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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
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 oers
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
oering 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 bualo, 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 innity 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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