Julie Falconer reports about her recent visit to Sri Lanka, where she stayed at several unique hotels housed in converted colonial-era buildings. Read more of her stories on her London travel blog and Europe travel website.
As my taxi raced through the streets of Colombo, I strained my eyes to make out what I could of the city in the night. My flight to the Sri Lankan capital had landed late, and it was pitch dark outside.
After winding around traffic circles and down narrow streets, the driver pulled up to my accommodation for the evening: the Tintagel Colombo. The Tintagel is in one of the city’s most fashionable neighborhoods, and the building itself is a historic colonial-era mansion that had been converted into a hotel.
I was given one of the ten boutique rooms, and over the course of my stay, I learned about the building’s storied past. Built in 1930, the Tintagel was originally a private residence. During the independence struggle in the 1940s, the British military took over the home, which was subsequently sold to one of Sri Lanka’s most prominent post-independence families. From that family came the world’s first female prime minister and the country’s first female president. Only in 2005 did the family lease the home to the man who turned it into one of the city’s most unique boutique hotels.
The Tintagel wasn’t the only hotel at which I stayed in Sri Lanka that had been repurposed from its colonial roots. All over the island, entrepreneurs are taking the country’s historic buildings and converting them into hotels that offer guests a unique way to experience the country and learn about its past.
Way up in the hill country of Sri Lanka, the bungalows of Ceylon Tea Trails are as far from the urban nest of the Tintagel as hotels come. However, like their city counterpart, the colonial bungalows have been transformed from planter’s residences to luxury accommodation in the tea country.
I stayed at the most remote of the four houses, which is called the Tientsin bungalow. Built in 1888, it was one of the very first planter’s residences in Sri Lanka. The building offers six guest rooms, a dining room, a large library, and a verandah, all decorated in the original colonial style. The property is surrounded by beautiful English gardens, tennis courts, a swimming pool, and of course, a working tea plantation that I didn’t hesitate to tour.
Like my stay at the Tintagel, the Ceylon Tea Trails accommodation allowed me to have a uniquely Sri Lankan experience, and offered a chance to learn about the country’s heritage and how people are incorporating it into the present.
There are other colonial-era-buildings-turned-unique-accommodation throughout Sri Lanka, and with the resurgence of tourism following the 25-year civil war that ended in 2009, there are sure to be more in the future. As my taxi took me back through Colombo to the airport, I couldn’t help but plan my next trip to the country to explore more of Sri Lanka’s historic hotels.
Photos: Above, Tintagel Colombo; below, Ceylon Tea Trails; by Julie Falconer
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