History and memories amidst the firs
The bungalow looms majestically through the mist, as we tread up a footpath fringed with purple orchids. After a while the mist lifts allowing the colours to fill the exterior of the edifice. Sitting on a hillock in the heart of Nuwara Eliya is “The Firs” – a heritage bungalow that once belonged to Sri Lanka’s first Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake- now a boutique hotel. The cold breeze blows through the fir trees which surround the lodge, and wraps us in its chilly embrace, prompting us to hurry in.
Tagged as a location that offers the weary traveller and connoisseur relaxing luxury, “The Firs” is that heady mix of style and comfort, surrounded by trees and offering a view of that Nuwara Eliya landmark- Lake Gregory.
The bungalow was built over one and a half centuries ago by Philip Freudenberg, Ceylon’s first Imperial German Counsel in the colonial architectural style of the time. Years later, the bungalow was acquired by D.S. Senanayake, and subsequently turned into his holiday home.
Much like Philip Freudenberg, D.S. too grew fond for the bungalow, choosing to retire to its calm at the slightest opportunity that he got. It then passed on to his two sons Dudley and Robert, and has been in the family for over 100 years to date. It is said that the trio visited their beloved holiday home for their favourite pursuits- golf, bridge and photography.
“We tried to, and have succeeded in keeping it intact,” says Suwanitha Senanayake, grand-niece of D.S Senanayake and heir to the bungalow that has become ‘The Firs’. “A great effort was spent in preserving the old structure and artfects,” she says, adding that if left neglected, that would be an affront to her ancestors – including the father of the nation himself. “There are many memories associated with the bungalow,” she says.
Ms. Senanayake recalls happy holidays and many cricket matches and picnics held on the grounds. The late F.R. Senanayake’s house was adjacent to the bungalow and the boys would stay there while the then newly acquired Freudenberg bungalow housed the girls. “Those were times to cherish and the woods gave it a touch of romance, adding colour to our childhood. On a personal note, this bungalow means a lot to our family and keeping it alive is what we aspire to,” she adds.
Accompanied by the soothing vibes of saxophone music in the background, Sales Manager Maheel Narasinghe, Group Chief Accountant Rohan Rodrigo and Chief Consultant of Freudenberg Leisure Priyantha Fernando take us on a tour of the bungalow. “Notice how there’s no reception,” Maheel says, “This is because we want to cut down on the formalities and bring out the homely feeling.”
Rooms consist of two super luxury suites radiating old world charm, and three other beautifully furnished deluxe rooms. The two suites are named after Don Stephen and his beloved wife Emily Maud Dunuwila – ‘Stephen’s Suite’ and ‘Molly’s Suite’.
Stephen’s Suite is the room occupied by D.S during his visits to Nuwara Eliya and exudes the same grandeur that would have been present back in those days. Standing tall is an almirah that dates back to D.S’s day, made of five types of wood. There’s also private dining for this suite, a huge four poster bed and a fireplace.
Molly’s Suite has been specially designed to keep the lady’s tastes alive with the room’s signature piece being a beautiful writing table she had used. “With luxurious soft furnishings, or quality amenities and a personalised butler service for every room, we have tried to keep things in their original state while personalising services to infuse the homeliness,” Maheel says.
The games room has chess, billiards, darts and other games which go hand in hand with the comfortable coffee house and cigar lounge. Or one can switch on the night lights with a glass of wine in the elevated ‘Philips’s Attic Bar’, and indulge in a cosy continental dinner.
A sturdy spiral staircase leads us to the upper deck, which we learn is the only new addition to the original bungalow. A private dining area is present here while there are intentions of setting up a wine cellar. The dimly lit attic sets quite the atmosphere for a cosy dinner after a day’s sightseeing in Nuwara Eliya.
‘The Firs’ which comes under the umbrella of Freudenberg Leisure (Pvt) Ltd., is managed by A. Lankathilaka, an industry professional counting over 30 years in the hospitality industry, including stints at the Palace of the Sultan of Oman, Carnival Cruise Lines Florida and the Syhyha National Corporation for Tourism in Saudi Arabia.
Mrs. Senanayake leads us back into the hall area where several portraits of Ceylon’s independence struggle are displayed including a rare portrait of D.S. Senanayake in his study. Historically, this bungalow is also the place where Dudley Senanayake was first offered the role of Prime Minister following D.S.Senanayake’s demise in 1952. “Quite amazing what historic value this bungalow holds,” Ms. Senanayake adds with a smile.
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