Looking for a holiday with a difference? Then look no further than a Sri Lanka tea museum in the clouds
If you are bored of bed and breakfasting in a normal hotel and happen to be holidaying in Sri Lanka, you need to ensure your itinerary contains a stop at this magical former Tea Factory and here’s six reasons why:
1. Wake to views from the highest hotel in Sri Lanka.
The Heritance Tea Factory hotel perches atop one of the peaks that give Sri Lanka’s Hill Country its name. Enveloped by clouds, a travel-weary tourist will be greeted by a magical sight when, after hours negotiating a typical Sri Lankan road of hairpin bends and vertiginous drops, the Tea Factory emerges like a mythical white castle from the mist.
At 2000m above sea level, it boasts the highest hotel rooms in the country – and the best welcome ever. After said breathtaking journey – provided by the views and the terrifying roads – we were greeted with a cup of hot spiced tea and warm smiles.
2. Holiday in a piece of history
If you’ve heard of Ceylon tea, that’s because Ceylon was Sri Lanka’s former name; the country remains the world’s fourth largest tea producer and second largest tea exporter. Not bad for a country half the size of the UK.
There are still plenty of the iconic tea factories to visit in Sri Lanka’s Hill Country, built in the days of the British Raj, but this is the only one that’s been converted into a 54-bedroom, four-star hotel, complete with spa.
3. It’s Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory… for tea
Children will love the still-working machinery, almost as much as dads. The hotel maintains many of the factory’s original features. On first inspection, the green and red steel gives the hotel a Christmassy feel (we did travel in December after all) but it’s all an ingenious colour code to show the original metalwork (green) and the steel supports (red) added as part of the tea factory’s conversion in 1996.
At the top of the huge atrium, nestle two giant brass-capped wooden fans, dormant from the time when the space now occupied by bedrooms used to be withering lofts, where tea leaves were dried.
Then there is the original steam engine sitting in the basement, which used to power the factory. This growls into life for half an hour at 7pm each evening, where rapt tourists can watch the huge camel-hair belts turn, a cup of tea from the tea bar in hand.
Look closely in the Kenmare Restaurant, which used to be the former engine room, and you can see the buffet bar is made up of old tea boxes.
4. Pick your own tea – and wear a basket on your head
The factory is an endless source of adventure for children, and very family-focused, also offering a baby-sitting service. There’s a daily activity board with tempting nature trails and pony rides, coaxing you outside the doors of the cosy hotel.
But it’s the chance to pick your own tea, and dress up in authentic saris that got us excited. We were given traditional baskets, worn with the strap on the forehead to free up both hands for the process of tea picking.
Even after half an hour it was back-breaking stuff and gave you a real appreciation for the thousands of workers who spend all day picking the leaves on the surrounding plantations. Silver tips – the delicate buds, yet to unfurl – are the prized part of the bush and, once picked, you throw your bounty behind you in to your basket. Or on the floor if your aim is poor.
Afterwards, we were given a tour around the mini tea factory and learned how our morning cuppa was made. At the end we were treated to a tea-tasting and walked away with our very own pack of home-grown tea.
5. Dine in an old railway carriage – complete with enthusiastic guard
As well as the hotel restaurant, guests can continue their time-travelling by dining in a restored 1930s narrow-gauge railway carriage. The intimate fine-dining experience is made all the more magical by the guard who, ever since taking up the position two years ago, has well and truly got into character. Each course is a “station stop”, before moving on to the next dining destination, with the guard swaying from side to side to create the authentic trundle of a train carriage. It was a surreal, but delightful experience.
6. Get and give the feel-good factor
If the staff seem unusually passionate about their job, it’s thanks to the Tea Factory’s social responsibility scheme of recruiting its teams from the local area, providing jobs, training and a start in life that they otherwise wouldn’t have had.
It’s no surprise then, that as well as winning awards for hotel excellence and architecture, the Tea Factory has received an impressive number of accolades for its environmental work, conservation and sustainable development, meaning a stay at the Tea Factory won’t just make a difference to your holiday, but to the community too.
Rooms cost from £108 per night. Visit www.heritancehotels.com/teafactory for more information.