Situated at the northern end of Nuwara Eliya overlooking the century-old golf course and Single Tree Hill, Anilana Craigbank enjoys a wonderfully peaceful location. Set in a beautifully manicured child-friendly garden with preened lawns, multi-coloured roses and clipped hedges flourishing bright purple agapanthus, this fully-restored period property is more than 160 years old. On the sweeping veranda to the front of the property, potted petunias and marigolds scatter the tiled floor beside colonial armchairs topped with thick cushions. Enjoy afternoon tea from here as you admire the mountain views and relish the invigorating mountain climate of this unique hill country town.
Inside this stately property - refurbished by a previous French owner to European standards of comfort - are four individually-designed bedrooms. Each room features its own unique colour scheme, and fabric-covered walls come in hues of chocolate, burgundy, white and green. A sprinkling of fireplaces provide extra warmth in the bedrooms and lounge but also add to the property’s evocative colonial ambiance; Ceylonese prints, leather-bound books, brass candelabras and hunting memorabilia hark back to an earlier time in the island’s history when the British planters made this Hill Country town their home. Leisurely days spent hunting, fishing, golfing or at the races were followed by indulgent dinners featuring hearty home-grown cuisine and G&Ts beside a roaring log fire.
Little has changed today; whilst the activities you might indulge in are slightly different to those of the past, at Anilana Craigbank you can still revel in the privileged life of a planter with all its luxurious comforts and perks! Each member staff is an expert in authentic hospitality and meals are cooked for you by the in-house chef. The climate of Nuwara Eliya is much cooler than most of Sri Lanka, which makes outdoor adventure particularly rewarding. Explore the town’s eccentricities on foot, escape into the cloudforest, drop into a tea factory or study the amazing range of fresh produce grown in and around the town by Nuwara Eliya’s small-scale farmers.
Anilana Craigbank is advantageously sited on a slight rise overlooking Nuwara Eliya, the town’s century-old golf course and the surrounding tree-flecked 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 in the garden and watch the many visiting birds from the comfort of a cushioned armchair. Nuwara Eliya town, famed for its alpine-style homes bordered by English country gardens and carefully moulded vegetable plots, is a five-minute walk down the hill..
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.
Anilana Craigbank is wonderfully warm and welcoming. Décor is contemporary colonial as befits this 160-year-old house which was expertly renovated and modernised by a previous French owner who lived here for many years. Despite the grand feel of the house and the enjoyable formalities of a good staff team, the atmosphere is relaxed. Each of the bedrooms is very comfortable with wonderful garden views. A selection of magazines, books, board games, DVDs and satellite TV kept us well occupied in the evenings. The Drawing Room is a cosy place to curl up with a book, and the DVD library in the TV room will keep the kids amused. It can get quite cold at night, so rooms are heated by working fireplaces whilst heavy curtains, knitted bedspreads and draught excluders all help to keep you toasty and warm.
The staff are friendly, warm and eager to make your stay as comfortable as possible; their natural hospitality also adds to the charm of staying at Anilana Craigbank. On our most recent visit, the house had come under new management. They have refurbished the house, replacing soft furnishings – the dusky walls of the bedrooms are brightened up by a contrasting collection of vibrant Sri Lankan artwork, colonial prints and Ceylonese maps; installed WiFi and brought in a few new staff. There are now a selection of priced menus for all meals, including breakfast. Two to three-course set menus for lunch and dinner always list a local and a western option, and tend to change daily. There is also a snack menu available. No alcohol is served at the house, however guests can bring their own tipples and no corkage will be charged. The house’s two tubby yet adorable labradors – Gin and Tonic – are still popular characters on the property, but can be shut away if guests would prefer. Hot water still takes a little time to work its way through the pipes!
During Sri Lankan New Year in April (typically the 13th and 14th) many Colombo residents flock here for family holidays. During this time the town is in full bloom and has a carnival atmosphere with many events – horse racing, car rallies, motor cross, golf tournaments, garden competitions and discos – being held. Prices often triple during this period and the town can get very noisy and busy. Unless you would particularly like to be here for this occasion, it is probably better avoided.
Perched on a hillside overlooking Nuwara Eliya, Brockenhurst is a century-old classified heritage home set in a one-acre garden with two-tiered lawn. Featuring 4 comfortable bedrooms and a cosy lounge with open fireplace, this serviced property is a nostalgic base from which families and groups can explore the hill country.