Hannah’s field notes from Sri Lanka

A tranquil journey into the land of tea

We’ve always felt that ‘being there’ – in person, on the ground – is the best way for us to refine the trips we plan for you, our travellers. We test and try each of our luxury travel experiences and hotels for ourselves, really getting beneath the surface (metaphorically, but sometimes not). It’s a vital part of what we ‘do’.

That’s why we sent Hannah – from our London team – on a research trip to the mist-shrouded hills and quiet coastal towns of Sri Lanka. Travelling from forested valleys to roads lined with coconut trees, she went to put some of our favourite wellness retreats and experiences through their paces. (A hard task, we know, but someone had to do it).

Here’s what she found. Over to you, Hannah.

Kandy – crunchy hoppers and rainfall yoga

My journey begins on a track shrouded in mist. We’re making our way – driving between tea bushes and tropical jungle – to a peaceful retreat perched on a hilltop overlooking the lush mountains of Dumbara. Or Santani Wellness Resort, as it’s also known. The focus here is on harmony, health, and wellbeing; perfect for those seeking to de-stress and unwind.

Passing swaying branches and rice fields, I arrive in time for breakfast. Being taken immediately to the hotel’s restaurant – a timber and glass terrace-like structure fit with floor-to-ceiling windows – I was in for a feast of traditional Sri Lankan fare. Creamy potato curry, crispy hoppers (thin, bowl-like pancakes), and sambols (a spicy condiment of freshly grated coconut, lime, chili, and red onion). Everything is homemade and locally sourced, I’m told, as I take another (very delicious) mouthful. With their own greenhouse, the chefs grow fresh vegetables, fruit, and medicinal herbs. Ginger, bean sprouts, gotu kola, nika, bananas – you name it, it’s probably here. There’s even a few beekeeping boxes for producing fresh honey. Sweet.

In the late afternoon, I take one of the retreat’s yoga classes. It begins to rain (it’s late March, so a little rainfall is to be expected). But somehow, that only adds to the peaceful atmosphere – that gentle pitter-patter creating the most calming soundtrack to practice to. Here, we’re outdoors, but (thankfully) undercover. The yoga pavilion is simple in design, a large square slab of stone serves as flooring with a small collection of saffron-coloured mats equally spaced from one another and a timber covering held up by stone columns. To my left, lush jungle and mountains. To my right, lush jungle and mountains.

Ella – here comes the sun

A hiking hub of tracks and trails, this is Sri Lanka’s ‘hill country’. With mountainous cone-like peaks and green domes coated in forest – it’s a place best seen at sunrise. From atop a sacred summit. Or so I’m told. Naturally, I rise (quite literally) to the challenge.

Adam’s Peak – which pierces cloud and mist – is my destination. Also dubbed Sri Pada (‘sacred footprint’), it is proclaimed a holy mountain. By four major religions, no less. Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, and Muslims alike all brave the 5200 steps or so that jut out from its steep slopes. The reason for this somewhat precarious pilgrimage? To catch a glimpse of the footprint left in stone by Adam, Shiva, or Buddha – depending on your belief.

After a rather gruelling, but equally worth it hike, I clamber over a final mound of rock and compact earth to reach the viewing point. I’m not disappointed. The sun – a golden bulb of orange – breaks like yoke over the jet-black silhouettes of mountains on the horizon. Still too early for mid-morning mists to obscure the view, I watch as darkness turns into a sea of lush hills and plains – first amber, then green. A triangular shadow stretches across the land – the signature mark of Adam’s Peak. They say this is one of the best sunrises in Asia. I agree.

Bogawantalawa – into the land of tea

4,000 feet above sea level lies a region flooded with the fresh, citrus-like scent of Ceylon tea. And this is the home of Tea Trails – my luxurious lodgings for the next few days. Looking out from my historic tea planter bungalow – one of just five such structures – I’m surrounded by English gardens filled with roses and crocus. Beyond, swirling acres of tea bushes line the landscape in a vast blanket of green. The scent of earth and fresh grass carries on the breeze. It’s hard not to feel refreshed here. Especially from my own jacuzzi. Overlooking the tea plantations, I sip on my G&T and snack on grilled prawns marinated in lime, coriander, and chilli, cooked fresh. They pair perfectly with the accompanying coconut sambol – now a firm favourite of mine.

But now for the main event. The tea. Visiting the Dunkeld Tea Factory – a rather unassuming building tucked between alpine forests and yes, you guessed it, tea fields – I learn about the history of tea making. Planting, methodology, century-old machinery. As I walk through rolling fields of tea leaves, I learn how the flavour of tea varies from province to province (it’s all about elevation and altitude). Orange honey-like varieties are produced in Ruhuna (a lower region) while the flavour of tea leaves in Kandy can change depending on their exposure to monsoon winds. Those grown here, I sample for myself. Fresh, floral, calming. Ceylon may just be my new go-to brew.

Dikwella – coastal markets and coconut trees

A small coastal town in the Matara district, every Saturday Dikwella welcomes tens of local food producers to host its traditional market. On my way to barter and buy – driving between jungle and powder blue sky – Jerry, my guide, stops to pick ‘drinking’ coconuts for us. Cool and refreshing. It makes for the perfect pit stop.

And then there’s the market. Wooden planks haphazardly arranged as tables. Pyramids of corn, beans, chillies, papayas, and long almost cone-like pineapples. Hundreds of tiny bananas hang on bamboo branches and sets of rustic metal scales line each stall. Between tables and sheets piled high with local produce, you can see the gentle rolling waves of the Indian Ocean behind. It’s strangely chaotic yet peaceful at the same time. I get stuck in. With Jerry’s help, of course. We order some Sri Lankan specialties like rambutans (hairy red lychee-like fruit the size of golf balls) and yellowfish tuna (so-called for their saffron-hued fins). But among the vibrant spread are more familiar items too. Butternut squash and cauliflower, to name a few.

Ingredients in hand, we head back to ANI Private Resort. Like home, but much more luxurious. Among the gardens, Chef Cyril leads us in a traditional Sri Lankan cooking class. Kotu rotti (curry made with scrambled egg, chilli, and onion), kola kandha (leaf porridge infused with Ayurvedic herbs), wattalapan (a creamy coconut custard dessert). We make (and taste) them all. But it is not only the food that is important here. The ‘where’ also matters. You can dine in the pool with your chairs and tables set in the shallows. Or beneath a tree glittering with fairy lights. You can picnic and enjoy afternoon tea in the hotel’s luscious grounds. Or you can sip on sundowners on the beach. You can do all these things. So, I do.

Final thoughts

My journey through Sri Lanka was relaxing and eye-opening all at once. Between hiking sacred summits through its hilly heartland and bartering at coastal markets in the south, I rested up at some of the best luxury hotels in Sri Lanka. Dining on hoppers and sipping on Ceylon tea in the very fields from which its leaves were plucked. It was my dream trip. But now, for yours. Whether you’re thinking of pairing your luxury Sri Lanka vacation with a visit to the Maldives (a good shout, we must say) or if you’re dreaming of delving deeper into Sri Lanka’s coastal and rural regions. As ever with Black Tomato, the choice is yours.

Shall we begin?

Whether you’re seeking lush fields of tea or tranquil coastal hideaways, our Travel Experts can’t wait to show you around, from Kandy to Adam’s Peak. Head below to find out more.

Take me to Sri Lanka