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The Hill Club, Nuwara Eliya

Listed under Unusual Places to Stay in Central Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka.

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I am standing in the shadow of a dark and imposing bluestone mansion, at least I would be in shadow if there were any sun. Mist creeps around me, leaving moisture on every surface, too small to see, but easy enough to feel. The mansion and the inclining garden behind it are not so lucky, the cloud fully envelops them from time to time, cutting off trees and parts of the rooftops, and for all I know, transporting them to another dimension or era.

My sons are untouched by the sinister feel of the place, and while they stamp their be-wellied feet in soggy turf, I shiver. Is it because this is the coldest I have been since I moved to Dubai? Or is it because I feel like I am in an episode of Midsummer Murders?

So take a guess. Highlands of Scotland? Dartmoor among the Baskervilles? The barren Normandy coast? Wrong. I am 7 degrees north of the equator, at the Hill Club, on the outskirts of Nuwara Eliya (pronounced newerellia). Altitude is around 2000m, mean daily temperature in February is 15C, and despite the fact that it's the dry season, the township sees less than 6 hours of sunlight per day. So while its name translates as "city of light", even the locals call it "little England"

In 1815, the British were handed the colonial mantle of Sri Lanka (or Ceylon, as it was then) by the Dutch, who had in turn taken it over from the Portuguese. But the British were the first to delve deeper in the the mountainous central region, then named Kandy, after it's capital city. They left their footprint everywhere, not least at the hotel where we have taken up residence for three days.

If you go onto Trip Advisor and read the reviews for the Hill Club, you will not stay there. "Dirty", "Stuffy", "Unkempt", "Outdated colonial bigotry" are some of the comments that come up. And, it's true. The Hill Club is a pompous, old-monied, balding man in tweed with velour elbow patches and gravy dribbled on his jodhpurs. And....

Booking was a disaster - unbeknown to us children under 5 are not allowed in the club. After much fuss they finally managed to fit us in a Family suite in the "Chalet". And....

The rooms are cold, and only supplied with a one-bar heater. The carpet is worn and even ripped in places. They only supply our room with three towels despite the fact that obviously we are a family of four, in a four-bed room. Because of our three year old son, we are banned from dining in the club, instead having to take our meals in the Chalet. The service is slow beyond compare.

But....

Our booking company Red Dot Tours, had stepped in just before we arrived and handled everything, putting otel.com and the Hill Club management to shame, even though I had stupidly booked through another company and they made no commission off our stay there.

The Hill Club apologize obsequiously (quite fun to watch, really) for the inability to house Mary, and quickly arrange a room for her at a sweet B and B called Glendower, just around the corner.

The rooms are enormous, the Chalet charming, and there is a dining room with a sofa and TV and over 1000 free DVDs to choose from. Given that it is a family area, noise and mess flourish. Two butlers are to serve just for our family for the duration, bringing us Tanquerays at sundown, silver-serving us dinner on the crispest of white linen, gently warming our marmalade for breakfast, and even putting velour-covered hot water bottles in our beds as we finish our dessert.

The gardens are imaculate. Hedgerows, fucias, velvet lawns, pristine vegetable gardens, winding flagstone paths, enchantingly crumbing tennis courts, ancient conifers, and everywhere secret nooks with table and chair, perfectly positioned to view the garden and the pages of a great novel.

The Clubhouse is a shrine to fading colonialism. The telephones still have dials on them, mahogany and teak abounds, de-bodied elk and boar stare menacingly down through glass eyes. First a rest in the reading room to eat warmed cashew nuts and sip Kir while thumbing the pages of back issues of the New Yorker. Next, the serpentine bar for a Bloody Mary - and although I cannot imagine the likes of Somerset Maugham slumped over it dreaming of something epic and eloquent, I do see the need to compose something in the stuffy grandeur of this room. Maybe a poem? After, a Cognac in the Billiard room, where it is a struggle to reach half the shots due to the gargantuan table, and the staff stand by to compliment your shots and give the occasional golf-clap.

We snigger at the place, but secretly enjoy the old-school experience. We roll our eyes at the poor service, but marvel at the effort. We stumble back down the gently sloping lawn to the Chalet to relieve our babysitter and cuddle up with the kids in bunk beds with "hot botties". Then retiring to our own bed after sleep has taken them, dream that we are part of the British East India Company, pioneers in this mysterious outpost, and in on one of the greatest secrets in the world.

Where

The Hill Club is in Nuwara Eliya, about 5.5 hours drive from Colombo airport, and less than 2 hours from Kandy. It is in the centre of the Tea plantations of the hill country, and sits in the shade of Sri Lanka's tallest mountain, Pidurutalagala (2500m). It is 8km from Nanu Oya, which has a connecting train to Kandy, and is one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world.

When

Best to visit December to April to avoid the Monsoon. There are festivals in Kandy and surrounds in April, and March is said to be the best month. January and February are cold, but the driest months.

Read more on dubai-ified's blog.

Written by  dubai-ified (Sarah Walton).

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