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158 | squaremeal.co.uk

travel

The route from here to Hatton, a hillstation

town, is popular with tourists. I

stand on the train's smoking platform

and watch the lush vegetation morph

into hardy pine trees as we wind our

way up into the hills.

Head for the hills

I reach the most indescribably beautiful stop

of the adventure, Tea Trails, amidst a torrential

downpour, and sta‹ rush to the car and usher

me into the house under an umbrella.

Tea Trails is a collection of four former

tea-plantation managers' residences based

around Castlereagh, a

stunning azure reservoir set

among the emerald-green

plantation hills.

Our residence, the

Castlereagh bungalow, with

its wide corridors, regal

verandah and manicured

lawns, instils a sense of inner calm usually

only achieved by a day's indulgence at a spa.

The days here revolve around mealtimes:

a hearty breakfast in the morning, a delicate

three-course lunch that might involve salad,

•sh with rice and a sweet, before a delectable

afternoon tea served mid-afternoon,

complete with tea menu.

If you can bear to tear yourself away from

the sun-beds, croquet lawn and dreamy

view, there are many hiking trails up through

the plantations. Then it's back to the house

in time for dinner, where guests have a

choice of a •ve-course western-style menu

or a traditional Sri Lankan meal comprising

various fragrant curries, rice and sambal, a

spicy-sweet moreish condiment.

A tea-factory tour with Andrew Taylor, the

grandson of James Taylor, who brought tea to

Sri Lanka, is included in my stay, and I spend a

fascinating morning with him.

When it's time to leave Tea Trails, I'm

informed we'll have to cross the reservoir by

boat, as some of the road has been washed

away by the torrential downpour. As the boat

slips out onto the placid blue water and I

wave goodbye to the sta‹, my heart slowly

breaks. But there's plenty of other adventure

to be had, starting with a safari.

Really wild show

For leopard fans, Yala National Park o‹ers

the best chance in the world to see this most

elusive of big cats in the wild. It is estimated

there are about 65 roaming the 1,300 sq km

of parkland, but your choice of tour company

is key to ensuring a sighting.

I'm staying with Leopard Safaris, a company

o‹ering luxury tented accommodation

hidden among the trees on the edge of

Yala. The employees here are involved in

the conservation of the cats, and thanks to

their knowledge we are rewarded with eight

leopard sightings over the course of our four

forays into the park, not to mention views of

elephants, crocodiles, golden-backed jackals,

herds of water bu‹alo, spotted deer and

multitudes of birds.

I return to camp both

nights hot, dusty and happy,

and enjoy a hot shower

before being treated to

fabulous local cuisine under

a starburst sky.

After all this excitement,

I'm in need of a few days' serious rest and

relaxation - and there's no better place for

that than Cape Weligama, a brand-new resort

on the south coast that's the latest addition

to the Tea Trails portfolio.

The all-inclusive stay includes a butler

who tends to the needs of guests of three

chalets at a time, bringing drinks and food

when requested, wherever you are - which

will probably be in the stunning in•nity pool

located at the cli‹'s edge, from where you

can watch the sun set.

WE ARE REWARDED WITH EIGHT LEOPARD SIGHTINGS

DURING OUR FOUR FORAYS INTO THE PARK, NOT TO

MENTION VIEWS OF ELEPHANTS AND CROCODILES

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