Sri Lanka is an island to be toured. Hire a driver and car for a week or two to savour the charms of the Teardrop Island that falls from India’s south-east coast. Though travel on Sri Lanka’s pock-marked roads – where overflowing buses, bikes, cows, goats, trucks, tuk-tuks and even elephants compete with cars – can be wearing. You will need some sanctuaries.
Here, from sub-drenched coast through to Sri Lanka’s mile high-tea country, is a selection of blissful places to rest and recharge as you discover Sri Lanka at your own pace.
Rosyth Estate House, Kegalle
Merely two hours from Colombo’s frenetic airport, Rosyth Estate House is a blissful landing pad for those flying into Sri Lanka. Owners Neil and Farzana Dobbs will arrange for a car to drive you two hours north to this tastefully extended 1926 tea-planter’s bungalow. On arrival, you will be welcomed with a cooling cocktail, a chilled flannel and a restorative foot massage.
Opt for a room in the original bungalow, close to the glass pavilion restaurant and swimming pool. Or for one of the recently built suites with views across a valley cloaked in tea bushes.
Stay for a couple of days to bath and feed the elephants at Pinnawala before visiting Kandy’s Temple of the Sacred Tooth.
Back at the Rosyth kitchen, on the cookery course, learn how to use herbs, spices and vegetables grown on the estate, to create classic Sri Lankan recipes.
Gal Oya Lodge
Way out east from both Colombo and Galle, Gal Oya is Sri Lanka’s least visited National Park. Beyond wi-fi and mobile reception, the park is home to Sri Lanka’s largest lake where elephants swim between some of the lake’s 47 islands.
Gal Oya Lodge is the gateway to tracking down the park’s Big Three of crocodile, elephant and leopard. Also, with the adjacent Jim Edwards Wildlife Research Centre, guests learn how to identify local wildlife: from the plentiful grey herons colonising an island as a maternity hospital through to a rarely spotted pangolin.
Guests stay in the thatched and detached suites, based on traditional rice stores. Each suite is within walking distance of the bar, restaurant, library, reception and swimming pool.
Neither a boat safari, with breakfast or lunch picnic, on the lake nor an enlightening walk with chief of the Veddha tribe are to be missed.
The Stafford Bungalow, Ragala
Strictly speaking the Stafford Bungalow is a full-service villa, with a butler who will welcome you with hot chocolate and marshmallows if there is a chill in the air. Close to the hill station of Nuwara Eliya, the Stafford Bungalow with its white picket fences and immaculate green lawns, pays homage to Sri Lanka’s golden age of tea plantation.
It was not just cool temperatures and abundant rain that gave the region the nickname of Little England. The planters imported afternoon tea, G & Ts and marmite to overcome home sickness. With Sri Lanka’s President as a previous guest, there is a restful elegance to the décor.
A walk through the tea plantation is not just an education in how to pick two leaves and a bud as well as how to prune a tea bush every four years, with binoculars supplied it is a bird spotting extravaganza.
As well as taking local walks, guests can walk sections of the recently opened Pekoe Trail or use Stafford Bungalow as a stop-over on the full 300 kilometres of the walk.
Malabar Hill, Weligama
Set between surf and forest, Malabar Hill and its 10 secluded villas sit on a high ridge. Just three miles from sandy beaches, this luxury hotel at Weligama is another must-stop destination on a Sri Lankan itinerary.
Malabar is designed to be off-grid with no television nor mobile phone reception. Yoga mats in the suites and yoga lawns represent the serene ambience. Throughout the 33 acres site there are scenic cycling and walking trails.
More contemporary and cosmopolitan in decor and design than many of Sri Lanka’s historic properties, Malabar pulls together elements of both Indian and Middle Eastern styling.
Well placed for a trip to Galle, merely a 40 minutes drive away, this boutique hotel is also close to the quaint fishing village of Welligama.
Jetwing Lagoon, Negombo
At the end of a Sri Lankan tour it is time for some coastal relaxation. Past the fishing port of Negombo and through the narrowing peninsula, Jetwing Lagoon idyllically sits between the lagoon and the Indian Ocean. Then when the time to depart sadly arrives, it is a 30 minutes drive to Colombo airport.
A restaurant that specialises in local food – think curries, sambals and string hoppers – has tranquil views of the lagoon. Less tranquil when jet-skiers and water skiers are in action.
With cabanas and sun-loungers lining a 100 metres pool there is never any shortage of sun bathing space.
Back in the 1960s, the hotel was one of Sir Geoffrey Bawa’s early architectural projects. The use of airy space and economical local materials became trademarks of his pioneering Tropical Modernism.
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