UK Travel

Review: Stafford Bungalow, Sri Lanka

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Days of Raj elegance live on behind the white picket fences at the Stafford Bungalow. The roads to Ragala snake, writhe and wriggle forever upwards through the tea fields of Sri Lanka’s central region. A mile above sea level, in Sri Lankan hill country, sits the Stafford Bungalow. A luxury boutique villa with full service.

Set amidst a working 50 acre plantation, dotted with yellow acacia trees and morning glory plants, the bungalow recalls the luxurious lifestyle of the colonial tea planters. Built in 1884 the black-and-white timbered architecture looked to the Home Counties for its inspiration.

Although the original planters Sir G.H.D. Elphinstone and J. Paterson Senior were Scottish, the local area became known as Little England. Not just for the billiard-table flat green lawns and English country garden roses but also because of the cool climate and regular rain.

Recalling the homely style of the plantation years, the bungalow has four guest rooms and a further two within the owner’s cottage.

A sense of privacy and timeless elegance have drawn the Sri Lankan President to stay at Stafford Bungalow as a retreat from the pressures of office.

The welcome

Whilst we were travelling, Christy our butler, rang asking for selections from the lunch menu. On arrival, with drizzle in the air, we are met by staff with umbrellas.

We appreciate warm flannels and hot chocolate after the long drive.

The room

The ground floor Master Suite leads out on to a covered patio with an inviting sofa as well as table and chairs. Wrapping around the corner of the dual aspect suite there is a small walled garden.

Burgundy curtains and dark wooden floors create a sense of opulence. Still life artwork of flower arrangements would not look out of place in a Royal Academy summer exhibition.

Renowned interior designer Taru Fonseka uses furnishings to recreate the aura of a lost age. Dark wood wardrobe, dressing table, desk, chests of drawers and chairs surround a solid four poster bed to build a sense of heritage and tradition.

Recently, two new larger rooms have been created in the Owner’s Cottage with the bathrooms featuring free-standing baths as well as showers. Both rooms have direct access to their own garden.

The bathroom

Returning to the master suite, where the Sri Lankan President stayed, the bathroom is large, light and spacious. It has both rainfall and directional showers.

The facilities

Adjacent to the master suite there is a reading room for books borrowed from the bungalow’s library. As there is a chill in the air, Christy lights a fire in a lounge where afternoon tea and pre-dinner gin and tonic are served. “It is a tradition,” Christy announces as he pours before asking how many slices of lime and how many ice cubes we would like.

In the dining room, glass doors slide back to reveal the fully glory of the garden. After every meal the Head Chef Sanjeewa appears, in his white chef’s hat, to discuss the menu for the next meal.

His suggestions for dinner begin with a feta cheese and peashoot salad, followed by a roasted pumpkin soup accompanied by warm oregano rolls. Flavours of cumin and coriander suggest that the kitchen has made the most of the organic herb, spice and vegetable gardens on site.

Atlantic salmon, sourced from Norway, and beef tenderloin from the USA are the options for the main course. We negotiate the heat of the accompanying curry sauce with Sanjeewa.

A swimming pool, sun-loungers and jacuzzi beckon. Unless it’s the wet season when the games room comes into its own.

Location

Most guests start by exploring the estate: birdwatching, taking a Stafford plantation trek or opting for a tea plucking and tasting experience. Nearby Ravana Rock offers a variety of hikes which can be combined with a picnic lunch.

Having learnt how to pluck two leaves and a bud, guests can book a factory tour to witness the next stages of a tea leaf’s journey.

For a scenic trek from Stafford Bungalow there is The Pekoe Trail, a new 300 km long distance walking trail through the Central Highlands. Adventurer Miguel Cunat’s brain child has been funded by the EU and USAiD, benefiting villages that do not usually see tourists

Guests can also take a walking tour of Ragala whilst a tour of its temples is also available. Buddhists, Catholics, Hindus and Moslems happily co-exist in the town with many mixed marriages taking place.

A little further afield, the Hill Station of Nuwara Eliya was a favourite escape from the Summer heat for the British. The racecourse, golf club and Victoria Park all contribute to the town’s Little England nickname.

Other nice touches

Breakfast begins with an eye-opening healthy shot, perhaps passion fruit juice or gooseberry. When the sun is shining breakfast is taken on the lawn surrounded by dew-sprinkled flame lilies, false jalap and white dianthus.

Almost every item that emerges from the kitchen is homemade: marmalade and jams for breakfast, oats biscuits with coffee, the cake or scones or dim sum that accompany afternoon tea.

If there’s a chill in the air, the turndown service places hot water bottles into the beds.

The cost

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 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.

The best bit

A trek through the tea fields is a classic introduction to the tea estate. The tea-pluckers, mostly women in colourful saris, are dotted around the waist-high tea bushes.

Walkers learn about the routines of the tea fields. The pluckers picking two leaves and a bud for six days a week. The inspectors who weigh and check the quality of the pick. The estate staff who undertake pruning and maintenance every four years: brushing moss from the bark, loosening the soil round the trees’ roots with a fork.

The final verdict

Far more intimate than even the most boutique of hotels, Stafford Bungalow provides a fascinating insight into a lost era. Far from home, the planters turned to reassuring touches of the homeland: caddies on teapots, Marmite on toast, wellies and slippers ready for walks.

Service is impeccable. The butler gives you his card with a 24/7 number that you can ring at any time.

Disclosure: Our stay was sponsored by the Stafford Bungalow.


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