The swirling mists, rolling hills and emerald carpets of tea bushes of Sri Lanka’s Tea Country occupy a very special place in Yonder hearts. It’s a magical place. After our latest sojourn on this magical island, it is often not the glorious beaches that make us smile most with fond memories, but the highlands. If there was one place in the world to be played on loop, this would be it.
The verdant green tea leaves are so intense in colour that you don’t need a polarising lens on your camera. And the wonderful thing about Tea Country is not just drinking the refreshing nectar – and we’re not talking Tetleys tea bags here – but the walks that meander through plantations, over waterfalls and through small villages.
The puckers (always female) wear the most colourful saris, often beautifully embroidered, which contrast spectacularly with the green tea bushes. And when the clouds descend there is a beautiful vista of white against the intense green that even the best cameras struggle to capture.
There is a real feeling of time standing still amongst the tea plantations of Sri Lanka. In fact, we have the early tea barons to thank for leaving behind their homes, palatial estates that have morphed into some of Sri Lanka’s best hotels. And to this end, we can’t help but mention the sensational Ceylon Tea Trails, one of a tiny number of true luxury hotels in Sri Lanka. But we also have a couple of other gems which are rather different in style. Tea Country is home to some fabulous eco lodges whose credentials for healthy holidays and responsible travel are no less impressive.
Introduced by the British, tea has become a major player in Sri Lanka’s economy. In fact, Sri Lanka is the world’s fourth-biggest producer of tea and most of it, along with the island’s excellent cinnamon, comes from hill country.
The main areas are around the small town of Hatton and Nuwara Eliya, often referred to as little England. And so much will it remind you of home, that you’ll see the names of British cities stamped across the hill sides which have been retained to demarcate the names of the plantations.
Spending time in Tea Country will leave you immersed in a sense of decadence and old world charm. High above the sometimes oppressive heat elsewhere, here you can find yourself wearing a fleece in the daytime and later cuddling up beside a log fire. The former colonial bungalows and clubs still serve the best high teas and after-dinner ports.
Sipping a delicious blend from exquisite china, you might almost expect to see Queen Victoria and her entourage strolling across the manicured lawn. (in fact, that great monarch never visited the far-flung colony where her name was revered.)
It’s not that Tea Country successfully recreates a golden age… instead, it’s a golden age that never went away. And it’s waiting for you to bathe in its refulgent light.
Being in Tea Country is all out about your surroundings. Aside from the almost mandatory tea factory visit (which is genuinely fascinating), you’ll find yourself longing to go wandering on narrow plantation paths. There is such a feeling of wellness, living in the hills. The air is crisp and clean. You can go for gentle strolls, more strenuous treks and even mountain biking.
Nuwara Eliya is charming. Nicknamed Little England after its popularity with the Brits during colonial times, it still retains countless reminders of its former life. It’s a lovely place to explore during the day and if you happen to be there in April, you can witness the famous horse races.
Nuwara Eliya has a very quaint botanical garden. It’s fairly small but meticulously well maintained after going through a sustained regeneration in recent years.
Nuwara Eliya is the only option for eating and drinking outside the hotels. If you are staying close to Nuwara Eliya, you’re in luck. There are a number of good restaurants and bars. Some are a bit quirky and eccentric but the food is good and the service is generally efficient.
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