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Steeped in tea heritage – Thotalagala, Sri Lanka

Probably SL’s plushest planters’ bungalow, Thotalagala has just had a major makeover. We give you a glimpse of what to expect.

A short drive from Kandy brings you to a region where the mighty mountains bow to meet a land laced with lush tea plantations. Dambatenne Estate at Haputale is where the famous Sir Thomas Lipton first planted tea. In fact, the term ‘Ceylon Tea’ actually originated here! Adjacent to this historic place, where tea has so much cachet, lies the Pitaratmalie Estate, part of the 8,000-hectare Agarapatana Plantations, which grows some of the best Sri Lankan tea.

A stay at the Thotalagala planters’ bungalow on this estate, is not only an education in tea but a truly sought-after experience that will charm the luxury traveller and the history aficionado alike.

Thotalagala, Sri Lanka, colonial, heritage
The British Colonial bungalow in SL’s Haputale, Uva province, that is all set to welcome international travellers. Image: Courtesy Thotalagala.

The 145-year-old house has been recently refurbished by Amrit Rajaratnam, owner of the Sri Lankan boutique hotel group Maitland & Knox. Rajaratnam, who specialises in design-led, experiential luxury as well as in restoring heritage properties, elaborates, “We focus strongly on design and experience and our locations are carefully chosen to be as unique as possible. Grand colonial properties like this one, with an architectural story and history. At Thotalagala, we have restored antiques, rooms, and premises to reflect and celebrate the planters who shaped the culture of this region.”

Thotalagala, Sri Lanka, colonial, heritage
The grand interiors are a tribute to the lavish lifestyles of colonial planters. Image: Courtesy Thotalagala.

Designed to please

Though not technically a brand new hotel, the newly redone boutique property is already making waves amongst travellers with a yen for the unique, thanks to the aesthetic created by designer Eranga Tennakoon and her team at Papaya Interiors & Design. Think seven themed suites, each named for a personality esteemed for their contribution to the world of tea.

Thotalagala, in its new avatar, speaks a strong design language that draws from the luxurious life and times of a powerful plantation owner in British colonial Ceylon. But it is also rich in touches that lend it the glamour that will bring in well-heeled travellers from Colombo to Chicago and beyond. We especially love the birds that are an integral part of the design story throughout – whether it’s a cockatoo appearing on a cushion cover here or a life-sized parrot statue there.

Thotalagala, Sri Lanka, colonial, heritage
Unique colonial-meets-contemporary charm of the Sir Thomas Suite. Image: Courtesy Thotalagala.

Expect gleaming wooden floors and antique chairs in teak and wicker, restored to perfection. Four-poster beds and elegant claw-footed bathtubs with roll-top edges. High thread count linen and chic wallpaper to appeal to the aesthete in you.

Thotalagala, Sri Lanka, colonial, heritage
The free-standing bath-tub and checkered flooring make for eye candy in the bathroom too. Image: Courtesy Thotalagala.

Picture relaxed ‘plantation-hearty’ meals savoured on the sunshiney wraparound verandah as you imbibe tea tales down the ages. Exquisitely served high tea on the spacious lawns. A cosy, teak-lined cigar room with leather loungers and a fireplace, where you can unwind over your Cognac on a misty mountain evening.

Thotalagala, Sri Lanka, tea plantation
Tea for two with a view. Image: Courtesy Thotalagala.
Thotalagala, Sri Lanka, tea plantation
The well-appointed cigar room. Image: Courtesy Thotalagala.

A ‘Tea’ of Adventure

If you’d like to explore further afield, there’s a lot on offer.

  • As a guest of Thotalagala, you get exclusive access to the Dambatenne factory and the bungalow which was Sir Thomas Lipton’s residence from 1890 to 1910. The visit will also offer insights into all the effort that goes into your daily cuppa.
  • Go up to Lipton’s Seat, high up on the nearby mountain, from where the Scottish tea baron loved to survey his plantations.
  • Visit the fascinating St Benedict’s Monastery in Adisham.
  • Trek to Diyaluma Falls, the second-highest waterfall in Sri Lanka.
  • Discover the delights of the Horton Plains National Park, which has a diversity of landscape and a rich variety of wildlife, including leopard, sambar, and the endemic purple-faced langur and highland birds like the dull-blue flycatcher, Sri Lanka white-eye, and yellow-eared bulbul.
  • Drive on to Nuwara Eliya just 90 minutes away. Known as ‘Little England’ thanks to its cool climate, it can be the next leg of your Sri Lankan journey.
Thotalagala, Sri Lanka, tea plantation
Lipton’s Seat offers a bird’s eye view of the tea plantations. Image: Courtesy Thotalagala.

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