Camellia Hills – in the heart of Sri Lanka’s tea country – may have heaps of history on its doorstep, but this hotel is a thoroughly modern affair. The island’s Central Highlands are laid out before you: for the uninitiated, that’s a whole lot of plantation green (with Castlereagh Lake making a splash in the landscape). Non-tea-drinkers need not apply – this is a land where days are spent rolling from one tea estate to the next, with a backdrop of some seriously lush countryside that the British, back in the day, just couldn’t get enough of.
Noon, but flexible for a fee, subject to availability. Earliest check-in: 2pm, also flexible.
Double rooms from £324.08 ($424), including tax at 10 per cent.
Rates are usually full board.
You won’t find a TV in your bedroom, but if you really can’t forgo the rolling news, there’s a communal one for guests to watch in the lounge.
At the hotel
Free WiFi throughout, car park, bicycles to borrow, board games. In rooms: tea and coffee kit, free bottled water.
Our favourite rooms
There are only five and each has reason to be given props: whether it’s the terrace and French doors in Warleigh, the lake and hill views (plus bath tub) in Osbourne, or the connecting opportunities and extra bed for families in Dickoya.
The plantation-flanked infinity pool overlooks the lake, for an entirely blue and green vista. There are a handful of loungers and a shaded ambalama (a place constructed for pilgrims and travellers to rest).
The British imperialists just loved the cooler climes of the Hill Country, but make sure you’re braced for a breeze with some warm clothing.
The hotel isn’t easily navigable for wheelchair users.
All ages are welcome. An extra bed (US$30 a night) and cot (free) can be added to all rooms if booked in advance. A food supplement applies daily for each child (US$60 for three to 15 year olds; US$95 for over-16s). The restaurant has a dedicated menu.
Out on one of the wicker chairs, taking in the view while the fire warms you up.
Don something evening-breeze-proof.
The wooden-floored and -beamed dining room is a cosy space with just a handful of tables – there’s also an open-air terrace with a wall of windows for maximum lake views. The food keeps on coming around here – the rates include breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner, not to mention a series of drinks whenever you want them. European options are available, but you’d be a fool to miss out on the Sri Lankan classics; the lentil dhal and roti is simple but superb.
There’s no formal bar, but drinks are available in the dining room and on the terrace all day.
The dining room is open from 7am until 10.30pm.
Peckish but can't leave the pillow? Order nibbles to your room – problem solved.
You’ll find Camellia Hills in Sri Lanka’s Castlereagh Valley, in the centre of the island and east of capital Colombo.
Colombo’s international airport is only be 130 kilometres away but the drive will take around five hours. (Hotel transfers can be arranged.)
The closest rail station is in Hatton, with services from Kandy, Nanuoya and Bandarawela, among others. It’s an hour away by car.
The easiest way to get around Sri Lanka is to hire a local driver, who’ll be less alarmed when a cow, rickshaw and moped all appear in your lane at the same time. The final stretch of the road is the sort of condition that makes driving particularly adventurous – arrange in advance for the hotel to pick you up (free) if your driver doesn't have a vehicle hardy enough to tackle it. (There’s a car park at Camellia Hills for the brave.)
Cinnamon Air can deposit you at the hotel via seaplane, or just take you on a scenic flight if you fancy.
Worth getting out of bed for
You’re in the heart of Sri Lanka’s tea country, where lush green tea plantations give way to colonial churches, island-dotted lakes, waterfalls and forests. The hotel can lay on a lesson in the art of Sri Lankan cooking, as well as excursions to explore the spectacular local scenery. Active sorts should take on the trek up Adam’s Peak, a 2,243-metre-high conical mountain which has a sacred footprint rock formation thought to belong to Buddha. The islands of the Castlereagh Lake can be hopped between on a hotel-arranged boat trip. Natural wonders in the neighbourhood include the cloud forests of the Horton Plains national park, and the St Clair waterfalls. There are various tea plantations around, but Dunkeld Estate is probably the prettiest thanks to its elevation pushing 5,000 feet. Also winning photogenic prizes is Nuwara Eliya, which translates as ‘city on the plain’ – the landscape is one of the Central Highlands’ most spectacular. The colonial-era Warleigh Church was built in 1878 and wouldn’t look out of place in a quintessential English village.
In Hatton, the Railway Lodge on Dimbula Road (right by the station, natch) serves huge platters of rice in a traditional setting – and there’s a tea boutique to stockpile some blends if you haven’t bought enough already.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this boutique hotel in Sri Lanka and unpacked their Ceylon blend and cinnamon, a full account of their tea-country break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Camellia Hills in the Castlereagh Valley…
Even if you don’t love tea, there’s lots to love in Sri Lanka’s tea country. Camellia Hills is a boutique hotel five hours east of capital Colombo, the final leg of which is a trek along a dusty track. Once you’re here, though, the journey’s worth it. Back in colonial times, the British loved the Central Highlands, not just for their tea-growing potential, but for their calming breeze and cooler climate. Today, Camellia Hills’ modern bungalow puts paid to the stuffier luxury on offer elsewhere in the region. Instead, you’ll get charming staff (including a personal butler who’ll see to setting up afternoon tea wherever you want it), Golden Valley vistas, open fireplaces and huge lake-framing windows. Nearby, you’ll find the cloud forests of Horton Plains National Park and a the highest town on the island, Nuwara Eliya. But even if getting there’s adventure enough, you’ll find plenty to keep you happy: the five bedrooms have wooden floors, beamed ceilings and more lake views out on the terrace if you’ve chosen wisely. There’s even someone on hand to help track leopards for you. Pull up a cosy chair and have the butler put the kettle on…