CAPE WELIGAMA, WELIGAMA

A year ago when I had this idea to start a "hotel blog", I wrote down a wishlist of places to visit. Number one on that list was Cape Weligama. So, many months and emails later, here I am, at Cape Weligama and I'm miserable. Why? Because the day before I had decided to consume some very dodgy street food in my quest to discover the real Sri Lanka. Checked in (quickly, I was in a rush), and whisked off in a buggy to my villa, I was straight to the bathroom.

Feeling sorry for myself, fever and other nasty side effects starting to take their toll, I felt a little like "why me". And then it dawned, if there's one place where you have to stay in bed all day, it should be Cape Weligama. With prompt butler service, nourishing food and a private pool, it was just the spot to recover.

First impressions of Cape Weligama are understated. Thai architect Lek Bunnang has designed the residences to be nestled in tropical landscaping on the sloping cliff of Weligama. Clusters of two to three villas share a pool, while all views point to the ocean where the famous moon shaped infinity pool lies.

Terracotta tiled villas house contemporary styled rooms that draw on the local aesthetic using bamboo, wood and stone to create a peaceful sanctuary. It's the right mix of old meets new.

The bathrooms are huge, maybe ridiculously so. Walk in wardrobe, steam and shower room, double sinks and a giant tub will have you prepping and preening for hours. They're not air conditioned, but fans are dotted around to keep air flowing. A massage table is also on hand in case you get the urge for some in-room pampering.

The bedroom is on the other side of the entrance where the sitting area opens up to the patio. More lounging, dining and sunbathing can be done on the verandah, with the Premier Residence (our pick for a two person stay) totaling a whopping 176sqm. Luxurious, yes. Over the top, no.

The food, as with Tea Trails, shows Resplendent Ceylon's (the parent company) commitment to the best in dining. Breakfast started with a local fruit plate and pastries (try the almond, tastes like it's straight out of Paris) followed by your choice of eggs, Sri Lankan breakfast (order the night before) or healthy options. Buffalo curd with palm treacle, a local delicacy became a new favourite. Similar to Greek yoghurt, it was smooth and creamy, with a hint of tart. Dressed with palm treacle (you can find this goodness in their local shops for take home pleasure), it was heavenly.

Lunch gives you the classics of locally caught white fish and chips, burgers and salads with the option of curry and rice. Poolside, it was just right.

Dinner in the restaurant has a cool vibe, with dark blue walls, high ceilings and lamps flickering as the sun goes down. A Sri Lankan curry feast was on offer, bursting with spices and home made naans. It's a festive night for everyone, with the waves crashing gently in the background.

When you're not at the crescent-shaped moon pool, there's activities local and further afield. Kayaking through fragrant cinnamon lagoons, whale watching and surfing is right on Cape Weligama's doorstep. Alternatively, ask your butler to arrange a day tour north to Uda Walawe to see Elephants, Crocodiles and Leopards at the national parks. Cape Weligama may be hidden, but by no means isolated. A quick 20 minute drive west and you're in the middle of Fort Galle.

Despite being ill, Cape Weligama wasn't lost on me. I utilised our charming butler, Indekah, perhaps a little too frequently. More towels, more asprin, it wasn't a problem. A 10pm request to source some left over scones from that day's high tea didn't phase him either.

As irony would have it, my food poisoning was clearing up in time for my driver pick-up to leave. Exiting the large gate, which is a blink a you'll miss it private entrance, meandering through the little laneways back to the main road, I felt like I was leaving the Garden of Eden. You could make it your base to explore the south of Sri Lanka or you could never leave your room and recover from whatever life has thrown at you. Either way, there's plenty to do, or not do. Your choice.

CHECKING-OUT DEBRIEF
FEEL: Spice-toned luxury
ROOM PICK: Premier Residence.
WIFI: Yes, complimentary.
RATES: From US$710 per room per night on a full board basis including: accommodation on a double-occupancy basis, daily breakfast plus lunch and dinner (excluding Misaki restaurant); house wines, spirits & beers; laundry, all taxes & service charges plus one activity per day.
CHILDREN: Yes.
IN-ROOM: Bath tub,  reading material, walk in wardrobe, international electrical outlets, bath tub, steam room/shower, Flat screen with cable TV (movie channels included)
GETTING THERE: The Sri Lankan railway runs every few hours from Colombo to Weligama (4 hours). Drivers are available from Ceylon Tours (3 hours). See our getting around Sri Lanka article: http://bit.ly/ibwsrilanka

I stayed as a guest courtesy of Cape Weligama.
http://www.capeweligama.com

CEYLON TEA TRAILS, BOGAWANTALAWA

I had no expectations for my first visit to Sri Lanka. With little research and two long flights, I landed and was straight on a train to Tea Country. Struggling to stand in the overcrowded second class carriage (I forgot to book a seat in first) with a ridiculous amount of unnecessary luggage, it was an hour of slow, bumpy, stop-start riding before I jumped in to an empty seat. The journey went on for 5 hours - 45 minutes over schedule. Irritated and sweaty, the train eventually took a turn and revealed Sri Lanka's lush, green, Tea Country. Breathtaking, even through itchy red eyes.

The Tea Trails transport was waiting at the station with water and a new SUV for the short trip to our bungalow, in this case Tientsin. Built in 1888 at an altitude of 4600 ft, Tientsin was named after a village in China where the original tea seedlings came from (all thoroughly explained on your included tea tour). Three other bungalows, all unique in their own heritage, are dotted about the hills with a fifth soon to be opened.

On arrival you are introduced to your butler, clad in a smart checked sarong. Tea education starts immediately with a welcome tea mocktail - refreshing and needed.

The high colonial house, shared with only a few other guests, was British and surrounded by English gardens. Deep corridors with high ceilings lead to a grand dining room, lounge and guest suites. Each suite is furnished with four poster beds and polished floorboards, retaining the historic design while being up to date. International electrical outlets are provided, utterly convenient, and laundry service is same day and complimentary. Turn down service comes with a hot wattle bottle too. Tientsin was really starting to turn on it's charm.

Bathrooms are decked head to toe in stunning decor. Rustic tiles, white on white tubs and sinks, with a dash of chrome, had me pouring bath after bath. In house products are refreshing and plentiful.

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Leaving at 8:45am each day is a tea experience tour to the local plantation Norwood. Guided by the resident tea expert, he takes you through the process from picking "two leaves and one bud" to the fair trade factory where you witness the leaves being dehydrated, bruised and turned in to Black Ceylon Tea. It left me with a new found appreciation for the industry and tasting of tea. If you visit, make this tour mandatory.

Food at Tea Trails is tailor-made and a journey in itself. There are no menus, instead the chef comes to your suite and talks you through what is available. I left it in his hands and wasn't disappointed.

Breakfast is served at a time of your choice, with tea of course. Fresh pastries, local jams and butter come out with a fruit plate of mountain passion fruit, sour banana and pineapple. Choosing from a traditional Sri Lankan breakfast or the more familiar porridge and eggs was difficult, but both styles were executed well.

Lunch is waiting on your return from the morning activities and it is cleansing and nourishing. Three courses with a fresh vegetable soup, white fish and local dessert leaves you satisfied but not stuffed.

Tea makes a major appearance at afternoon cream tea. Perfectly pickled cucumber sandwiches with chocolate eclairs and short buttery scones kill those munchies while you relax on the terrace overlooking the tea plantation. The tea menu ranges from light, dark and green, poured at the precise moment for maximum enjoyment.

I was craving steak that night and they went above and beyond to satisfy me. The following evening I opted for a Sri Lankan curry dinner. It was a visual explosion of 8 different curries ranging from beetroot, okra, potato, chicken and the best dhal I've ever had served with crunchy papadams glistening with melted butter.

Afternoons are passed walking the grounds, refreshing yourself in the pool or relaxing in the lounge. For the more adventurous there is mountain biking, hiking trails between tea bungalows or white water rafting excursions. Tientsin also has a tennis court and croquet on site.

Pre-dinner drinks in front of the roaring lounge fire go longer than anticipated, mingling with the other guests. The butlers are spot on with their cocktails and mixing that you forget dinner is waiting.

Relaxing on the verandah, sipping tea and reading my thoughts away, I felt tranquil up in the highlands. Surrounded by historic luxury, I could still hear the faint beeps of tuk-tuk horns and school children singing to remind me I was in Sri Lanka. 

My stay at the peaceful Tea Trails didn't leave me itching for the bright lights of the city. While airs and graces aren't even remotely suggested, I almost wanted to play the part. Dressing up for dinner I felt I had been transported back to the colonial era and this is what tea trails really gives you. A glimpse in to history. The authentic planter feel with subtle, efficient service makes you lose yourself in Sri Lanka's tea country. Pure bliss.

CHECKING-OUT DEBRIEF
FEEL: Colonial bungalow.
ROOM PICK: Master suite.
WIFI: Yes, complimentary.
RATES: Starting from US$600 per room per night on an all-inclusive basis including meals, afternoon cream tea, alcoholic drinks, a daily activity and laundry service.
CHILDREN: Yes.
IN-ROOM: Bath tub, mosquito netting, reading material, wardrobe, international electrical outlets, heated towel rack, fans, two writing desks, lounge seating.
GETTING THERE: The Sri Lankan railway runs every few hours from Colombo to Hatton (5.5 hours). Drivers are available from Ceylon Tours, one of Sri Lankas oldest and most established tour companies (3 hours).  http://ceylontours.com

I stayed courtesy of Tea Trails and The Resplendent Ceylon Group.
http://www.teatrails.com