Along the winding roads of Sri Lanka’s hill country through the nearby town of Haputale lies Thotalagala, a stylishly refurbished bungalow owned by the Thomas Lipton Dambatenne tea estate. I was delighted to be invited for a 2 night stay to experience the bungalow and nearby sights, including a visit to Lipton’s Seat, champagne breakfast, high tea and to Dambatenne tea factory itself; one of the oldest working in Sri Lanka, active for over 126 years. I’ve put together a travel diary of my stay, with plenty of photos to illustrate- I must say, writing it down made me realise just how much eating and drinking was involved!
12pm- Arrive at Thotalagala Bungalow
After a warm welcome with a cup of cinnamon spiced tea in the cosy morning room, I was invited to the ‘Major Rogers’ room; a prominant character in old Ceylon (each of the 7 suites are different) complete with a little biography on the desk of the man himself. I homed in on the biscuits in the room (freshly baked in house) and ashamed to say they all disappeared less than 5 minutes after taking the photo below! The newly refurbished interiors of the bedrooms are stylishly designed whilst retaining an aesthetic of colonial grandeur. The black & white tiled bathroom felt so much like an en suite in South Kensington it felt somewheat surreal stepping out in the picturesque hill country of Sri Lanka.
4pm- Visit Thomas Lipton’s bungalow for afternoon tea
With no time like the present, I decided to venture out to Thomas Lipton’s bungalow, built in 1890 upon his arrival in Ceylon. As a significant figure in the production and branding in the golden age of tea production, it was interesting to peruse his family home and perhaps even more impressively, his spectacular garden. With a climate mirroring the UK (a chilly nip in the wind and an extra layer required in the shade without the humidity of the lower lands), the long stretch of perfectly pruned green was laden with flowers reminiscent of a classic English garden, with a exception of an exotic Australian tree beaming over the property. The afternoon tea was arranged by Thotalagala, with unlimited tea and tasty nibbles- a magical experience.
6pm- Pre dinner drinks in the Cigar Room
Feeling ever more decadent as the day progressed, Thotalagala offers guests pre dinner drinks in their charming Cigar room; a masculine space with dark wooden walls and manly memorabilia. On chilly evenings they light the fire- a first time experience for me in Sri Lanka! In the evening, the staff change into their dashing monochromatic evening uniform, offering pre dinner cocktails and bites in the cigar room. I enjoyed a Singapore Sling and an aptly named Planter’s Punch. If you enjoy relaxing with a book in the evenings, I recommend reading The Tea Planter’s Wife by Dinah Jefferies during your stay. It’s a fiction novel set in colonial Ceylon during the 1920s- a great way to step back in time and add another dimension to your hill country travels.
9am- Champagne Breakfast
Disturbing the serenity of early morning calm in a moment of decadence, the pop of the champagne echoed at 8:30am for Thotalagala’s fabulous champagne breakfast, overlooking the mountains as the sun drifted up into the sky. In addition to fresh fruit and pastries (with mouthwatering homemade jam) I was served a traditional Sri Lankan breakfast of pittu and dhal with sambol. For those not so eager to eat curry so early, western options are available- I highly recommend the Eggs Benedict!
10:30- Visit Dambatenne tea factory
One of the longest running tea factories in Sri Lanka, Dambatenne has been in action since 1890, with spectacular rustic equipment reflecting it’s old world charm. You aren’t allowed to take photos inside the factory- I was kindly granted access to take a few shots for Style in Sri Lanka.
12pm- Lipton’s Seat observation point
I couldn’t complete a trip to Haputale without a visit to Lipton’s Seat observation point- one of the famous landmarks of Sri Lanka’s hill country. Some decide to brave the hike up to the top- with Thotalagala’s comfortable AC van in the midday sun and only 2 days to see and do as much as possible I went for option B.
4pm- Afternoon Walk
So, in between eating and drinking I managed to squeeze some exercise in! At 4pm the weather was perfect for an afternoon walk along the tea fields, with beautiful afternoon light and a pleasant temperature to walk at a steady pace without overheating.
Thotalagala bungalow is charming and unique destination in Sri Lanka, with flawless service whilst maintaining a genuine, homely ambience. I recommend making this #1 on your hill country ‘to stay’ list- on par with previously reviewed 98 Acres in Ella.