9 amazing places to stay in Sri Lanka's Hill Country, from traditional tea bungalows to hilltop hotels

Emma Boyle
Camellia Hills, Sri Lanka

Roads wriggle up from the coast into the higher reaches of Sri Lanka’s Hill Country, an emerald tapestry of cloud forest, farmland, rolling hills, waterfalls and high-altitude grasslands criss-crossed by one of the world’s most scenic stretches of railway. Our favourite hotels in the hills include luxuriously converted British colonial-era tea planters’ bungalows in Dickoya, Haputale, Nuwara Eliya, Ella, Kandy and Bandarawela, which stand out for their dramatic views, expansive gardens, ease of wandering estate trails, and superb old world hospitality. Here's our guide to the best bungalow hotels in Sri Lanka's Hill Country.

In the southeastern corner of Hill Country, this tea planter’s bungalow in an off-the-beaten track location affords an air of authentic rural life, with locals’ dwellings and vegetable gardens dotted around, and smiles from all. The house feels authentic with original features such as fireplaces and panelling and furniture that is in keeping with its colonial past. Seven suites are divided between the original house and the seamless new wing. Friendly, traditionally uniformed staff, including butlers, look after the guests, and there is no menu – the butler proposes dishes, and if they don’t suit (unlikely) they will suggest something else.

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This boutique bungalow hotel is situated in the eastern hills just a 15-minute walk from Demodara Station which is remarkable for its rare 360-degree substation loop. Among the walks and picnics offered is a route that weaves through tea estates to the much-photographed Nine Arches Bridge (two miles) and another to a hidden waterfall. Lofty ceilings and spacious bedrooms are key original features mixed with contemporary furnishings, coir carpets and cosy nooks for hiding away. A sizeable lawn and infinity-edge swimming pool offers views spanning a valley, and the atmosphere is sociable and inclusive.

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Goatfell sits on a shady hillock near Kandapola, a vegetable-growing region in Sri Lanka’s highest elevations. Its intimate size, open-plan design and inviting evening log fire create inclusivity so that you find yourselves chatting to fellow guests over sundowners in the lounge or around the garden fire pit. The feel is luxuriously chic – stylish custom-designed furnishings (all rooms have four-poster duvet-dressed beds), textured fabric throws and rugs, and an earthy colour scheme. Stays include a visit to the Pedro Tea Factory (in Nuwara Eliya) by tuk-tuk and rates include meals, snacks and drinks.

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A highly contemporary interpretation of a traditional tea bungalow, set among the emerald, thickly carpeted hillsides of Sri Lanka’s Golden Valley of tea, Bogawantalawa. The style is essentially cool, modern and uncluttered, though manages to feel pleasantly comfortable and cosy, thanks to shelves filled with books, linen fabrics and attractive furniture. One member of staff is adept at spotting leopards at night and will take guests to try their luck. As usual in Sri Lanka, the feel is informal and you can dine indoors or in the garden, where there is an infinity pool and relaxation ambalama.

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The five tea-planter bungalows of Ceylon Tea Trails, scattered among the emerald hillsides of Bogawantalawa, date back as far as 1888 and are individually designed in a colonial style. Think beautiful gardens, lawn croquet and wrap-around terraces where you can easily while away hours enjoying the views from your traditional cane chair. The newest is Dunkeld, perched high above Castlereagh Lake, with a stunning infinity pool that seems to drop right into the lake itself. Each bungalow has a butler and executive chef who will take care of your every need, discussing the day's menu and activities available over breakfast.

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The original three-bedroom bungalow dates back to 1926, while a series of more recently built pavilions up the room tally to 10. Furnishings are a mix of originals and chic rattan-woven customised pieces, and vibrant Sri Lankan artwork adorns the walls. The hotel has a flexible, personal approach to guests, and its intimate size means that guests mingle (as well as quiet, relaxing spots). Butlers go out of their way to share tips on local sights, organise guided walks to a rubber factory, host Sri Lankan cookery classes and set up treasure hunts for children in the grounds. There’s a small pool in a shady clearing next to a yoga pavilion and a spa.

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Not only is this serene and stylish boutique hotel in Sri Lanka’s eastern hills a beauty to look at, but it's one of the country’s most original places to stay. The owners used creatives skilled in traditional techniques to build their vision of an authentic forest retreat, and the pillared courtyards, granite cobbled walkways, heavyset doors and shingle-tiled roofs evoke authentic Kandyan spirit. Genius touches such as a secluded pool with valley views and cushioned ambalamas (traditional wayside resting pavilions) combined with gentle staffing make it instantly relaxing too. Wildlife surrounds you – monkeys rustle in the trees above and elephants can be heard (and sometimes seen) in the forest beyond.

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This homely, family-friendly farmstay is part of a 120-acre organic estate that includes 40 acres of tea, coffee, fruit trees, vegetables, cinnamon and lemongrass plantations, as well as a 50-acre private forest reserve (home to monkeys, wild boar, deer and birds). Guests are freely able to explore the farm and grounds, including the small factory where organic teas are processed by hand (their tea is sold at Fortnum and Mason). The farm centres around a quirky 100-year-old granite-walled farmhouse built by the estate’s original Tamil planter, three further cottages and extensive grounds. The feel is communal and convivial and rooms mimic traditional estate housing.

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The hotel is secluded yet extremely serene, tucked onto a hillside amidst the 20-acre Hilpankandura Tea Estate. The intimate atmosphere and the warmth of the staff make it feel more like an upmarket homestay than a hotel. Atmospheric floor lights, floral wallpaper and honey-coloured timber furnishings bring this simple 1930s tea estate manager’s bungalow into the 21st century. Two bungalows joined by a long veranda are home to five cosy rooms, a sitting room and an open-fronted dining terrace. Aside from a neatly clipped lawn with sun loungers and a badminton court there are no other facilities (sadly no pool).

Contributions by Fiona Duncan & Sarah Gordon