There was one thing I was desperate to do last month, and that was stay on a tea estate in Sri Lanka during our visit to the teardrop island. There are many places to choose from in the central highland tea valley region, but whilst most travellers seem to make a bee-line for pretty little Ella over in the east, we were looking for a quieter, more refined experience. One that wasn’t full of backpackers but still boasted some of the best views on the island. Then we discovered the Governor’s Mansion. A luxury hotel on a tea estate, hidden away in the picturesque Hatton-Dickoya tea valley.
We were hooked even before we discovered that Queen Elizabeth herself once stayed here!
Why you should stay on a tea estate in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has a lot of beautiful places. Windswept beaches lined with palm trees, whales diving in the warm waters of the turquoise ocean, and enough temples and mountains to keep even the most intrepid of travellers happy. Yet the real jewels in the crown are the tea valleys and estates in Central Sri Lanka. This is where to come for your fix of stunning scenery and colonial history, and to discover just why the British are such a tea-loving nation. If you’re visiting the island, you really have to stay on a tea estate in Sri Lanka, preferably at a luxury hotel like Governor’s Mansion.
The Governor’s Mansion
The Governor’s Mansion is an ideal location if you want to stay on a tea estate in Sri Lanka. This tea valley hotel is nothing short of magnificent from the outside, with imposing colonial façades and perfectly manicured gardens stretching across the plantation slopes towards the infinite rows of gleaming emerald tea bushes.
Despite it’s age (it was built in the 1800s) the Governor’s Mansion has been well looked after, and probably looks very similar to how it did back when the Queen came to stay on the tea estate several decades ago.
Inside it’s like stepping into a glorious time warp. The furnishings are resplendent in their classical elegance, and wouldn’t be out of place in some of the famous traditional hotels in London.
For pre- and post-dinner tipples there’s a comfy yet classy lounge, full of antique furniture, large picture windows, and old English board games. A vast yet cosy space to relax after a tiring day walking through the tea plantations.
There was even a piano for serenading guests after dinner, which I couldn’t resist. Perhaps it was a good job there was no-one else around!
The pièce de résistance has to be the huge, international standard snooker table in the drawing room. Having a game is a must for all guests, even if you are totally useless. Like me.
Hubbie however is a little better…
We loved the rack of old fashioned tennis and badminton rackets in the lobby hallway, to be used on the courts tucked away down in the gardens. It really was like we’d stepped back in time to the England of 50 years ago.
Yes, it is rather old fashioned inside this luxury tea estate hotel. But that’s the whole point! There aren’t many places left where you can have a similar experience to travellers in the 50s and 60s. I loved the fact that this was precisely the sort of décor my grandparents would have enjoyed when they were stationed in Sri Lanka during World War II. It is because of them that we decided to visit the island in the first place, to see where they first met, and in essence, where the story of my family began.
The 11 suites all bear names such as ‘Edwardian’, ‘Queens’ and ‘Regency’, giving guests an idea of what lays within. We were in the ‘Victorian’ Suite, an enormous ground floor room overlooking the gardens, tucked away at a quiet end of the Governor’s Mansion. I loved the polished teak floorboards, the carved four poster bed complete with drapes, and the fresh flowers plucked from the garden before our arrival. It was so peaceful and quiet that we definitely had some of the best night’s sleeps we had all trip!
The bathrooms were rather outdated, but we reminded ourselves that contemporary furnishings and a more modern style would perhaps be a little out of place here. Experiencing a slice of history is what a stay at the Governor’s Mansion is all about.
The tea estate
The Governor’s Mansion is tucked away in the foothills near Dickoya, and surrounded by tea estates on all sides.
The lush gardens, which are bursting with fragrant flowers, fish ponds and ancient trees, wrap around the hillside where they seamlessly meld into the hundreds of acres of rolling tea estate. The views were hands down the most sublime we saw during our time in Sri Lanka, and we could have spent hours walking amongst the bushes just taking it all in.
A stay on a tea estate in Sri Lanka can be quite a ‘British’ experience. At the Governor’s Mansion there is a tennis court for the energetic, whilst for others the tables and chairs on the manicured lawns offer the ideal spot to while away a sunny afternoon. Perhaps with a spot of tea!
On a clear day you can even see Adam’s Peak in the distance, across a sea of green. The famous mountain is one of the most striking in Sri Lanka, as well as being a celebrated pilgrimage site. It is revered by Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians alike, and many make the difficult journey to the top at least once in their lifetime. Lots of tourists do the hike too, although personally I can’t imagine anything worse than walking up a mountain with hordes of other people.
As you’d expect when you stay on a tea estate in Sri Lanka, there are lots of tea trails through the plantation, where you can admire the view from a different angle, and chat to the tea pickers out on the slopes.
Discreet is the key word here. The staff were all very friendly and welcoming, and nothing was too much trouble, as you’d expect in a luxury hotel. We loved that they always seemed to be around if we needed them, yet disappeared quietly into the background when we wanted privacy.
The dining room reminded me a little of elite private boarding schools back in the UK, with wood panelling and a classical design. The ideal atmosphere for a spot of fine luxury hotel dining, and pretending you’re posh, just for a few days. The food, however, didn’t live up to the surroundings, and I’ve talked more about this below.
We enjoyed having breakfast out on the terrace, listening the the birds and the bees humming around the gardens. It wasn’t too hot during the mornings, and thus a very relaxing way to start the day, with a gentle breeze, a full English, and of course a cup of tea from the estate.
I always think it’s kinda strange visiting a tropical country and sitting down to a cooked breakfast, but it’s also rather nice to be reminded of home!
For those who can’t quite face a full English there are lovely fruit platters too!
I always say one of Britain’s best exports is the constitution that is afternoon tea. It’s offered at most luxury hotels all over Sri Lanka, and the Governor’s Mansion was no different. Each afternoon we found ourselves a shady spot on the terrace, or in the lounge, and were presented with three tiers of savoury snacks, sweet treats and scones with cream and jam.
Now I’ve had an awful lot of afternoon teas in my time (not sure if that’s a good thing or not!), and my one gripe is that they always focus too heavily on the cakes. The muffins here were a little dry, but we were pleasantly surprised that rather than just a few simple sandwiches, the Governor’s Mansion afternoon tea came with cheese and tomato toasties, breaded fish rolls and mini vegetable samosa type morsels. Yum!
If you’re staying on the tea estate for a few days, there are several places to explore in the local area, or even further afield if you fancy a big day out. For us, however, Governor’s Mansion was all about enjoying the beautiful tea plantation setting.
We spent our days exploring the hills, forests and gardens of the plantation, getting lost amongst the thousands of tea bushes, and being pointed in the right direction by friendly local tea pickers. After all, that’s the whole point of a stay on a tea estate in Sri Lanka. Right?
We also took a tuk tuk for a trip to the nearby Warleigh Church, a quaint British style church on the outskirts of Dickoya. It was built in 1878 by William Scott, governor of the Governor’s Mansion! I’d seen images of it on the internet before our visit, with it’s gorgeous setting overlooking the reservoir, so was quite excited to see if for myself. In the event, the heavens decided to open, and even with the thoughtfully provided umbrellas from the Governor’s Mansion, we were soon rather soggy. And the church was shut so we couldn’t even have a look inside. Oh well, you can’t win them all.
Check out our walk through video for a better look at the Governor’s Mansion…
What we loved
You could sleep in a tin shack here and still love the place! It really is all about the tea estate setting, the stunning gardens and being surrounded by nature. Expectations were high when it came to the landscape in which Governor’s Mansion is nestled, and I have to say on this occasion they were exceeded. It really is as pretty as the pictures suggest.
Staying at Governor’s Mansion felt like quite an exclusive experience, and with only 2 other guests present during our stay, it almost felt like we had the entire mansion to ourselves. Now if that’s not luxury living, I don’t know what is!
What wasn’t so great
Whilst the location and building were spot on, unfortunately the food was a real disappointment. Even if we hadn’t been expecting the gourmet cuisine and culinary expertise promised by the glossy website, we would have still been surprised.
The quality just wasn’t there, and we would have sent back several of our dishes had we not been brought up to be so British and polite. Like the fruit crumble. The rhubarb was baked onto the bowl, the crumble mixture wasn’t cooked and the custard was lumpy. I have to also mention the steak (which was actually quite good). It came with a ‘mushroom sauce’ that turned out to simply be gravy with a few mushrooms in it. We’ve eaten lots of steaks in mushroom sauce all over the world, and know that this is not what you’d expect from an establishment that promotes itself as high-end.
Most meals were luke warm at best. At the Governor’s Mansion guests have to pre-order all their meals, down to the last cup of coffee at breakfast. Initially we found this rather strange, but given the remote location and small number of guests, we can understand that this helps the chef plan ahead and to keep things fresh, so it wasn’t a problem.
We were also disappointed with the rather mediocre packed lunch which we ordered for our second day, not wanting to stand on ceremony with another 3 course meal off the same dining menu at mid-day. It was a simple sandwich and a few pieces of fruit in a polystyrene box. An all inclusive stay at Governor’s Mansion isn’t cheap and starts at $380 per night for a double room. For that we were expecting much more.
The other oddity was the complete absence of duvet or any sort of cover underneath which to lay on the bed. It’s a lot cooler up here than other areas of the island, so you most certainly won’t want to be sleeping without a cover. The staff did show us a duvet in the wardrobe, and told us we could ask one of them to put it on the bed if we wished, but why on earth wasn’t it on the bed to start with? Apparently this is standard practise at Governor’s Mansion. Very bizarre.
If you’re looking for a traditional colonial style tea estate experience, and prefer somewhere tucked off the beaten tourist trail, then Governor’s Mansion certainly ticks those boxes. It’s a place of utter tranquillity and seclusion, and perfect for those who want to escape from the outside world for a little while whilst still having the quintessential tea valley experience. We just couldn’t get enough of those views, and can see why Queen Elizabeth chose this location for her own tea estate experience.
You don’t have to be royalty or posh to stay here, and in fact it probably helps if you’re not, otherwise you may leave feeling a little cheated. Perhaps our anticipated luxurious gourmet stay wasn’t quite realised when it came to the food, but ultimately, it’s all about managing expectations accordingly. A few changes could make this a fabulous place to stay on a tea estate in Sri Lanka, and we do hope that the management take on board our suggestions.
We received a media rate for the purposes of this review. All opinions and images remain our own.
Update: Prior to publishing this post, we contacted the management to give them the opportunity to comment on, and discuss, the above mentioned issues. Their response to our feedback was defensive in the extreme, and they refused to acknowledge that a stay at Governor’s Mansion is ever anything but perfect.
Update December 2021: Nearly 5 YEARS later I have received a rather random and unpleasant email out of the blue from someone connected to Governor’s Mansion. He didn’t feel it necessary to identify his position (aside from saying he is a Butler’s Association representative – no idea what that is) but I assume he is part of the management team, or maybe the owner. He accuses me of being disgraceful, and making false remarks and nasty comments about food and staff at the Governor’s Mansion, and says that we were ungrateful. Quite why he feels it necessary to revisit this discussion so many years later is quite baffling. He also says we went to Adam’s Peak, which we didn’t, and that our visit was free of charge, which it wasn’t. We received a 50% media discount. He goes on to write that they will never entertain us in Sri Lanka again, and that this matter will be discussed at the next meeting of hoteliers. Which I interpret as a threat to sully our name.
It is such a shame that management have chosen to go down this path. As you can tell from reading the post, aside from the food, we felt the Governor’s Mansion was a fabulous place, in one of the most enviable locations in the country. Our purpose as bloggers is to encourage people to travel, and to promote tourism in the places that we visit. We don’t achieve that by lying about our experiences, or pretending things are perfect when they’re not – our readers would soon find out the truth when they visit themselves. We also seek to help accommodation owners and activity providers take their offering to the next level by providing constructive feedback where appropriate, which until now has always been gratefully received.
If you’ve read this far, and are still not sure what to think, whether you’re a blog reader, or a hotelier from Sri Lanka curious to see what all this fuss has been about then I’ll leave you with this. Pop over to Trip Advisor for some other opinions, and have a browse of all the comments and management responses. You can then make up your own mind as to whether we have been making ‘false’ remarks or not.
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What lovely photos, looks like a very sophisticated place to stay, I can see us living it up for a few days here. Its a pity the food didnt live up to your expectations (you would think somewhere that posh would be fine dining) but the rest of the experience sounds like it made up for that. Those views are just out of this world.
Yes, it certainly was beautiful, definitely some of the best views we’ve ever had from a hotel!
HA! You ruffled some feathers with your review.
Well, it looks beautiful. Food can be tough – Lissette and I come from New York and Montreal, both great food places, and I’ll admit we are hard to impress. We’ve been to so many restaurants in our travels that we’ve paid a lot of money for that has left us disappointed. Are we food snobs? I don’t know, we just like to think we have good taste. The truth is sometimes it’s just better to eat locally when travelling, pretentious places try to replicate something served in a Parisian bistro but 95% of the time won’t succeed (but sometimes we have incredible surprises – like a certain French restaurant in Vientiane and many restaurants in the Cape region of South Africa). All to say that that it’s hard to get food right at times…
Always appreciate your very honest opinions.
Thanks Frank, as we always say, honesty is the best policy, even if that tack isn’t appreciated by everyone. It truly was a fabulous place, and we’re glad we went, so it was a real shame about the food. We’re not really foodies, but like you, are capable of knowing when the quality is lacking, you just can’t disguise something like that. What was really disappointing however was the management response, and unwillingness to acknowledge that things may have been less than perfect. Agree that eating local grub is probably the answer, and in general the Sri Lankan cuisine was delicious. (It’s hard to beat some of the Cape restaurants isn’t it, definitely overindulged on our last visit there!).