unpretentiously comfortable rather than stylish – in keeping with the private house feel. To complete the ‘real’ nature of the Thotalagala experience is the fact that the house’s grounds rub shoulders with the local village, where locals live simply as they have done for centuries. Many Asian hotels try to keep the locals at arm’s length, but not this one.
The hotel is on the famous Haputale tea estate once owned by grocery and tea magnate Sir Thomas Lipton. Don’t miss the outing to Lipton’s Seat viewpoint, the local tea factory, and Sir Thomas Lipton’s grand bungalow, where you can order a time-warp, lavish tea served on the lawn. Definitely an experience.