A trio of re­sorts is sub­vert­ing ex­pec­ta­tions of Sri Lanka by of­fer­ing highly dis­tinc­tive ex­pe­ri­ences.

A trio of re­sorts is sub­vert­ing ex­pec­ta­tions of Sri Lanka by of­fer­ing highly dis­tinc­tive ex­pe­ri­ences.

The Peak (Singapore) - - Contents - TEXT CHARMIAN LEONG

There are few coun­tries in the world that aren’t worth a re­visit. Sri Lanka is not one of them, es­pe­cially af­ter gour­man­dis­ing on sin­gle es­tate teas and blue swim­ming crabs. Re­s­plen­dent Cey­lon, the ho­tel group owned by Dilmah Tea’s Fer­nando fam­ily, has strate­gic out­posts placed in areas that show off the very best of Sri Lanka’s cul­tural and aes­thetic di­ver­sity. It’s not ev­ery coun­try where cool, tiered hills of tea plan­ta­tions, a sul­try sa­fari, and a coastal par­adise are all a zip away from one an­other.

The Peak joins lux­ury tour op­er­a­tor Light­foot Travel for a pre­view.

BREW­ING TRAN­QUIL­LITY

Cey­lon Tea Trails pegs it­self as the world’s first tea bun­ga­low re­sort, and it spans an im­pres­sive 810ha of tea coun­try. Five bun­ga­lows and a pri­vate one-bed­room cot­tage (for a to­tal of 26 suites and rooms), built be­tween 1888 and 1950, make up the re­sort and are so gen­er­ously spread out that it would take 30 min­utes to drive be­tween the two far­thest ones.

As a rule, sprawl­ing nat­u­ral beauty de­mands to be en­joyed in­ti­mately – and Cey­lon Tea Trails does of­fer guided walks in the morn­ings and evenings, and a tour of the nearby Dunkeld tea fac­tory and tea fields. How­ever, leav­ing the quiet com­forts of the bun­ga­lows might prove a her­culean task. All of them are colo­nial-styled, with the outer struc­tures and fa­cades re­main­ing un­changed since they were erected, but the in­te­ri­ors carry a lit­tle per­son­al­ity from the decade each bun­ga­low was in­spired by. Sum­merville, for in­stance, with its lo­ca­tion right on the banks of the Castlereagh Reser­voir, is redo­lent of a coun­try cot­tage, while the 128-year-old Nor­wood was re­fur­bished with 1950s ac­cents.

Which­ever you choose (and you have the op­tion of ro­tat­ing among all six, if oc­cu­pancy al­lows), each res­i­dence is fetch­ingly sea­soned. Re­mem­ber when ceil­ings were high and floor­boards creaked and but­lers would bring you bed tea in the morn­ings and gim­lets in the evenings? When the sounds from a crack­ling fire­place would be in­ter­spersed with the oc­ca­sional buzzing flicker of old lamps, and the light from which would be sup­ple­mented by the glow of fire­flies in the gar­den? Prob­a­bly not, which is why Cey­lon Tea Trails is a salve for the 21st-cen­tury man.

Noth­ing here has the overly pol­ished sheen of a mega chain ho­tel. Of course, there is no doubt that Cey­lon Tea Trails is lux­u­ri­ous – all bun­ga­lows have their own pool, sur­rounded by be­witch­ing English gar­dens that are paired with cro­quet lawns and wide ve­ran­dahs. It’s just that the lux­ury here is from the old world. It takes time for your food to ar­rive. It takes time for your trans­port to trun­dle along the bumpy trails. In fact, time is so in­con­se­quen­tial here the rooms don’t even have clocks. This is the place to train one’s pa­tience and be sump­tu­ously re­warded for it.

With­out elec­tronic dis­trac­tions, you’ll come to de­rive plea­sure from lux­ury that feels per­sonal. There are no menus at meal times, as each bun­ga­low’s chef will tai­lor dishes to the guests’ needs. When you sit on an arm­chair in the com­mon lounge, it be­comes your chair. When you sip on a gin and tonic, you al­most be­lieve you were the one who picked out the crys­tal. You are mas­ter of the man­sion, and ev­ery­one work­ing in it is hap­pily main­tain­ing the il­lu­sion. CREA­TURE COM­FORTS Af­ter the ver­dant moun­tains and gen­tle breezes is an ad­ven­ture that, while still de­li­ciously re­mote, puts you closer to na­ture’s pulse. The Wild Coast Tented Lodge is lo­cated beach­side on the fringes of Yala Na­tional Park, and has all the fix­ings

of a lux­ury res­i­dence with­out tak­ing away the wild­ness of its en­vi­rons. Don’t be alarmed to find a boar at the re­cep­tion or a troop of mon­keys pat­ter­ing across the top of your “co­coon”. Part of the Lodge’s charm is its indige­nous wel­come wagon.

There are 28 tents in to­tal, in­clud­ing four with pri­vate plunge pools and eight fam­ily-sized ones that come with smaller, ad­ja­cent onion­shaped “urchin” co­coons for chil­dren, so both par­ents and older kids can en­joy some pri­vacy. If Cey­lon Tea Trails sells colo­nial charm, the Wild Coast Tented Lodge evokes ex­pe­di­tion-chic. Vaulted ceil­ings, free­stand­ing cop­per bath­tubs, four­poster beds, cof­fee ma­chines and mini­bars hid­den in large wooden chests, teak floors and can­vas walls end­ing in dou­ble-height glass fa­cades – even Hem­ing­way would find it hard to an­swer the call of the wild from be­yond this swad­dle of ameni­ties.

But it would be a waste not to em­brace the out­doors. The re­sort of­fers sa­faris at Yala Na­tional Park, which is home to a di­verse ar­ray of flora and fauna, in­clud­ing ele­phants, sloth bears and Sri Lankan leop­ards, not to men­tion dozens of species of birds and rep­tiles. But those who are spoiled by the con­ve­nience and ac­ces­si­bil­ity of zoos will likely have trou­ble spot­ting any­thing that is cam­ou­flaged – and nearly ev­ery­thing is. Which is why the sa­fari’s nat­u­ral­ist guides, loaded with in­for­ma­tion and gifted with eyes so sharp they could prob­a­bly pick out a nee­dle from a sil­ver­coloured haystack, are a god­send.

Lan­guish­ing beasts and cu­ri­ous furry neigh­bours aside, there’s plenty of na­ture to en­joy back at the re­sort as well. The open-air bar and restau­rant, clad in bam­boo on the in­side and wrapped in tiles on the out­side to re­sem­ble boul­ders, faces a large free-form swim­ming pool and the beach. Guests can en­joy sun­downer cock­tails on the sand, or even ar­range for a bar­be­cue on the rocks over­look­ing the In­dian Ocean.

SWELL OF SUC­CESS

Speak­ing of open wa­ter, Sri Lanka’s coasts are what tourists are flock­ing to in re­cent years. But for­get about pow­dery, pearles­cent beaches with crys­tal clear wa­ters blan­ket­ing colour­ful reefs to snorkel over. The Mal­dives this is not. Sri Lanka’s beaches are not for the pam­pered, but for the bold. The sand here is golden and the un­tamed sea brings waves for those brave enough to ride them.

To any­one un­fa­mil­iar with Sri Lanka’s coastal charms, Cape Weligama of­fers the ul­ti­mate primer. Perched atop a cliff just south of Galle Fort on the coun­try’s south coast, the 39-key re­sort over­looks the bay of Weligama, a known hotspot for blue whales, bryde’s whales, sperm whales, killer whales and pi­lot whales, and four kinds of dol­phins, in­clud­ing bot­tlenose and spin­ner dol­phins, from No­vem­ber to April.

The el­e­gant 5ha prop­erty was de­signed by Thai ar­chi­tect Lek Bun­nag, an old hand at water­front palaces thanks to a port­fo­lio that in­cludes the Four Sea­sons Langkawi, Maia Sey­chelles, Pangkor Laut Re­sort and the Ritz-Carl­ton Phu­lay Bay. This also means Bun­nag’s style (all red-tiled roofs, wooden beams and gen­er­ous sprin­klings of sway­ing palm trees here) is fa­mil­iar but func­tional. Com­ple­ment­ing the re­lax­ing land­scape are in­te­ri­ors by JPA De­sign’s Sin­ga­pore stu­dio, themed around mar­itime in­flu­ences, lo­cal fauna and, of course, Cey­lon tea. The vil­las, which range from 130 to 310 sq m, are some of the largest in Sri Lanka.

Din­ing at the cliff-edge al­fresco Ocean Ter­race restau­rant will give

The din­ing area of Wild Coast Tented Lodge is clad in bam­boo on the in­side and tiles on the out­side, which are ar­ranged to cre­ate the sem­blance of boul­ders.

01 01 SOLI­TUDE FOUND View of Castlereagh Reser­voir from the vast grounds of Cey­lon Tea Trails re­sort.

02 02 A DIF­FER­ENT ERA Each of the re­sort’s five bun­ga­lows has its own pool and an English gar­den paired with a cro­quet lawn.

03 03 GEAR UP FOR AN EX­PE­DI­TION Wild Coast Tented Lodge is tucked be­tween wildlife and the wild of the sea. 04 A SHOW OF AN­I­MALS Spot the Sri Lankan leop­ard on sa­fari at Yala Na­tional Park.

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