Madulkelle Tea Plantation, Sri Lanka
Madulkelle is a lush eco glamping lodge, just outside of Kandy. High up in hills at 1000 feet it has sweeping dramatic views overlooking the majestic Knuckles Mountain Range. Set in its own picturesque plantation and gardens, an old plantation house is surrounded by luxurious tents scattered around the extensive property. With stunning views from the pool, restaurant and your balcony this is the quintessential postcard perfect sustainable tea country experience in Sri Lanka.
A meandering drive from the bustling yet serene centre of Kandy gradually carries you up into the hills through the changing flora and into a cooler climate where the landscape gives way to crystal waterfalls, tea factories from a bygone age and then into the vast expanse of verdant green tea bushes wherever you look. This is a part of the country very much reminiscent of a bygone era of the British tea trade and many of the original factories still working today.
The small road will take you through villages of smiling children, stunning scenery and a landscape scattered with the many cultures that have or continue to make their mark here. A beautiful old British church, a Hindu temple hidden in the rocks with tridents stuck in the earth where many pickers go to worship, in a land of Buddhist stupas this gives an insight into the rich and diverse history carved into this incredible landscape from its cultivation into tea planting to the people who carry on the trade until today.
It is the sheer verdant myriad of greens that is spectacular of the tea trees and surrounding landscape, bubbling streams to gushing rivers and explosions of colour in the multitude of flowering plants. The fresh air and feeling of peace flows over you as soon as you start ascending to this hidden gem. At the end of a rocky little road you will catch a glimpse of an elegant old Tea Planter's house with the tents jutting out the hillside into the heavenly valley and dramatic landscape beyond.
The tents are dotted around the main house that houses the reception, restaurant and a library with an outside terrace overlooking an infinity pool over a perfectly manicured croquet lawn and their own organic garden. It is the spectacular view across the valley and over to Knuckles that is truly breath taking. As you stroll down one of the pathways, after sampling one of the many tea blends, to your tent surrounded by tea plants and flowers you are immediately immersed into another world of natural serenity and aromas.
This is luxury camping at its finest, large teak beds and beautifully warm toned interiors with carpets and teak desks whilst you gaze into infinity from your terrace. A small waterfall bubbles behind and the vast valley stretches out beneath before the mountains that fill your horizon dramatically regal and rugged. The nineteen tents are imported from Africa and are built on platforms so you could remove the whole lodge and it would be as if this eco lodge was just an illusion etched in the people lucky enough to venture here. Apart from the sounds of birds passing by and the odd rustle of tea pickers, you are suspended far above the world below in a cocoon of silence.
The property only allows guests to enter so it is never feels full. Each room naturally has its own collection of tea and a selection of savoury and sweet treats is brought at tea time to enjoy in your tent, by the pool overlooking the scenery or up in the main house. The restaurant is up there and in the evenings the fire is stoked and you can enjoy an aperitif and selection of food from a set local and European menu. The food is sourced as locally as possible with most of the fruits and vegetables coming from the garden and surrounding area. This creates a rich and fragrant choice of fresh foods, and the local curries are particularly flavoursome with smells emanating from the kitchen throughout the day as they are cooked based on ayurveda principals for balancing the body.
This is a place where time fades away and the peacefulness lulls you into a state of complete restfulness with clear starry nights and deep sleeps in the most meltingly comfortable beds it is wonderful to have a relaxing treatment in the spa and lie by the pool to completely unwind and forget about the world literally below. The large tented canopy of the spa has incredible views so you can admire the mountaintops whilst indulging in an Ayurvedic oil body or head massage. Everywhere you go throughout the property is amazingly scenic and the pool reaches infinitely into the tea plantations and bubbling streams below.
It is totally worth taking a few days here as tempting as it is to not leave the property, the excursions are totally unique and insightful into the flora, fauna and history of the area. 'The Story of Tea' is perfect for this particular area and is a fascinating insight into the traditional tea picking and processing, of this area. After meeting some of the warm tea pickers who teach you what leaves to take from the plants on the lodge you jump into a tuk tuk that traverses around bends of eucalyptus trees and tea to the Hatale Tea Factory. This is a beautifully authentically preserved tea processing plant that has barely changed since the colonial days of the British tea trade and a smiley hospitable manager guides through the tea making process. Although it was abandoned after its height in the 19th Century, it has been faithfully restored since its takeover in 2002 by the Mazzan Group.
The trip is a fascinating look into the life of a tea leaf from picking to packaging. It also demonstrates how Ceylonese tea differs from Indian and other teas by using the rolling and twisting rather than cutting process. Although the factory produces mainly green and black Pekoe tea they also still make the rare White Tea. A tour around antique machinery, hot drying machines magically blowing leaves into the air and the smell of tea being fermented on racks is finished off naturally with a tea tasting session. Much like a wine tasting you swill tea from the weakest green through to the strongest black here and get accustomed to subtle changes in flavour. Interestingly the second strongest is mainly used in tea bags in the United Kingdom whereas the strongest goes to the Middle East to be drunk with only mint or lemon.
Madulkelle Tea & Eco Lodge has an extremely strong commitment to sustainability and towards the local community. As well as taking environmental measures such as protecting the natural environment, solar power and no chemical spraying on the estate, there is also a strong care for the local community and all who work on the property. Tea workers are usually Indian Tamils brought over by the British and have a very high poverty rate, therefore not only does the property employ as many and also train them into higher professions, they also donate money from each booking. There is also a fundraising box for a Children's Learning Centre to educate the employees children but a 10% donation for one of the many community excursions you can make.
There are plenty of activities as well as the community programme for any interest and ability and even an overnight camping trip high in the Knuckles Mountain Range for the more intrepid travellers. After a day of activities you can enjoy a hot cup of tea straight from the plants around you and watch some of the most spectacular sunsets of pink and purple hues envelop the hillside as the clouds literally roll onto your terrace and into the tent. A misty and mystical end to each day in this enchanting little piece of Sri Lanka's tea country perched high away from the rest of the world.
Madulkelle Tea & Eco Lodge is a wonderous place hidden away in the green and rolling hills above Kandy. The intimate size of the lodge ensures the feeling of peace and privacy throughout your stay, within the most ethereal and picturesque landscape imaginable. A range of fascinating activities, perfect hospitality and totally unique elegant glamping experience make it the perfect place to immerse yourself in tea country from honeymooners to families. A truly inspirational and sustainable eco escape in Sri Lanka.
Photos Courtesy of Madulkelle Tea & Eco Lodge & Words by Electra Gillies