“The cook’s third generation,” said Helmut Hendrichs, as he showed me around the Pantiya Holiday Bungalow. “I employed his grandfather, then his father and now him.”
His wife, Iresha, added proudly, “He can cook Eastern or Western cuisine on demand.”
Pantiya (also spelt Panthiya) Holiday Bungalow is a rare find: a genuine planter’s residence turned into a holiday home, but retaining many of the features of a plantation bungalow, including dedicated staff. According to Helmut Hendrichs, the owner, it was built in 1907 for Scottish planter (later Sir) Francis Whitelaw.
It has been fully refurbished recently. The entrance used to be up steps through the garden to the reception hall/morning room. Now guests on holiday park their vehicles by the side and enter along a path by the swimming pool. This leads to the back verandah, complete with towering gym machine, to the dining room, or to guest rooms beside the pool.
The dining room has the old furniture and trophies associated with planters’ residences, and a long dining table. It segues into the morning room stuffed with sofas, where a curious chandelier made of deer antlers hangs from the dark, wood panelled ceiling. An elaborate ancient wooden chest, dated 1711, is an original piece that, like the chandelier, came from Germany.
|The morning room
Tiles have replaced polished floors for convenience and add a fresh look to the two family rooms, complete with alcoves and beds for children, which lead off the dining room. Both have ensuite bathrooms with hot water and, since some guests demand it, air-conditioning.
Three new, smaller rooms with attached bathrooms and fans, are along one side of the garden with easy access to the swimming pool. A further mini-villa with two bedrooms, a shared bathroom and a pantry, is suitable for families.
The owners (who have retained a portion of the bungalow for when they are in residence) only let the bungalow to one group at a time, so that friends can enjoy it and not have to share it with unknown guests. It can sleep 12 to 14 comfortably.
There is a self-service laundry, and a kitchen by the dining room for guests who want to cater for themselves, or the resident cook can prepare wholesome meals by arrangement in his professional kitchen in a separate building. Much of the produce (herbs, fruit and vegetables) is grown in the bungalow’s seven-acre garden.
The entire 50-acre plantation is rich in rubber, tea and coconut, with rolling views to the south and north. On a clear day it’s possible to see the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in Colombo.
I was astonished that somewhere so reminiscent of hill country bungalows can be found only 63km from Colombo at 300m above sea level. Fittingly for such a secret, private place to stay, access is difficult.
The adventure begins by turning inland off the Galle Road by Cargills Food City at the Katukurunda Junction. After passing the Nagoda Hospital, take the highway to the right, heading to Matugama.
By the 14km marker, there is a sign on the left saying Pantiya Estate. Ignore it. Instead continue to the 15km marker. Turn left there up a winding road with several forks. When you pass a kovil, there is a rough road leading the last few metres to the private bungalow gates.
Three-wheelers manage to travel along the trail but, if you don’t have one, then a 4WD or van is best. The drive takes you through a grove of oil palms until reaching the bungalow gardens where fanlike Travellers Palms proliferate and birdlife abounds.
Although the owners no longer live in the bungalow, if you get a chance to meet them you will learn a lot about the history of planting in the area. Helmut Hendrichs has retired now but he has a host of anecdotes about Sir Francis Whitelaw and planting days, and fascinating stories about the antiques he has collected over the years. His wife, Iresha, is keen that visitors become acquainted with the attractions of the area.
For a group of friends or families, staying at the Pantiya Holiday Bungalow is a way to recapture the simple, relaxed plantation life of the past. Many of the guests (even tourists from overseas) have become regulars, enjoying the self-contained serenity of this charming rural residence.
The cost of the entire bungalow whether for one or all five bedrooms is Rs 25,000 per night, meals extra or by self-catering. The 2-room mini-villa is an extra Rs 7,000 a night. As there are no drivers’ quarters, drivers can be billeted in a guesthouse nearby.
Pantiya Holiday Bungalow, tel: 0772 301707; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; www.srilankaholidayhome.com.