When Sri Lanka started developing high end, boutique accommodation for discerning travellers, an inexperienced company decided to make inroads into the hill country and called itself Tea Trails.
It managed to carve a reputation as the place to stay in the region. For over a decade now, Ceylon Tea Trails remains at the top of its game with five lovingly-converted plantation bungalows offering a handful of pretty rooms with spectacular views.
Unlike a standard hotel set-up, Tea Trails offers accommodation in a choice of five differently-styled colonial bungalows, each lovingly restored, where visitors can indulge in luxurious surroundings that feel almost like a private home. Stepping out from the bungalows, you are surrounded by tea plantations within the exquisite green hills, something very special indeed.
Castlereagh, Norwood, Summerville, Dunkeld and Tientsin bungalows are situated within a certain distance of each other, so it’s possible to walk between them should you wish either to stretch your legs or even to eat lunch or dinner in a different venue. Some guests choose to divide their stay between two or more lodges but I think that’s a mistake; far easier to base yourself in one and not have to worry about packing and unpacking.
There isn’t much in the way of specific sightseeing, one of the main attractions it would seem. With very pretty gardens, a pool shared with only a handful of other residents, sweeping views, fabulous home cooking and plenty of books and board games, the atmosphere at Tea Trails is one that lends itself to complete relaxation.
- Daily breakfast for two
- Buffet breakfast, English or Set Sri Lankan
- Room upgrade upon arrival
- Subject to availability
- Early check-in / Late check-out
- Subject to availability
- Complimentary Wi-Fi
Exclusive benefits may vary by hotel or hotel group. Exclusive benefits apply when booking the Best Available Rate and are not combinable with any hotel offers or special packages unless stated.
- Detailed Review +
- Facts & Amenities +
Arriving at Castlereagh Bungalow is a bit like arriving to someone’s home. It’s a small property, cosy and quaint. Walking up to the front door, I’m struck by the views over Castlereagh reservoir. I’m immediately met by the resident manager who greets me with a smile and after taking the obligatory scented, moist towel, offered to guests fatigued by the long drive to get here, I am escorted into the living room for a swift check in, offered tea (of course) and then escorted to my room. The rates are all inclusive so they don’t need any card details.
Rooms and suites
The bungalows are all original planter’s homes so each room is different. Mine was furnished with understated, colonial pieces and had a fantastically comfortable bed, made-up with crisp white linen and lovely old-fashioned blankets. There were two high backed armchairs next to the window and a door leading outside to a small terrace. Not a huge room, but the perfect size with plenty of storage space. Being the lead in-category, it only offered garden views but was a light, airy and graceful room.
There is good WiFi connection here, but no TV, iPad, sound system or any other techy toys, the idea being to disconnect from the modern world altogether. The lighting is effective and subtle and there are good bedside lamps.
The bathroom offers a roll top bath, a separate shower with an old fashioned shower head and a WC all within the one room. Décor is simple, with white and neutral tones, wooden floorboards and a large window to let in the light. Amenities are limited to shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and soap, all unlabelled, but the staff will gladly provide any supplies you may have forgotten.
Meals, particularly dinner, are taken together with the other guests, lodge-style, unless you have requested otherwise in advance or upon arrival. This is very much part of the experience and I met some fascinating people around the dinner table. Tea Trails has carved a well-deserved reputation for excellent food. Each night the set menu is different and they tend to alternate between continental and Sri Lankan fare. I found the local curries particularly well flavoured for a Western palate, a relief as the country delights in exceedingly spicy food. My breakfast of choice was, every day, egg hoppers and sambal, a beautifully light start to the day.
Lunch is a more casual affair taken poolside or in the shade of one of the verandas. I was given a series of suggestions but they were relatively limited as these small lodges can’t stock all foods. So I ordered a simple sandwich, mercifully made with excellent bread, unusual in this neck of the woods. Throughout the day, the staff were keen to fatten me up with their fabulous cakes, including a particularly noteworthy Victoria sponge, served with deliciously sweet tea.
Most dietary requirements are catered for but it’s best to let them know in advance.
Other restaurant options
When staying at one bungalow, you can arrange a transfer or walk to any of the others and you can take meals there should you wish. It tends to be a similar cuisine across the various bungalows. There are no other local restaurants in the vicinity.
Spa and wellness
There is no dedicated spa in any of the bungalows, however massages can be arranged in your room. There are some wonderful walks and bikes are also provided free of charge. While there is no gym, Tientsin bungalow does have a tennis court which can be used by all guests.
Pool and beach
The medium-sized pool in the heart of the Castlereagh bungalow commands beautiful views over the nearby lake amidst very pretty gardens. The pool is refreshing but not cold, tiled in an elegant dark blue/black and there are a smattering of sun loungers and a choice of outdoor seating areas.
Staff and service
Many of the staff at the bungalows are local and most have been working here for many years. The service is subtle, understated and efficient but given that you are in rural Sri Lanka, what can be arranged and offered has certain constraints.
The general manager splits his time between the various bungalows and each lodge has a dedicated house manager who offers up undivided attention. At night, there is always a security guard and several staff members who stay on property, not that there has ever been any cause for concern.
The other guests at Castlereagh were a well-travelled and interesting bunch, mostly British, with a smattering of other Europeans happy to go off and explore in the morning and catch some rays by the pool in the evening. While everyone makes an effort to smarten up for dinner, the general atmosphere is casual.
There was no formal check-out procedure and no bill as visits here are on an all-inclusive basis, so when I was packed and ready to go, the staff took my luggage to the car and waved goodbye.
How to get there
5 hours road transfer from Colombo Airport, or 30 minutes by seaplane