It is not the kind of place you want to leave, once you arrive. I reach Goatfell by Teardrop Hotels, a stylishly revamped former tea planter’s bungalow tucked in the hills above Nuwara Eliya, after a beautiful but belly-churning three-hour drive through Sri Lanka’s tea country.
Afternoon tea is being served by the infinity pool. I know it will be delicious, as all the food I’ve eaten over the past three days at other Teardrop Hotels properties has been. But although 48 per cent of my brain is screaming “stay! Eat! Swim!” the rest begs me to stretch my legs.
I obey, stepping out into the cool afternoon. Hurtling through the landscape in a car, you can lose connection to your surroundings, but as I start walking down the dirt tracks weaving through the tea fields I am immediately plugged back in.
The tea leaves, until now labelled just “very green” by my brain, begin to reveal dozens of shades – jade, olive, emerald, khaki; sometimes beige or turmeric. Birds twitter in the birch trees scattered through the rows of waist-high tea bushes, planted to offer shade for the tea pluckers, but otherwise it is quiet. Just the crunch of my boots, the rustle of tea leaves, the breath of the wind.
Dust rises around me, golden in the late afternoon, and I feel as if I’m experiencing the world as it might have been a century ago when the first owners of this estate, who inhabited the bungalow Goatfell now occupies, lived here.
Turning a corner I arrive at a village where a few dozen simple concrete houses painted sky blue, acid green and lolly pink, their rusty aluminium roofs weighed down by rocks, tumble down the hillside. Surrounding them are small vegetable gardens growing leeks, lettuce, potatoes, cabbage and strawberries, some of which I have been told will grace my dinner table tonight.
I keep walking and come across a battered blue bus whose pink-shirted owner motions for me to climb aboard. Inside, he introduces me to his young son and proudly points out the highlights of his bus – the kitschy, flashing Hindu gods lining the dashboard, the strings of neon prayer beads hanging from the rear-vision mirror, the local music blaring from tinny speakers.
The moment I step off, the 10 kids who’ve been playing cricket on the roadside using a bat that has splintered almost in half swarm around me, with smiles so bright they glow. They giggle and chatter, wanting to shake my hand, hug me, and take endless selfies with my phone. They want to know my name, to invite me into their homes, to show me their school. I can’t help but wonder whether they’ll ask me for sweets or money but, shame on me, they do nothing of the sort. When I leave, they merely chase me up the hill yelling, “I love you!”
It is an experience that lingers when I arrive back at Goatfell. When I’m soaking in my clawfoot tub at sunset, when I’m contemplating a game of pre-dinner croquet, when I’m being waited on hand and foot while dining under the stars by a roaring fire. I know I’ll remember the indulgences of this stunning property for years to come. But it is this afternoon’s walk that has made me fall in love with this corner of Sri Lanka for good.
Nina Karnikowski travelled as a guest of Teardrop Hotels.
THIS STORY FIRST APPEARED IN PRINT AND ONLINE HERE
Sri Lankan Airlines flies daily from major Australian airports to Colombo, via Singapore. See srilankan.com
Teardrop Hotels’ trio of new tea bungalows start from $529 a night, all-inclusive. See teardrop-hotels.com
NEED TO KNOW
Sri Lanka in Style offers bespoke seven-night itineraries to Sri Lanka with Teardrop Hotels from $3555 a person, including return flights to Colombo. See srilankainstyle.com