Haven on a hill exuding warmth

Green Hills Retreat Centre, Hatton

Which guesthouse can accommodate 300 people at prices ranging from Rs 500 for a bunk bed to Rs 8,000 for a bungalow with four bedrooms, each with an attached bathroom and hot water?

Hot water is a vital clue because this unusual guest house is in the chilly hill country, set amidst magnificent scenery with tea bushes growing up to the entrance of many of the rooms. A flower bedecked path rambles through the property to a flourishing waterfall and a rock pool at the end.
If you guessed Green Hills Retreat Centre it is probably because you have stayed there. Although it lies just outside Hatton on the A7 highway to Nuwara Eliya, it is barely visible from the road. As a result, people tend to drive straight past it.

The cognoscente, however, know it not only as great place to stay, but also as a good place for local food at down market prices. As an example, the breakfast five of us had there recently, with a slew of tasty curries, including well cooked chicken, red rice, string hoppers and bread, cost Rs 175 each.
Green Hills is like an iceberg, with only a small part (the restaurant) visible from above, while the rest is hidden below, built into the hillside like a secret retreat. And that’s what it is: a retreat, either for groups or conferences, or for individuals who simply want to detoxify (no smoking or alcohol-drinking is allowed on the premises) in the bracing climate and lush scenery. It’s not cold like an iceberg, however, as it exudes an ambience of gentle camaraderie.

Although it is priced like a hippy haven (in fact there are also four dormitories made of wood with mattresses on the wooden floor for any number of guests at Rs 4,000 a night), Green Hills also has elaborate, comfortable accommodation.

There is a complex of family rooms with beautifully carved beds and plump mattresses, and elegant single rooms. My personal favourite are the two cottages at the end of the path winding through the garden, their entrance hidden behind flowers, close to the splash of the waterfall. An early morning dip in the adjoining pool fed by a mountain stream provides a bracing start to the day.

These cottages, while being small, are compact and secluded and would be ideal for someone keen to meditate, or even write a book. Nature lovers would adore the setting.

The centre of the complex houses the dormitories as well as a chapel used for worship by religious groups (of all denominations). There is a hall for conferences and a huge restaurant providing meals for large gatherings. Green Hills is self-sufficient in water with a special plant treating and filtering water from an on-site well.

The uniqueness of Green Hills is apparent from the guesthouse entrance where a suite of chairs and a table have been constructed out of oil drums. The columns supporting the water tank have been turned into cages for exotic birds. There is even a separate cottage (with hot water) for drivers, something many conventional guesthouses lack.

Green Hills is managed with panache and polite charm by Mr. Peter, whom I have known for 20 years, since he was in charge of security at Nuwara Eliya’s Grand Hotel. I was delighted to meet him again when I dropped into the retreat by chance. He has contributed his knowledge of guests’ requirements, uplifting what could have been an awkward mix of cheap and cheerful to a fulfilling experience, both comfortable and peacefully at one with nature.

Green Hills Retreat Centre & Restaurant, Mayfield Junction, Nuwara Eliya Road, Hatton; tel: 051 2244593.

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