RAVAGED BY THE DEVASTATING TSUNAMI OF DECEMBER 2004 AND A CIVIL WAR THAT ENDED IN 2009, SRI LANKA HAS UNDERGONE A SUCCESSFUL PROCESS OF RE-INVENTION INTO A WORLD-CLASS TOURIST DESTINATION. AN INTRIGUING LAND OF TEMPLES, BEACHES AND UNEXPLORED NATIONAL PARKS. FACT SENT DAVID TAPLEY ON A CULTURAL TRIP TO EXPERIENCE THE COUNTRY’S MOST BOUTIQUE GETAWAYS; RESPLENDENT CEYLON’S TEA TRAILS FOLLOWED BY A VISIT TO WILD COAST TENTED LODGE NEAR YALA NATIONAL PARK. HERE’S WHAT HE FOUND ON THE FASCINATING FIVE-DAY ADVENTURE EXPLORING THIS SEDUCTIVE EYE IN A SAPPHIRE SEA…
HELLO, SRI LANKA
Bursting through the cloud cover above the teardrop-shaped island of Sri Lanka we’re greeted with a landscape of verdant green, where tangled jungle hugs up against long stretches of untouched coastline bashed by the incessant momentum of ocean waves. We touch down in Colombo during the worst cyclone to hit the country for many years, yet this tropical downpour marks a refreshing change from the desert climate of the UAE we’ve become accustomed too. As tuk-tuks weave between heavy traffic, Buddhist stupas and waterlogged roads it feels a world away from the ‘bubble’ we’re used to.
THE TEA TRAILS
Our first stop is Sri Lanka’s central highlands affectionately referred to as ‘tea country.’ We board a small amphibian aircraft from Colombo’s domestic terminal which once formed part of the original route between London and Sydney. Traveling skywards away from the capital, we head inland towards the conical shaped topography of Adam’s Peak, before landing on the emerald-coloured water of Castlereagh Lake. The seaplane journey with Cinnamon Air (approximately $600 one way) provides a memorable 25-minute experience, combining a spectacular vantage point and the excitement of landing on water, a sensible option when compared to a four hour journey by road.
Described as ‘the benchmark for boutique’ our first stop is Tea Trails, the world’s first tea bungalow resort which offers five beautifully restored planters bungalows in distinct colonial style. Ascending the gentle hillside away from the lake, we pass eucalyptus trees and dancing butterflies as the early morning mist dissipates over a tranquil infinity swimming pool. Manicured gardens surround the impeccable bungalows complete with sarong-clad private butlers dunkeld on hand to take care of your every need. It’s a more personalised service style than we’re used too but one that’s always paired with a friendly smile and the assurance that nothing’s too much trouble. Soaking up the tranquillity of the mountain air and a backto- nature approach, Tea Trails is more than just a boutique resort.
Each of the five bungalows can be found scattered around the waters edge, but many kilometres apart, providing the opportunity for cultural immersion with a distinct luxury touch. Each bungalow has been flawlessly restored, with specially curated furniture that provides a throwback to the colonial summerhouses. Tientsin may be the most grandiose due to spacious outside terraces, while Dunkeld presents a honeymooners delight with an outdoor jacuzzi, but the old-world feel of Norwood had us instantly charmed. Surrounded by tranquil gardens and the maze of tea plantations rising above, our stay at Norwood Bungalow offered an all-inclusive experience with a difference. A four-poster bed and free-standing bath tub take centre stage across the six bedrooms, all of which share communal living and dining areas and a large outdoor pool flanked by bamboo.
Taking to the tea trails themselves is an enchanting experience as dirt paths meander through the tea plants seemingly unsure of the final destination. This is all part of the fun as we encounter school children in perfectly pressed uniforms and tea pluckers in bright coloured saris. Lost in the encroaching cloud cover amongst crumbling churchyards and nothing but the calls of nature, it’s a soul awakening experience and one that’s further enhanced by the property’s lack of television. Instead, we seek solace in fireside tales and the crackle of vinyl on an antique gramophone.
With two per cent of Sri Lanka’s landmass covered in tea plants, we learn more about the process during an early morning visit to the Dunkeld Tea Factory, owned and operated by Dilmah who pioneered the concept of single origin tea in 1988 before branching out into the world of hospitality with Resplendent Ceylon.
Offering the luxury hotel experience with a humanitarian objective, 10 per cent of the company’s profits go into the MJF Foundation, a support centre for underprivileged children in Colombo. Tea is understandably the inspiration behind the tea trails experience with a tea-inspired dinner menu designed by Australian celebrity chef Peter Kuruvita. Think vanilla tea mushroom soup, Moroccan mint tea encrusted lamb and tea-centric cocktails (don’t miss the Dilmah Dream). It doesn’t stop there though, with bath products containing tea sitting beside tea-infused massage oils (massages are undertaken within the comfort of the rooms by mobile therapists). Our stay in Tea Trails also introduces us to the novel concept of ‘bed tea’ with cups of freshly brewed tea brought to the room as part of the morning wake-up call.
After two days, we leave the mesmerising lake on a long and picturesque journey to our next stop…
WILD COAST TENTED LODGE
Dark granite boulders permeate through the vibrant green tea plantations as we follow the mountainous paths carved out by cascading waterfalls. We skirt along escarpments to our next destination, the Wild Coast Tented Lodge on Sri
Lanka’s South Eastern Coast, a five-hour journey by road traversing mountains and floodwaters as we journey to the coast like some long forgotten tributary. Our journey is broken by a brief stop at the Udawalawe Elephant Transit Home supported by the MJF and Born Free Foundation and an opportunity to watch the feeding of orphaned elephants. The Wild Coast Tented Lodge situated on the fringes of Yala National Park feels remote. An arid landscape with the odd flourish of green vegetation. Wiry trees with twisted bows provide shelter for roaming jackals, while crocodiles peer ferociously beneath floodwaters. Beaten by waves and lashed by the wind, the coastline is as rugged and wild as the name would suggest. On an isolated stretch of sand and accessed via a 2km track of red earth lies Resplendent Ceylon’s latest venture into the hospitality sector, the Wild Coast Tented Lodge, a haven in the wilderness.
The immediate appeal of the domed architecture fashioned from bamboo components and mirroring the rocky outcrops of the landscape, is swiftly revoked by warning signs alerting us to the dangers of roaming leopards and the instruction not to venture outside after nightfall (unless accompanied by a member of hotel staff). The landscape, architecture and interiors has been designed and built by the team at Nomadic Resorts, and it surely is a feat of the ambitious. After seeing the rooms, or more accurately, the cocoons – it’s unlikely that you’d want to leave this gorgeous space in the day, let alone at night; they’re the epitome of luxury. The resort is made up of 28 cocoon-shaped rooms clustered in small groups around watering holes to resemble the pattern of a leopard paw if viewed from above.
Nomadic Resorts have used natural materials which integrate seamlessly into the environment with bamboo and shingle imported from Thailand and the outer membrane of the cocoons brought in from France. If feels as though no expense has been spared in bringing a unique sense of luxury into the wild. The rooms represent safari chic and feature wooden chests, thick carpets, copper pipe work, heavy drapes, and a regal, copper bath tub that gives us all the instagram-worthy goals. Each cocoon is slightly raised off the ground like a mini treehouse and large windows are positioned to take advantage of the landscape and passing wildlife.
The bark of a samba deer in the middle of the night signals leopards may be close by and the sound of creatures scuttling beneath our tented paradise brings some unease to this dubious city-dweller – but it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I’m ALL in! Breakfast brings stories of elephants roaming into the restaurant late at night and with the current making it too dangerous to enter the sea, a brisk swim in the salt-water pool enlivens our senses for the trip into Yala. Yala National Park is home to the world’s highest concentration of leopards per square meter and the worn track beats our bodies into numb awareness but it’s all worth it for the briefest glimpse of a leopard perched high on a protruding rock amongst crumbling stupas, like a forgotten king surveying his lands. I take my picture, and we’re on our way.
SUSTAINABLE LUXURY TRAVEL
Only a four hour flight from the Gulf, Sri Lanka marks a land of encroaching nature located South East of mainland India. Resplendent Ceylon also offers the tropical beach experience at Cape Weligama and a forthcoming resort in the cultural heartland of Sigiriya. The company is paving the way for sustainable luxury tourism in Sri Lanka, which may currently be a niche market, with the majority of tourists looking to beach flop in all-inclusive resorts on the east coast. But, for the luxury market, the adventure seekers and the culture vultures as well as those looking to explore Sri Lanka’s history and cultural traditions, Resplendent Ceylon provides an entirely new and breathtaking experience, one with a conscientious strategy and a humanitarian heart.
GO: VISIT THE CEYLON TEA TRAILS AND WILD COAST TENTED LODGE WITH RESPLENDENT CEYLON. GO TO WWW.RESPLENDENTCEYLON.COM FOR RESERVATIONS AND MORE INFORMATION. FLY DIRECT FROM DOHA TO COLOMBO WITH QATAR AIRWAYS. VISIT WWW. QATARAIRWAYS.COM TO BOOK YOUR FLIGHTS TODAY.