Given Jetwings' Lighthouse Hotel in Galle (a Geoffrey Bawa designed hotel you'll find in every 'funky hotels of the world' coffee table book going - sadly, they fail to show its faded beauty, awful maintenance and the never less than disgusting food in the otherwise glorious Cinnamon Room) was the site of the Worst Meal Of My Life, I was a little hesitant booking the Warwick Gardens. On paper it looked stunning - C19th planter's house restored check, different out of the way experience check, uniquely stylish way to spend a Nuwara Eliya night check.
But still there was a niggle. What if it were, you know, just not very good after all that? What if the TripAdvisor reviews were all so starry-eyed at the splendour of the place they missed the things that make somewhere truly special, not just decoratively exceptional?
As far as I understood the story told me by the house's factotum as we stood on the lawn looking out over the mountains (there is a guest-facing staff of three, said factotum, a housekeeper and a chef), a Scottish planter by the unlikely name of Lemon (we tried looking up Lennon, but both come up blank) built his home from home here up in the temperate hills of Nuwara Eliya in the 1880s. He thrived here, with a massive estate of some 100,000 acres. The family stayed until 1940, selling up to a Sri Lankan chap by the name of Fernandes and he ran the estate until the nationalisations of 1971-2. This was a black period in Sri Lankan history, when the government took to its own any and all plantations over 50 acres, particularly focusing on foreign-owned estates but, it seems, even Sri Lankans weren't safe. His kingdom reduced to 50 acres, Fernandes had a heart attack and died of grief. Thirty years later, the house - a ruined shell in the hills - was discovered by Jetwings' chairman, Hiran Kooray and he, his wife and architect Channa Daswatte took to restoring the house to its original glory. Every bit of woodwork is new, the furnishings, fixtures and fittings all selected tastefully to recreate the glory of that Highlands in a foreign land the original owner had set out to create in the middle of his lush plantation.
The result is a very special small hotel indeed. Five rooms, two dining rooms (the formal dining room with a ten-seat table and the pantry with a smaller table) and a drawing room and study form the downstairs. Upstairs there's a ceiling-high tapestry on the dogleg of the stairs and then a landing leading to the rooms. Behind the tapestry is a secret staircase to the glorious 'White Room' - originally called the Netherleigh room. This is where we stayed - a minimalistically stylish room with an equally stylish bathroom attached to it, complete with walk-in shower and claw-footed bath. Book this room. Just do it. The views out over the stepped lawn and peaks beyond alone are worth it.
Dinner consists of no menu. What sort of thing do you like? Sri Lankan? European? Chicken? Fish? What floats your boat? We plumped for Sri Lankan and settled down for drinks in the living room. A long while later we wandered over to the dining table and enjoyed a meal of rare finesse, a chicken curry, vegetable curry, dal and string hoppers together with a spiced coconut samble were subtle, spicy and served piping hot. A dessert of set yoghurt and a traditional Sri Lankan set pudding followed by coffee (from the estate's own plantation) and a battering, flashing thunderstorm whipped up almost to order.
The night-time is noisy. All sorts of things bump, croak and caw through the dark hours. And it's majestic.
Breakfast the next morning was an omelette and, for my part, bacon, sausages and eggs. With toast, home made (from the 30 acres of estate remaining to the house) preserves and more of that excellent coffee. Then a walk around the grounds, fresh from the night's rain, the streams muddy with the night's run-off.
The staff are knowledgeable, charming and couldn't do more to help. The water in the bathroom is hit and miss - really not consistent with the rest of the experience on offer. There's nothing quite like standing, freezing and covered in suds waiting for the other room to turn off the tap to make you count quite how much you're paying for your room.
But the road up to the hotel is nothing short of iniquitous. It's a horror, potholed and rutted, steep and hair-pin bended, it's an alarming experience if you're travelling in anything larger than a tuk-tuk. They assure me Jetwings' coaches make it up there, but the jury's out.
This is a special hotel made special by its staff. I have no hesitation recommending it heartily.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- A restored colonial tea planter's bungalow set amidst verdant hillside scenery, Jetwing Warwick Gardens is the ideal getaway from life's tribulations. Consisting of a range of exquisitely designed rooms, this stay allows one to experience the enchantment of historic elegance and glory surrounded by nature's perfection. ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Jetwing Warwick Gardens Hotel Nuwara Eliya