Green retreat in the hills for both the lazy and the active

With all the talk of tourism expansion, more and more desirable land is being bought up for development. Some areas not previously considered as attractive to visitors have begun to sprout guesthouses and trendy boutique hotels. Even sleepy Ella has woken up to become a fun village, a kind of Hikkaduwa in the hills.

Hill country development has spread to Haldumulla, close to Haputale and bestrides the swish highway (A4) that links Ratnapura with Pottuvil. It’s not surprising -- given the area’s cooler climate and lush valley views – that visitors from the Middle East have begun to invest there. An example is Green Curry Cottages & Restaurant, with head office in Sharjah (PB No. 15), that combines Arabian pomp with Sri Lankan circumstance.

This manifests itself in a grand use of granite and local timber in construction, giving the individual buildings an ornate, faux colonial façade. They blend into the 20 acres of lush forest and looming mountains, while their interiors feature contemporary décor boosted by plush bed covers and tasselled curtains.

The cottages are built into the hillside above the restaurant. Originally the lower slopes boasted a plant nursery with a small, rustic restaurant with furniture made of logs and walls of sun-hued (and locally hewed) granite. It was popular for its home cooking by two ladies pottering in the kitchen in full view of guests, and its low priced meals. There was no accommodation then.

Now the restaurant has been extended with a professional kitchen and a keen and experienced local chef. He rustles up dishes on demand and every day creates a buffet lunch of white and red rice with an amazing amount of succulent curries. There is enough food to satisfy the hungriest hill country hiker or greedy holidaying executive. But lunch costs only Rs 200; the breakfast buffet is Rs 150.

The restaurant prices give a clue to the tenor of the place. In spite of the stained glass windows and elaborate exterior appearance of the cottages, this is not an expensive boutique property in which to stay. Rooms are priced to suit the pocket of the average traveller, whether domestic or foreign.

The main cottage is more a manor, with an extensive ground floor in which there is a master bedroom and a huge parlour complete with two television sets featuring a choice of 254 channels. Upstairs there is another parlour and two more double bedrooms with small, attached bathrooms. The whole manor is available for Rs 10,000 a night.

Across the courtyard another cottage has a bedroom big enough for six people to share, with two bathrooms, one of which is cellar style down dungeon steps. That is available at Rs 4,000 for the entire unit. For thrilling views of the sweep of mountainous countryside, but up a steep flight of steps through a garden wilderness, a single tiered granite-walled lodge has three double rooms, each with a small, basic bathroom for Rs 3,000 a night. Meals with a view can be served there or in the restaurant.

A few steps away from the central courtyard there is a swimming pool built on a plateau alongside the road. At the side of the courtyard an ingeniously created tree patio, a platform supported by a living tree, makes the perfect place to chill out with snacks and drinks. (No liquor licence, though, so guests must provide their own.)

The emphasis on intriguing exteriors has resulted in a magnificent creation, a kind of trompe-l’oeil mural in a bas-relief of concrete. This depicts two playful elephants, reminding guests of the natural attractions of the area. The cottages are ideally located for tours to Bambarakanda and Diyaluma Falls, to Horton Plains and to World’s End. An experienced trekker guide is on call to aid the adventurous.

Other places of fascination within a few minutes drive include the Adisham Bungalow (a Benedictine Monastery) at Haputale, the Dambatenne Tea Factory and Lipton’s Seat. Otherwise, guests are happy to relax in the seclusion and safety of the cottages, perhaps exploring those 254 television channels, or delighting in the green (ie: natural, with vegetable and herbs from the garden) curries.

It’s a perfect retreat for both the lazy and the active.

Green Curry Cottages & Restaurant, Haputale Road, Haldumulla; reservations: 0779975051;
057 5670547;

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