Arrival / Day#1
Our journey started when our driver arrived at our hotel in Colombo to pick us up at 9am to make our way to the Hill Country (aka tea plantations) in Hatton, Sri Lanka.
The drive was set to be a 4-hour trek and was absolutely fantastic. The entire ride was through cities, small villages...
and the countryside where we drove through many rubber plantations where you can see the "rubber tapping" on every single tree. (via wikipedia: Harvesters make incisions across the latex vessels, just deep enough to tap the vessels without harming the tree's growth, and the latex is collected in small buckets. This process is known as rubber tapping.)
We also made our way through many beautiful Buddhist and Hindu temples,
which was amazing to see the change in culture as we entered the different regions on our journey.
About half-way through our trek to Hatton, our driver stopped for a quick snack and bathroom break at a restaurant where the movie, “The Bridge on the River Kwai” was filmed.
The grounds and views were spectacular. This was the prefect setting for lunch and a nice break in the drive.
He also made many other stops throughout our drive to allow for great photo ops.
The road we drove to Hatton was a 2-way road that was actually under construction to widen it and pave it, which is supposed to take about 1 year to complete. Once that is complete, the drive will be very nice. Our drive was just fine, however, for those that do not do well with windy roads or unpaved/bumpy roads you may want to wait for the roads to be fully completed. We didn’t mind at all and it was such a great experience getting to see all the scenery and culture happening live right out our window.
As we neared Ceylon Tea Trails the beauty of the tea plantations continued to increase as the tea fields were everywhere in sight; left, right, front and back….
The gorgeous green hills, the river and reservoir down below, everywhere, I mean everywhere you looked was just picturesque... post card material.
When we arrived to our destination, Ceylon Tea Trails Summerville Bungalow,
we were greeted by our butler, Jagath, who quickly took our bags off our hands and escorted us into the tea planter’s bungalows.
The Summerville bungalow was built in 1923, and it is sitting up at an altitude of 4,000 feet. There are 4 bedrooms in total and each room is named after former British estate managers who lived in the bungalow. Our room was the Shuttleworth master suite (70 sq.m), which came with a king size bed, separate living room area, bath & separate rain-shower, as well as a lovely view of the private garden.
We had a seat out on the stunning patio overlooking the tea fields and reservoir.
Jagath brought us a delicious welcome drink and then introduced us to the chef to review our dietary requirements and needs for our meals during our stay. We are pescetarian, which means we are vegetarians who also eat fish. This was not a problem at all for the chef as he smiled with excitement letting us know that he had many great things planned for us.
After that Jagath gave us a quick tour of the grounds and then showed us our beautiful room, which was a very nice colonial style room with a spectacular outdoor patio area setup with lounge chairs and tables overlooking the gardens and water.
It was lunchtime when we arrived so we quickly unpacked, washed up and got ready to head out for a bite to eat. Lunch is served as a 3-course meal, with a starter, main and dessert. For our starter we had their delicious carrot soup
and our main was deconstructed nicoise salad with seared tuna and an anchovy dressing….absolutely fantastic!
The dessert is usually something that I skip, however, after doing research about this venue, I knew it was a foodies paradise so I went ahead and said "yes, bring it on, lets do this."
Boy did I make the right choice as Jamie said it was one of her favorite desserts thus far on our trip and well, not to mention, she has been “desserting” (made up word I know) for 5 plus weeks on our epic journey, so as you can imagine, that’s a lot of desserts. The dessert was what I would call a banana spring roll with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce….oh yes, it was spectacular!
The bungalow also has a fully stocked bar with top shelf liqueurs and terrific wines of which we enjoyed a few glasses of their sauvignon blanc during our lunch.
After lunch a really big storm came through the bungalow and knocked a tree down which took out the power temporarily. This was actually perfect since we needed to get some work done.
A little wine, a great view of the surroundings, a thunderstorm and our computers to write….it was very peaceful and simply perfect. There was no one out in the main lounge area but us and top it off with panoramic views of the mountains, water, and the gardens...it was very relaxing and we were enjoying every minute of it.
We noticed a ton of board games on the shelf like scrabble, chess, checkers, dominos, etc. and decided to put down our computers for a little while and play some games.
For the next few hours, we were 100% content just playing board games and chatting it up with the very friendly staff, Ajith and Asanga, who were also the ones taking complete care of us during our stay.
For the rest of the afternoon we planned on going on one of the hikes (Hike S1 = 2.5hrs, Hike S2 = 2hrs & Hike S3 = 45-1hr), however, since it had just rained and there was a chance of more rain to come we figured it would be best to snuggle up on one of their cozy couches and open a good book instead! This decision turned out to be a great choice since more rain definitely came and we would have been mid-hike getting drenched and most likely not happy hikers. Plus, we don't ever see storms like this back home in Southern California, so it was a treat.
Once the rain subsided, we decided to explore the entire outside of the grounds, which includes a gorgeous pool with nice lounge chairs to enjoy the beautiful lake and of course the green mountains and endless tea fields.
There is also a cool little cabana type structure that would be perfect for a morning cup of tea/coffee, a great spot to read a book or an afternoon/evening glass of wine. This would have been a good little spot to watch the storm as well too.
On the left-hand-side is a trail that leads you down to the water if you wanted to have a closer look.
If you want to go out on the water, they offer boat rides to the other side of the lake to check out the village or you can just take a cruise and enjoy the sites, coasting along down the tea trails. I highly recommend this activity, as it is such an incredible setting.
After checking everything out we headed back to our room to get changed and washed up for dinner. Before dinner we sat down on one of the couches in their lounge area for a pre-dinner beverage. They brought us a bruschetta appetizer while we waited, which was very tasty.
For dinner we requested the traditional Sri Lankan style dinner, which was out of this world delicious. Just like at the previous hotel in Colombo where we ordered Sri Lankan selections for dinner, we were blown away by all the side dishes that kept coming and coming and coming to our table.
We would finish a few; they would clear them and then come back with different dishes to replace those. At one point we thought it was a trick as we didn't even see our waiter delivering the new dishes and all of a sudden, they were all refreshed and topped off. You can say that I definitely over ate on this meal, but totally worth it because everything was so so very good.
For dessert, which I certainly didn’t need at this point, was a delicious bread pudding and shot of a dessert liquor.
We can say this with confidence...we slept quite well after that meal.
We got up around 6am, knocked out our cardio workout in our room (to burn off the desserts, plus all the Sri Lankan food I consumed the day before) and then headed out to the main patio area for breakfast. The views in the morning are spectacular as the reservoir is so calm with not a single ripple. Very serene!
The chef started us off with a huge platter of fresh fruit and a fresh squeezed mango juice.
For our main course we thought we had placed our order the previous night for the Sri Lankan breakfast, which is something you have to do if you want it (reason being is that there is a lot of preparation that is involved and in order to make it for breakfast they need to make preparations the night before), however, we must have misunderstood or they figured we had eaten enough Sri Lankan food for dinner the day before (only joking). It was totally okay; we ordered an egg white scramble with grilled tomatoes and mushrooms, which was light and perfect.
After our breakfast Andrew, our tea tour guide, was there ready to pick us up to take us to one of the tea factories, The Norwood Tea Estate, a tea plantation that is near-by.
Wow, the views as we were driving to the Norwood Estate, which is where they process the tea, were just stunning. I mean everywhere you look, it is literally post-card material. On our way there I asked Andrew (our guide) a few questions about the tea plantations and WOW, he is extremely knowledgeable, a walking Sri Lankan Tea Wikipedia…no joke at all, not even close, he is so animated and full of a wealth of information....just awesome!
Once we got to the estate, there were a few other Ceylon Tea Trail's guests waiting for the tour as well. They were staying at some of their other bungalows of which they have a total of 4 throughout the tea plantations. Andrew gave us the complete tour (I mean complete) from the history of tea to the entire system of picking the two leaves and a bud, to the process of making the finished product.
There is a heck of a lot more that goes into it than I had thought. The most incredible thing that I didn’t know is that the leaves are harvested every 7 days. Now that is a ton of Sri Lankan tea being produced at a rapid pace!
It was also interesting to know what happens to the tea once it is rendered complete and ready to be purchased. They take random samples from each batch; send them to the "expert tea tasters" in Colombo to be scored/rated. Based on the score that the tea receives, that will determine the value at the auction or bidding price. The tea is then auctioned in Colombo, which takes place every Wednesday and sold to companies like Lipton, and other mainstream brands, and then they find their way into super markets around the world.
The process from picking the leaves, to selling the product can be quite quick so the ROI(return on investment) for tea is quite lucrative. The other great thing we learned is that 55% of the tea plantations and estates are actually owned by the Sri Lankan government, which accounts for the majority of the work-force in Hatton and the surrounding areas. When you are employed at one of the estates, you not only get a salary, but your housing and food are also taken care of as well. If you were to see the setting of these estates, well, lets just say that it's not too shabby, not too shabby at all.
Walking through the processing plant, everyone seemed to be enjoying their job and all had smiles. The women are predominantly the pickers since it requires delicate hands and the men work in the factory where there is heavy machinery.
At the end of the tour we got a lesson from Andrew on how to correctly evaluate and grade tea and then we got to do it ourselves….very cool experience and a must when visiting any Ceylon property. (Say hi to Andrew for me)
After our tea tour, Andrew had our driver take us to the Norwood Bungalows for lunch, which is one of the other properties of Ceylon.
This one is right down the road from the Norwood Tea Estate we just toured. It is also located at a much higher elevation than our Summerville Bungalow, which the views are completely different than what we had been experiencing at Summerville. When we arrived we received a quick tour of the grounds which were more stunning views every which way you turned.
Being up so high you get a great view of all the fields and you can see the women pickers working in the fields, which is quite cool.
For lunch we started with a watercress soup,
followed by the grilled white fish and veggies for our main course.
For the dessert we had a strawberry tart with vanilla ice-cream(i know I keep eating every single dessert)….everything was so good and as usual the view was insane.
We decided to stay put at the Norwood Bungalow for a bit taking in all the sites on the grounds. The pool area would have to be my favorite.
When we got back to our bungalow, we hung out by the pool area for a little while and noticed that it looked like it was not going to rain for quite some time and thought it would be a good idea to do one of the hikes. Like I mentioned earlier, there are 3 different hikes you can take from the Summerville Bungalow, S1 = 2.5 hours, S2 = 2 hours and the S3 which is the shortest at 45min – hour. We decided to go on the shorter one since we didn’t want to be out on the trails without any sunlight.
So off we went on S3...
As we continued to climb higher and higher the views continued to get better and better, overlooking all of the tea plantations and the water.
There are several areas along the way with little bits of water you will need to cross over (not hard at all), but we forgot to apply the salt spray on our feet and ankles which prevent leaches and such….a few of those little suckers found Jamie’s ankles…we got them off quickly without a problem, but definitely utilize the spray if you are going to do the hike.
After a little over an hour, we realized that our trail should be coming to an end and it seemed like we were still climbing higher and further away from our bungalow, which wasn't good at all.
We checked the next marked sign on our hike and sure enough, we had taken the wrong trail by accident.
We had taken the S1 hike, which was the 2.5 hour trail. Uh oh...
Now we really had to put it into gear if we wanted to get back before the sun went down.
You can definitely say this acted as workout #2 of the day as we started up a light jog which transitioned into more of a run. Or this could have been the "Sri Lankan food gods" helping us work off more of the delicious meals we had been eating so that we would be able to make room for even more when we finally made it back for dinner...
The great thing about this particular trail is that you get to go on the complete opposite side of the mountain and will run into other villages along the way and might even see the natives working the fields, carrying wood or other supplies back to their home…
We ran into two lovely ladies along our hike carrying wood back to their village....this was really cool to see.
When we started this hike there was this tuk-tuk driver who was driving around the streets playing this great music which resonated throughout the mountains and valleys….we knew we were close when we started to hear the same driver playing the same music.
Apparently the music of the tuk-tuk driver is what notifies people in the village that he/she is near and if you would like to purchase anything from him/her as the vehicle has baked goods (i.e. bread) aboard to be purchased. In the states, this is similar to the ice-cream trucks which drive around with their infamous music.
If you stay at the bungalows, the hiking trails are a must…make sure to bring your camera or iPhone with full batteries/charge and storage as you will be taking a ton of amazing shots. Oh yeah and spray yourself with the salt spray so you don’t have to worry about any little guys attaching themselves to your ankles. Don’t let the leaches discourage you, they are harmless little suckers(couldn't resist). A quick flick of the finger and they were off, no problem.
When we got back to our room they had a beautiful bath drawn for us with flowers everywhere. The perfect remedy for sore feet.
We got ready for dinner and headed out to the lounge area for a pre-dinner cocktail (when at the tea trails, pre-dinner cocktails are a must). They have a great list of specialty cocktails that they make which all sound and look really tasty. Jamie went for a cinnamon and brandy beverage, which was very nice, and I had a glass of their pino noir. For our appetizer the chef brought over some veggie egg rolls to get us started.
For dinner we asked for the Sri Lankan special again since we loved it so much the night before. Round #2 was just as good and it seemed like we were served even more dishes than the previous night. Didn’t matter because we polished them all off...Must have been attributed to that lengthy S1 hike/detour!
Day #3 / Departure
We woke up around 6am again and did a quick workout, and then packed our bags since we had an early departure at 8:30am.
After we got all packed, we headed out to the patio for breakfast. They started us off with the large fruit platter and tea, followed by the delicious Sri Lankan breakfast; which comes with coconut sticky rice and another type of rice noodle served with vegetable curry, fish curry and a spicy chili sauce….yum.
They also kept refilling the curries. Since we had a 6-hour car ride from Hatton to Galle coming up, we knew we better eat a BIG breakfast and that we sure did.
The Ceylon Tea Trails Summerville Bungalow was one of my absolute favorite experiences on this entire journey we have had (5 countries and over 18 venues). I could have stayed there for at least a week, if not two. The mountains, the rolling tea plantations, the hiking trails, the beautiful reservoir, and the amazing grounds of the bungalow make this venue the ultimate in relaxation.
They have fantastic Wi-Fi throughout the entire venue, however, if you just want to let go and not have a worry in the world, it is quite easy to do so here. In fact, even if you have a worry while you are here, it will be easily forgotten when you gaze out into the distance….stunning stunning stunning (I can't say that enough, you have to see it in person to fully grasp the incredible natural beauty)!
The staff is so friendly and their attention to detail and ensuring that every customer is happy and well taken care of is what you will receive when staying here. I really love how you have the option to experience the other bungalows while you are here. This is such a great benefit to have available for guests. Whether it is for lunch, dinner or even just for a drink, you can decide to have that experience at a different bungalow which will allow for a completely different ambiance. I highly recommend this, as the other bungalows are equally as gorgeous and worthy of a visit or two or three.
There is lots to do during your stay, which is why we would have enjoyed several more nights here. Between the awesome tea tour with Andrew, the many hikes including guided ones, visiting the other bungalows (4 in total), canoeing around the reservoir, hiking to Adam’s peak, a trip to Kandy, mountain biking, croquet, white water rafting, touring some of the villages, getting an in-room spa treatment and much, much more. You will not be bored here, that's for sure!
The other wonderful thing is that you don’t have to do a single darn thing either, which is why I recommend you plan to come a little longer so that you can do just that…doing nothing but simply relaxing by the beautiful pool, and open a good book, take a nap or just observe the beautiful surroundings and thoroughly take it all in....can I transport myself back now please?
This is yet another venue on our journey that I cannot wait to start planning a return trip and truly experience the other 3 bungalows (Norwood, Castlereagh, and Tientsin) as well as all the offerings the Ceylon Tea Trails has available...
Until next time tea trails....you are already missed and we cannot wait to come back and see you soon!