Travelling out of Kandy is a bit of a slog with seemingly endless suburbs and smaller towns, along with congested traffic. But then the landscape changes and you see your first tea plantation.
It’s the first of many as the winding road takes you through hills that are peppered with them. Our driver stopped off at the Glenloch tea plantation and factory so we could see some tea in production and do a bit of tasting.
Having been to the Ceylon Tea Museum in Kandy we were familiar with the process and machinery used in tea making, so it was great to see it brought to life in a working factory. After a short tour we were taken into the restaurant to taste four different types of tea while admiring the fabulous views. No money was asked for and there was no obligation to buy from the shop, just a discreet tip box at the end of the tour.
There are other good photo stops along the way including the spectacular Ramboda Falls, but our next proper stop was in Nuwara Eliya, which is probably the best known and most popular place to stay in Sri Lanka’s highland area. We didn’t fancy doing that as it’s often referred to as Little England and its attractions include a golf club and race course – all a bit too much like home!
But it was interesting to drive through, spotting the red telephone boxes, rose gardens and timber framed houses. Then we pulled over to have lunch at the Calamander overlooking Lake Gregory. An ideal spot for a a break before continuing onto Ella.
Ella couldn’t be more different to Nuwara Eliya or Kandy as it’s just a village, albeit one that has grown as its become more popular with travellers, but is still fairly small. It does have lots of places to stay though, some with fantastic views like the Chamodya Homestay where we were booked in. And what a glorious view it was. Our room and terrace looked directly onto Ella Rock, Ella Gap and Little Adam’s Peak.
I really can’t recommend this homestay enough. Apart from the views, the rooms were really nice, the bathroom very decent (especially compared to our homestay in Habarana), the food was great and our hostess Nilu was extremely smiley and couldn’t do enough for us.
Having cups of tea and fantastic egg hoppers for breakfast on that terrace was hard to leave behind and we paid just £15 a night each for a triple room with breakfast – I travelled with a friend and found twin beds rare in Sri Lanka, so generally booked a triple which has a double and single.
When we could wrench ourselves away from the terrace we found there were some great hikes around Ella. Some people go to tackle the daunting Ella Rock, but we were happy to admire that over breakfast and head for Little Adam’s Peak. It’s a lovely walk through a tea plantation with fab views at the top. Only the last part gets a bit strenuous, lots of steps and a rocky slope.
On the way back down we detoured to the uber fancy 98 Acres Resort to have a drink in their cafe. Unsurprisingly the views from there are pretty special too, though whether they warrant the price tag I’m not sure, considering how great our homestay was.
From the resort there’s another way down to the road which brings you out further along it and not far from the Newburgh tea plantation and factory where they make green tea. Keep going and you’ll come to the viewpoint for the Demorada Nine Arches Bridge. It’s an impressive site and quite a feat of engineering as it has no steel girders and was just made from rocks, bricks and cement back in 1921.
You can walk down a steep path to the bridge and back along the railway tracks to town, but we were ready for lunch and spotted a tuk tuk parked outside the cafe next to the viewpoint. A quick chat with the owner and we were bumping back along the road to Ella which has lots of places to eat as well as sleep. From a guide book recommendation we opted for Cafe Chill on the main street which was perfect for a lazy lunch.
There’s a fair few shops on the main street too, mostly selling tea, fruit and other provisions. We walked the length of it to take a look at the train station and then walked along the tracks which is a significant shortcut to where we were staying. There are signs saying it’s dangerous but everyone does it and the trains are pretty infrequent, slow and sound very loud horns, so its minimal risk for a good gain!
The food was so good at the homestay that we had dinner there one evening, but on the second we went to the Dream Cafe and had brilliant pizzas. It’s worth having Western food when you can find somewhere decent that does it – Sri Lankan food is really good but it can get a bit repetitive after a while!
For drinks we tried Ice Cube across the street but it was a bit soulless and the service seemed non existent, so we went back across to Cafe Chill which has a cool upstairs bar as well as the restaurant we’d had lunch in.
That’s pretty much all we had time for in Ella apart from a quick stop at the Rawana Falls as it was on route to our next destination. The falls are 19m high and the water cascades down over rocks. Apparently in the rainy season they are the wildest looking falls in Sri Lanka.
There are plenty more hikes to do and tea plantations to visit around Ella, but then again you could also just sit back, relax, drink tea and enjoy the fabulous views.
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