Solange Hando revisits this evocative place, part-hotel part-museum near Nuwara Eliya in Sri Lanka’s Central Province.
About 30 minutes from town, the Tea Factory is accessed via a steep country lane meandering up to 2000 metres. Perched on a lonely hilltop, this unique boutique hotel enjoys sweeping views across the rolling hills, from lush tea plantations to scattered villages and surrounding valleys. But be prepared for mountain weather: the air is lovely and warm in the day though maybe chilly after dark or when you gaze at your hotel rising under a bright blue sky, it could suddenly be shrouded in mist, yet so eerie and atmospheric you step back in time with no effort at all.
This all started in the 1870s when William Flowerdew bought the land, naming it Hethersett, after his village in Norfolk. Coffee had been destroyed by leaf blight so the planter tried other crops, including tea for which a factory was set. Later damaged by fire, it was rebuilt in the 1930s, producing up to half a million kilos of tea every year until rising costs led to closure in 1973. Twenty years later, it drew the attention of Aitken Spence, the new estate owners, and was beautifully restored as one their Heritance Hotels, preserving heritage and culture in a pristine environment while contributing to the local economy
Clad in glistening aluminium and windows, the original façade beckons from afar then when you reach the end of the lane, the reception greets you in the former drier room with a delicious cup of Ceylon tea. Gaze at the wood-panelling and old-fashioned lift and you sense the quaint rustic charm of bygone days
Guest rooms are on the upper floors in the old withering loft where fresh leaves were spread to reduce the initial moisture. The large windows once needed for drying are now flooded with light and panoramic views. The 50 rooms have all the 4-5 stars amenities you would expect, ranging from the cosy ‘superior’ rooms to the more spacious ‘premium’ or the ‘executive’ floor above which includes one Semi-Suite (497 sqft) with its own colonial style furniture and fabulous views. Then at the very top is the gorgeous Flowerdew Suite (750 sqft), offering Jacuzzi, personal butler and unrivalled panorama.
The views are simply magical but when you browse around the hotel, look out for historic features displayed here and there, pulleys, fans, weighing scales, and the engine which once powered the factory, briefly set to work once a day for an impressive demonstration.
Dinner time? The Kenmare restaurant is located in the sifting room where girders and ironwork have been retained alongside the rows of tea crates, now turned serving stations. Choose buffet or à la carte for international or local menu and appreciate the candlelight, the music and the emblematic golden lion on the Sri Lankan flags. Since the Tea Factory is isolated on a mountain top, half-board may be the best option. Special celebration? Treat yourself to silver service and luxury dining in the 1930s railway carriage once used on the narrow-gauge line, below the hill, where tea started its journey towards Colombo.
Day time temptations include Garden Breakfast in the Flowerdew Cottage, when the weather allows, and traditional High Tea on the Terrace. As for drinks, don’t miss the Hethersett Bar in the former packing room or head for the Goatfell where you can taste tea from different types of leaves, though it might take you three weeks to go through them all.
Still keen to relax? Check out the Spa and its wide range of organic rituals from serenity and herbal indulgence to energy, Balinese massage and others and therapy treatments for every part of body and soul.
You will also find a fitness room but if you’re ready for activities slightly further afield, the staff will be happy to advise, trekking, cycling, exploring Nuwara Eliya (and golf course), discovering the Lover’s Leap Waterfall or Pindurutalagala-the highest peak in Sri Lanka– or the Horton Plains National Park listed by UNESCO. Alternatively, you could just wander down to Kandapola, the nearest village, though for the most discerning guests the hotel ultimate experience is to ‘pick your own tea’, local dress and basket provided, then watch it being manufactured in the mini-factory and packed, ready for you take home.
I may be a coffee drinker but up in these mountains, I found my cup of tea.
Images (c) Solange Hando
Tell Me More About Heritance Tea Factory
Heritance Tea Factory, Kandapola, Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka
T: +94 52 5555000
Rooms from £262 (hotel site) at the time of writing but special deals and offers widely available if you look around.
Health and safety measures have been updated