Michael Edwards heads high into Sri Lanka tea country to Stafford Bungalow and another era
A mile above sea-level, the Stafford Bungalow, is in a different climate to much of Sri Lanka. Perhaps a different century. Almost another country.
We arrive to a welcome of hot chocolate with marshmallows. Far from Sri Lanka’s beaches, at this altitude temperatures are lower. Soon, Christy the Head Butler is lighting a fire for us. Later in the evening he slips hot water bottles into our expansive four poster bed within the Master Suite.
A sanctuary of peace, once used by the Sri Lankan President as an escape from the pressures of office, with a sofa on its covered terrace within a secluded walled garden.
The date is around 1884, when the bungalow was built. Give or take the jacuzzi and a solitary television in the lounge. Stafford Bungalow looks back to an era when planters from the United Kingdom sought to insulate themselves from homesickness and the struggles of the tropics with reminders of home. Marmite on toast, homemade oat biscuits with coffee, a library crammed with books, afternoon tea, soon followed by a gin and tonic – all these were intended to make the Ceylon tea country seem like home.
No surprise that the acres around Nuwara Eliya, the local town with its golf club and racecourse, became known as Little England. Partly because of the rain, partly because of the immaculate croquet lawns.
Inspired by Home Counties architecture, the original Stafford Bungalow had black timbers contrasting with the white stonework. White picket fences mark the borders of the English country garden order of daisies, false jalap and dianthus.
On fine mornings the Head Butler and his staff set up tables on the lawn for breakfast. Beyond the croquet lawn, the putting green and those picket fences is the lush fertility of the Hill Country landscape: though this is a manmade landscape of countless tea trees and shade trees.
Breakfast begins with an “Eyeopener” an intense shot of passionflower or gooseberry juice before offering the Sri Lankan favourite of hoppers. Every meal is negotiable as Head Chef Sanjeewa appears at the end of the previous meal to discuss options: porridge or traditional English breakfast are possibilities.
Sanjeewa scours the world for the finest ingredients: tenderloin beef from the USA, salmon from Norway and the most gigantic prawns from Sri Lanka’s Negombo. But the majority of herbs, spices and veg are grown in a 21-acre garden. Even though it takes a night watchman to guard the crops from deer, goats, and wild boar.
As well as his favourite garnish of the trademark two tea leaves and a bud, Sajeewa often uses a tiny glass of tea, sometimes herbal, often peppermint with dessert, to accompany a dish.
Surprisingly, there are only 24 acres devoted to tea on a 50 acres site brightened by yellow flowering acacia trees and angel trumpet plants. The majority of the Stafford Plantation’s acres were taken away by the Sri Lankan government’s nationalisation of 1972.
A guided morning walk through the tea plantation, with binoculars at the ready for birdwatching, shows that this is a highly labour-intensive industry. Over 30 pluckers, bright saris dotting the tea slopes, work those 24 acres. In addition, there is a constant four-year maintenance operation in progress.
Tea bushes must be pruned, and moss brushed from their lower branches. A well-cared for tea bush can live for a century. Eucalyptus are popular shade trees in this region as they drink up excess water after heavy rains.
Guests seeking a longer walk can hike to Ravana Rock with a guide or there are stretches of the recently opened Pekoe Trail, a 300 kilometres walking trek through scenic tea country.
Tours of nearby Ragala show a town that has successfully integrated Buddhists, Catholics, Hindus and Moslems and has acquired a reputation for mixed marriages. Meanwhile it’s only a short drive to Nuwara Eliya and its architectural legacy of the days of empire.
Yet the Stafford Bungalow is more than a tribute to the past. The recently opened Owner’s Cottage, giving spectacular views across the estate, has two spacious suites. Each has its own private garden but is also close to the swimming pool and jacuzzi.
For the owners, six rooms and suites is the optimum size, maintaining this luxury fully serviced bungalow’s sense of privacy and intimacy.
Tell Me More About The Stafford Bungalow, Ragala, Sri Lanka
The Stafford Bungalow, The Stafford Tea Company, Ragala, Nuwara Eliya Sri Lanka
E: firstname.lastname@example.org T: +94 522 265 287
Deluxe rooms begin from US$ 650 on a half board basis including breakfast, afternoon tea, four course dinner and tea/ coffee with meals during January and February 2024.
The all-inclusive rate of US$ 780 per room, per night, includes breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, complimentary soft drinks, beer, house wine, house gin/vodka/whisky/arrack with mixers as well as tea and coffee.