Thotalagala – a 5-star bungalow in the middle of tea countryBy thotalagala on Tuesday, September 26th, 2017
We couldn’t have been met with a warmer welcome than we got from Claire and her team. Waiting for us as our dubiously-driven taxi arrived to deposit us in the middle of the tea plantations, we were ushered inside (our hangers-on, too) and shown through the property. We had our bags swiftly whisked from our hands (hangers-on included), and offers of cups of tea and snacks extended. Claire had already warmly welcomed our three friends, who weren’t staying at the property, into the itinerary she’d drummed up for us – but her hospitality to the three not paying a cent to them didn’t end there. After listening to our companion’s tales of backpacking for prior months on end (and probably wrinkling their noses at the grease and grime glistening from their bodies), the friendly team offered to do their laundry.
Now, any backpacker knows that a good round of laundry is an offer almost too good to be true, and we’re sure the team probably regretted it as they trotted back down the hall with their arms laden with dirty t-shirts, but they didn’t show it. Last but not least, the butler (yes, butler!) at Thotalagala is a truly affable guy who really goes out of his way to ensure you’re happy 24/7. This includes loose leaf tea on a silver tray brought to your room, absolute attention during your multi-course breakfast overlooking what might be the best view in Sri Lanka, and rearranging the furniture in the dining room so you can have a private dinner by the fire (but more on that later).
In short: any person who offers to touch, let alone wash, manky clothes from three random travelers who just blew onto your property purely because they were with your actual patrons, are absolute heroes.
It’s a word trotted out far too often to describe a setting that would barely warrant a minor exhale, but Thotalagala is truly breathtaking. Built in the 19th Century, and supposedly used by Sir Thomas Lipton himself, the bungalow has been painstakingly restored to what can only be imagined as its previous glory. Think hardwood lacquered floors, antique furniture, cosy dining rooms filled with memorabilia from the British Colonial era – and truly indulgent suites.
Each room here has a different moniker and style, and we’re inwardly high-fiving ourselves at scoring the eponymous suite named after the man himself: the Lipton suite. There’s a luxe four-poster bed, plush sofas and antiques, and the clawfoot bath tub is reason enough not to leave this room ever again. Surrounded by 20 acres of lawns and flower beds, and hundreds of acres of lush tea plantations – the bungalow is right beside Dambatenne – one of the only estates in the world that Sir Thomas Lipton planted himself, and where the term “Ceylon Tea” was coined.
Again, at risk of sounding like an utter cliche: the scenery here is jaw-dropping. But I can say that, because as we stepped out onto the deck to take in the surroundings, my mouth was well and truly agape. Perched on a tea-filled hillock looking over the plains of southern Sri Lanka, Thotalagala has capitalised on it’s sweeping views of tumbling hills and lush green plantations, and positioned the property so its the crowning glory.
Take a walk through any one of the trails in the area, and you’ll get to see first-hand how warm and welcoming Sri Lankans can be; despite the scorching heat and the laborious work, the tea pickers are only too quick to yell out a greeting as you pass.
Breakfast is held out on the deck overlooking the view every morning, and before we get all Eat, Pray, Love on you – it’s truly the most magnificent place to take in the world around.
There’s no doubt, the chef here is onto something special. Breakfast is an unapologetic indulgent affair, that almost prepares you to fast for the next 36 hours. Fresh fruit, freshly-squeezed juice and a basket of so-fresh-it’s-still-piping-hot pastries and muffins await your private spot on your deck each morning, and you’ll soon be tended to with coffee and tea by the waiter. But just when you think you’re perfectly satisfied and happy to start the day – you’re met with a steaming plate full of eggs and bacon (truly a gamechanger for someone who lives in a world that disallows pork).
Dinner seems to be more a bespoke meal; for us, we were ushered into the dining room, where a lone table had been moved in and arranged beside a roaring fire. We ate the most delicious five types of Sri Lankan curry that night disturbed only by the crackle of the fire, and at that point we almost made an executive decision to miss our flight back home.
Make sure to take advantage of Thotalagala’s exclusive access to Sir Thomas Lipton’s old residence. You’ll get to look around the spectacular grounds (complete with manicured lawn, impeccable flower game, and sweeping views) and if you’re up for it, you can even have the most decadent high tea on the front lawn. All white linen, silver cutlery, waiters, and three-tiered cakes and scones – if you’re going to splash out on a night at Thotalagala, you have to try the high tea as well. If you’re lucky, and the estate manager is around, you’ll even get a tour around Lipton’s bungalow.