To get the most out of Nuwara Eliya, the famous hill station beloved of the British planters more than a century ago, it is essential to soak up the nostalgia of yesteryear by choosing an accommodation that reflects the island’s rich colonial past.
Brockenhurst fits this mould; built over a century ago by a British surveyor named Philip Falk, its construction is typical of the colonial hill country where nights are often chilly and the days hot. Brockenhurst has been recently classified as a heritage building and retains original design features such as granite walls, timber floors, high ceilings, polished cement floors and green roofs. Although most of the furnishings are new, their functional design seems to match the simple colonial style of that bygone era.
Brockenhurst is encircled by a lush garden featuring a two-tiered lawn from where you can gaze over towards town or up at Single Tree Hill. Shrubs brim neatly at the edges of the garden whilst an elevated rose bed with busy-lizzy border feels very British indeed. Under the shade of fragrant pine trees, whose feathery leaves are a popular sanctuary for visiting birds, is an excellent place for children’s ball games, a barbecue or relaxing with a book and sipping afternoon tea. Since the atmosphere of the house is relaxed and because it’s yours to enjoy completely in private, it very quickly feels like home.
The house has a caretaker and chef who both reflect the warm hospitality of this hill-country town. In the evening a fire can be lit in the lounge, transforming it into a toasty and ambient living space with a small library. Enjoy pre-dinner cocktails here before moving into the dining room to feast on a hearty meal using the delicious fresh produce that this agricultural region is famous for (provisions are charged at cost price). Brockenhurst makes an ideal base to soak up the sights of this Hill Country town, the house’s four bedrooms (two of which sleep 3-5 children or adults) make it excellent value for larger families and groups of friends.
Brockenhurst is attractively situated on a slight rise overlooking Nuwara Eliya town, the century-old golf course and the tree-carpeted mountains. Set amongst residential homes and looking down over the lush herb and vegetable garden of the St Andrew’s Hotel, it is private and, despite the murmurs of traffic and schoolyards from town, also very peaceful. Looming up behind the house is Sri Lanka’s highest mountain – Pidurutalagala (2,555m) – whose slopes are enveloped by a misty cloud forest. Guests can explore this beautiful natural area on foot or sit back and relax in the garden watching the many visiting birds. The town – with its banks, markets and shops – is just a short walk down from the house where alpine-styled homes are bordered by English country gardens and sandwiched between carefully moulded patches of vegetables.
At a distance of 180km from Colombo and an altitude of 1,868m above sea level, the Hill Country capital of Nuwara Eliya is like nowhere else in Sri Lanka. A town dating back to the early nineteenth century, it became a commercial centre, first for coffee planting and later for tea, with a largely British population who were later to anglicise it with the addition of a race course, a golf course, an expansive lake, a couple of evocative hotels and a pretty church. The town has a temperate climate owing to its elevation; days are hot and sunny whilst at night it can get quite chilly, which is why many of the older properties have open fires to provide a little extra warmth. Today, Nuwara Eliya continues to earn its nickname of ‘Little England’, not only as a result of its colonial architecture and nostalgic charm but also because of the market-gardening industry introduced by the British that is still one of the mainstays of the town’s economy. Shelves of neatly prepared crops such as carrots, potatoes, leeks, cauliflowers, cabbage, radishes and beetroot are grown in abundance alongside herbs and tea bushes. The town itself has plenty of green spaces; Victoria Park, Lake Gregory, the Turf Club, and the meandering century-old golf course. Most of Nuwara Eliya’s restaurants are to be found in the town’s hotels and include Sri Lankan, Indian and Chinese flavours as well as western – mostly British – cuisine using the regions’ famed abundance of fresh local produce. Buildings rise to the west of town up Single Tree Hill and line the stretch of road south to Hakgala (9km) where a colourful Hindu temple and a beautiful botanical garden are located. Tea estates carpet much of the region of Nuwara Eliya like a sea of green punctuated by colourfully-dressed female tea pluckers hard at work. The tea produced here is considered to be some of the finest on the island and a visit to a tea factory should be a must on anyone’s itinerary. Not far away, waterfalls cascade from deep crevices in the rocks whilst to the east of town the vast green pastures of the island’s dairy farms in Ambewela (14km) give way to the high altitude grasslands of the dramatic Horton Plains National Park (29km) where you can peer down over villages from the nearly one kilometre sheer escarpment of World’s End.
The Hill Country is one of Sri Lanka’s most dramatic regions famed for its soaring peaks, its panoramic views, its salubrious climate, its gushing waterfalls, its rich colonial architecture and its acres and acres of verdant green tea estates.
Once cloaked in thick impenetrable jungle, the Hill Country was opened up by the British colonialists in the nineteenth century who were to first plant coffee, and then clear huge swathes of land to plant the much more successful crop of tea which remains one of the island’s top exports. With an elevation ranging from 850m to 2,500m, the Hill Country is characterised by its climate; cooler and less humid than elsewhere, the region sees plenty of rain but is also bathed in a great deal of sunshine that keeps the spectacular scenery of the area so healthily lush and in bloom.
Piduratangala (2,500m), Sri Lanka’s tallest mountain is located in the hill country however it is the island’s fifth largest peak that is most significant. Unusually venerated by devotees of the island’s four main religions – Christians, Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims – Adam’s Peak (2,240m) is a popular pilgrimage spot that’s traditionally climbed in the cooler early hours of the morning to arrive just in time for spectacular spiritual sunrises from its summit.
Walking is a popular pastime throughout the hill country as the climate affords great potential; varied terrains, spectacular vistas, abundant wildlife and refreshing waterfalls are highlights of any exploratory hike in the hills. Traversing the seemingly Scottish landscape of Horton Plains is one of the most rewarding walks for its conclusion at the sheer drop of World’s End.
Whilst roads wriggle their way up and around peaks, the best way to travel in the Hill Country is by train, even if you have nowhere special to go. The railway track, complete with numerous tunnels, bridges and loops is one of the most scenic in the world as it reaches spectacular viewpoints that roads simply cannot.
Brockenhurst is a good private base for visiting Nuwara Eliya town and nearby attractions. Although there are few facilities – the kitchen is basic and there is no swimming pool – Brockenhurst does represent very good value.
The house can accommodate up to twelve guests; since the master bedroom has space for five (rather like a dorm room we thought) and the second bedroom can sleep three, it’s a great house for a couple of families. We felt that the ground floor bedroom would be suitable for elderly relatives who weren’t keen on stairs, making the house a good choice for extended family holidays too. Whilst the number of bathrooms equals the number of bedrooms, only two are ensuite, but this doesn’t really pose a problem. We felt that the house reflected bygone days when entertainment was made, not provided, which is certainly part of its charm.
Whilst Brockenhurst has probably changed little aesthetically since its colonial days, it has been updated; bathrooms are modern and have scorching hot showers (although the bathtubs could do with a few touch-ups here and there), and whilst the bedrooms are comfortable, they are sparsely furnished. The Sri Lankan-style kitchen is practical for staff use only. There are no menus, you can discuss meal requirements daily with Godwin, the chef, and buy your own groceries or give money to Karu, the multi-tasking caretaker of Brockenhurst, to buy them on your behalf. The chef lives in and his English is good so we didn’t have any difficulties.
Brockenhurst has been refurbished since our first visit. The hallway and living room floors have been laid with timber, which feels much warmer underfoot and more homely than the previous cement flooring. The sofas in the living room have been replaced, and the fireplace here has also been remodelled. These upgrades all make the room feel more sophisticated than it did before.
There’s a new flat-screen TV, a DVD player (although no DVDs) and WiFi internet (works best downstairs). Karu and Godwin are both still there, and were as warm and friendly as ever. They have a third team member helping them out now too. The kitchen remains fairly basic (although with Godwin cooking there’s really no reason to use this room at all) and we noticed that two of the bathrooms have been slightly upgraded.
An evocative 160-year-old bungalow overlooking Nuwara Eliya town surrounded by a well-maintained garden of clipped lawns, preened hedges and scented roses. With 4 comfortable bedrooms, open fireplaces, cosy lounges, an elegant dining room and plenty of colonial character, this is a gorgeous holiday home in the hills.