A Holiday in the Hills – Cranford Villa

Driving on steep and winding roads take us through misty mountains and beautiful tea estates, the air getting cooler with every passing minute and mile, the journey to Diyatalawa is definitely one of the most picturesque sights this land has to offer. It is early morning and we are on our way to Cranford Villa situated 215 kilometres from Colombo, up in the hills, almost 1500 meters above sea level.

Like most upcountry bungalows, a kaleidoscope of lovingly tended flower beds lead us up a meandering driveway to the entrance of the Villa where we were greeted by two young, polite lads who immediately make us feel welcome.

The coolness of the morning is invigorating and pleasant. Pots of freshly brewed tea and coffee immediately eases the strain of the journey. We have arrived.

Cranford Villa is well over 75 years old, and yet, the beauty of its past architecture is intact despite some renovations done within. A flight of stone steps lead us up to a wide colonial styled verandah. On one corner is a perfectly restored old crock that is a collector’s delight. The large dining cum sitting area located inside has a quaint fireplace with more antique collectibles like old gramophones, telephones, hat racks and a collection of books and furniture. Like all estate bungalows, the floors are covered with worn out carpets that lend to its ambiance.

 

Cranford Villa has five bedrooms with en-suite baths. Our room, like the other four, was typical in that it has a four poster bed with antique almirahs, a writing table interspersed with the modernity of cable television. That and the bath tub in the en-suite toilet classify this as a deluxe room. A row of windows open out to another little flower garden and the surrounding landscape. The chill of the morning air is refreshingly cool.

Bags unpacked, cameras in hand we head out to the sprawling tiered gardens. Layered and well maintained, roses, sunflowers, and magnolias are some of the colorful foliage. Leading off the main terrace is a vineyard. This is where the last remaining grapes were plucked for our morning’s fruit juice!

We take a break and sit in the summer house that overlooks mountains covered in a thin veil of mist. The sight is incredible. Next to the summer house is a badminton cum basketball court for the sporty. I was informed that bicycles are available on request. I was happy to sit in the summer house and enjoy the morning! A range of indoor games like carom, darts and cards and use of an extensive DVD library are also available on request.

Back on the terrace we are treated to a sumptuous lunch of Sri Lankan specialities made by Chef Hemapala. That and the delicious dinner that is dished out are out of this world. Later, reading through the guest book, we realized that Hemapala has, indeed, received many accolades for his cooking. Apparently he has had the distinction of cooking for over five Prime Ministers! We definitely felt the ‘royal’ treatment! All throughout mealtimes, one of the lads is always standing nearby to attend to us. The service is par excellence. I cannot help but reiterate that some of these smaller guest houses excel in their service unlike big hotels that struggle to maintain the hospitality.

That evening the weather changed and the entire area was washed down with the evening’s shower. Wrapped up in warm clothes, we sat on the verandah, sipping red wine and listening to the falling rain around us. The hustle and bustle of Colombo was forgotten as we soaked up the cool ambiance of this delightful bungalow.

The next morning, with the sun shining once more and the sing song of bird call all around us, we decided to skip a dip in the Jacuzzi and drive down to the Adisham Monastery. Built by Sir Thomas Villiers, an Englishman who lived in Ceylon during the colonial period, the Monastery is designed like an old English castle and is a picturesque sight surrounded by forests, hills and lush valleys and the famous Thangamalai Bird Sanctuary. In order to supplement the expenses of the live-in Benedictine monks, the Adisham monastery has become famous for its home made jams, chutneys and cordials which are a popular purchase for the visitors who come to enjoy the tranquillity of these surroundings. Needless to say, we could not resist buying a couple of bottles ourselves.

Also within easy reach is the Ella Gap described as one of the most breathtaking sights in Sri Lanka. On a clear day, you can see the ocean off the southern coast line as well as the Kirinda Lighthouse which is 77 kilometres away. Thirty minutes away is Lipton’s Seat which dates back to the days of Sir Thomas Lipton known to have surveyed his lands from this point. Again, on a clear day, this spot offers an amazing view of five provinces of Sri Lanka.

Back in the bungalow, the amiable Mr. Nanayakarra and his team share some history of Cranford Villa. Each antique and memorabilia has a story behind its existence which makes this a treasure trove of stories from bygone days. I have to add that its owner Hemasiri Fernando has included many of his collectibles from places he has visited over the years.

Soon it is time to pack up and leave. The drive down to Colombo does not look so daunting as the weekend was well spent and we look forward to revisiting this delightful bungalow.

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