Today, our ‘My Favourite Hotel’ review is from Sri Lanka.
Due to a continued strong response from readers, we are running another batch of ‘My Favourite Hotel’ reviews over the next few weeks. This time we wanted to hear about your ‘unique’ experiences and we’ve once again received a great amount of suggestions. Hopefully you will enjoy reading these reviews. As always you can find all of the ‘My Favourite Hotel’ reviews by clicking here.
Today’s hotel is the Madulkelle Tea and Eco Lodge, tucked away high in the beautiful Knuckles Mountains outside of Kandy, Sri Lanka.
This review is from reader Alex, who shares his points and miles addiction on @firstclassisinsession on Instagram and visited the hotel as part of a trip to Sri Lanka in February 2020.
The only way to fly to Sri Lanka internationally is through Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo. There are several flight options from the UK to Colombo, including oneworld partner Sri Lankan Airlines which I believe is the only airline to fly direct.
My wife and I opted for an indirect route of first-class luxury by redeeming American Airlines miles for Etihad Apartments from London Heathrow to Abu Dhabi and Etihad Business from Abu Dhabi to Velana. We flew to the Maldives first and then a week later flew the hour-long flight to Colombo from Male with serious views en route!
If you’re touring the island of Sri Lanka privately, it is likely that you’ve hired a driver. This is a standard practice and most hotels have separate accommodations to house drivers, so that they stay with you the whole trip. We used Green Lanka and were very happy with our driver Timothy. We landed in Colombo around 5pm and started the drive to Kandy, where we stayed overnight and checked out the city, before heading up the mountains to Madulkelle.
Keep in mind that driving times to Kandy vary significantly depending on traffic – 2-4 hours – and the hotel is another hour beyond Kandy accessed via winding mountain roads.
After a rather hectic self-guided tour of Kandy, we started the journey up the mountains to Madulkelle. The drive had incredible views and I found myself glued to the windows looking at the expansive tea plantations that poured into the stunning valleys. As the roads got progressively bumpier and narrower, my wife’s grip on my arm got tighter and tighter. By the time we turned off the main road to get to the hotel, we were on a single track dirt road with very little room between the van and the edge – it was an experience in its own right!
Finally, the road flattened out and we pulled alongside a beautiful building and were greeted by a retro Land Rover and members of hotel staff, dressed in traditional Sri Lankan outfits.
Madulkelle offers multiple room types including a few indoor family suites, but we opted for a Deluxe Tent with Mountain View (they all have mountain views) which I believe is their base tier of accommodation. That said, Madulkelle takes glamping to an entirely new level and the Deluxe Tent option was more than big enough for the two of us.
Each tent was spaced out far enough that it felt very private and secluded – and when we say tent we mean proper thick canvas supported by a sturdy metal and wooden frame. The tent was very large with a full double bed, a desk, fully plumbed shower and toilet, shelving space, kettle for tea and coffee, and a terrace out front – everything you’d expect from a standard hotel room.
The highlight of the room was without a doubt the view from the terrace, especially at sunrise. The front of the tent was facing east, so the early morning sunrise could be seen without leaving the bed. We definitely felt like we were in nature — we saw many species of birds and even a monkey rustling around in the bushes a few times.
Food and beverage
All food and drinks were served in the main reception building which was very tastefully appointed. At night, they lit a large fire in the fireplace, as it can get cold at night in the mountains, and played jazz tracks from the 1950s. There was a large library of books and a pool table near the entrance to complete the rustic feeling. Beyond the lobby area was a bar and several tables, with more tables outside on the terrace with stunning views of the mountains beyond.
Breakfast was exceptionally tasty with multiple courses of food from either the Western of Sri Lankan set menu which of course included tea – or coffee if you prefer something from further afield. The kitchen also served lunch and dinner, which you’re pretty much stuck with as there are no other options nearby due to the remote location of the property. Luckily, the food was excellent overall.
To drink, they offered a good selection of wine and some cocktails, but with delicious Lion Beer so inexpensive, we mostly opted for that.
There were plenty of activities on offer to fill at least two full days suited for all interests — relaxing, educational, or active. If you simply wanted to lay by the pool and take in the view, you could do that.
They offered Sri Lankan cooking classes and also had a spa where you could book massages. We did both and were thoroughly impressed with both activities. We especially enjoyed the Sri Lankan cooking class, hosted by one of the chefs at the hotel – we still cook the green bean curry recipe back home, which the chef scribbled on a napkin for us to take home with us.
The hotel also offered hikes in the Knuckles Mountains with varying degrees of difficult, where you are led by a guide either exploring a local village or the flora and fauna of the region. Don’t forget to bring your leech socks, otherwise you might be in for a few surprises.
We opted for a Tea Plantation tour, so after a good night’s sleep, we hopped into the retro Land Rover and drove the same single track road 20 minutes down to the local tea factory – Hatale Tea, which has been running since 1925. The tour was led by a manager at the factory who had been there almost as long as the factory has been running. He took us through the entire picking, drying, grading, and blending process which was fascinating. We bought some of their green tea after the tour and it was divine.
Sri Lanka is an incredible country with so much to offer in one place – beach, mountains, safari, etc – and most people will split time between the mountains and the coasts on their tour.
If you’re touring Sri Lanka, stay here to really experience the mountain region up close and off the beaten path! In hindsight, we would have liked one more day at Madulkelle and one less day in Kandy, which wasn’t our favourite stop on the Sri Lanka tour. Madulkelle is truly one of a kind – the view of sunrise over the Knuckles Mountains in the morning is a memory that will stay with me for a long time.
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