Tucked in a beautiful tea estate in the Sri Lankan hill country, you will never want to leave Stafford Bungalow after you get enveloped by the peace and tranquility that oozes from this luxurious property.
Property Name: Stafford Bungalow (Google Map Link)
Room Type: Master Suite
Room Inclusions: Full board & afternoon High Tea
Stay Duration: 2 nights
Month Of Stay: February
Booked With: Gift Voucher (Direct Booking Link)
Booking Cost: Complimentary
FULL DISCLOSURE: Our stay was gifted to us as a wedding gift by the owners of this property who also happen to be very close friends of ours. I was not compensated for writing this review but the treatment I received may have been out of the ordinary because of this.
Since our stay was paid for with a gift voucher, someone from the Stafford Bungalow emailed us requesting our preferred dates for the stay. Everything was easily handled over email and a confirmation sent over to us within a matter of days.
We planned on hiring a driver to take us to the property from Colombo (about a 6 – 7 hours drive depending on traffic) and Stafford Bungalow does provide accommodation for drivers for an additional cost of LKR 1,500/night. Space is limited so and is confirmed at the time of booking (when available).
Property & Room
By the time we walked into Stafford, I was in really rough shape.
I wish it was because I had the time of my life the night before but, in reality, I got really car sick on the way up from Colombo. The windy roads and the Sri Lankan short eats that I had for breakfast really did a number on me.
After 6+ plus hours in the car and a couple of pit stops later, we finally made it to Stafford Bungalow which was situated in Ragala, about 45 minutes outside of Nuwara Eliya. The drive into the Bungalow was really beautiful as you traversed on narrow, windy roads that were surrounded by hills peppered with tea bushes on either side.
Despite being flush with motion sickness, I was getting more and more excited about getting there in between points when I wanted to hurl. My wife used to come to the Stafford Bungalow with her family when she was little and it has been a really long time since they came last. The bungalow also went through a big renovation several years ago which will make this an entirely new experience for both of us.
After jumping out of the car and walking into the living room of Stafford Bungalow, my wife and I were greeted by the head butler, Danuka, who checked us in after helping a couple who arrived shortly before we did. He took our information, handed us some life saving, cool face towels, and this tasty spicy hot chocolate welcome drink.
Before escorting us to our room, Danuka also informed us of all the activities that we could partake in during our visit which included a guided walk around the tea plantation (US$10), bird watching and tennis. My wife and I looked at each other and told him that we were here to relax, for the most part.
We were then handed a physical key made out of metal with the words ‘Master Suite’ emblazoned on it. It has been a while since I’ve gotten a physical key like this with most of my recent visits granting access with a keycard or digital keycard on my phone. The callback to a time not so long ago was actually quite refreshing.
The Master Suite
This room was located right next to a small study that had a really cozy corner to read in and a shelf containing the various awards that were ordained on the property over the years. We walked into a very spacious room with a pair of towel swans covered in colorful flowers. The craftsmanship of the towel creatures was magnificent but it always brings a chuckle out of my wife and me.
The room was very spacious and featured stocked bedside tables (complete with water and homemade cookies!), armchairs, a desk, and an armoire for your things. The pièce de résistance of the room had to be the bathroom with modern fittings and an inviting rain shower. Hot water was readily available which made warm showers a dream considering the slightly cooler temperatures in the hill country.
But, wait! There’s more!
The Master Suite also featured a private seating patio outside that is enclosed by the garden wall providing yet another secluded nook for you to hide away in. The butler told us that they would be more than happy to serve snacks or tea here.
If a property wants to really impress me, they need to knock it out of the park with their turndown service. This little attention to detail can make a ‘good’ property to ‘great’ in my opinion. In this regard, the crew at Stafford knocked it out of the park! Each night of our stay, the turndown service consisted of hot water bottles tucked under the duvet to make the bed nice and warm as well dimming of all the lights to really get you into the nocturnal mood. Another nice touch was a quote of the day that was placed on the bed.
Dining & Amenities
A Garden Fresh Lunch
The first meal we had at Stafford Bungalow was lunch immediately after we checked in. They were expecting us to arrive a few hours earlier than when we actually did (stupid motion sickness) but they told us that a Sri Lankan rice and curry lunch was prepared for us and served out in the garden.
Our head Butler, Danuka, pointed out that a lot of vegetables that were being served were straight from their garden. It showed how much they prided themselves in the freshness of the ingredients.
I love Sri Lankan rice and curry so I enjoyed every bit of the fish curry, green beans, cabbage leaves, brinjal (eggplant), and papadam. Thankfully, the motion sickness was long gone and replaced with my healthy appetite which meant I absolutely demolished lunch, headed back to the room, and passed out for a few hours.
After we woke up from the best nap I’ve had in years, we got dressed and headed to the dining room of the bungalow. Danuka greeted us, attentive as always, and asked us if we wanted a drink from their curated gin bar before dinner.
If you’re a gin fan, you’re in for a treat as they have Four Pillars gin (Australia) and Colombo No. 7 (U.K.). Some of the aromatics were plucked from the garden which added freshness and zest to gin and tonic that Danuka had whipped up for me.
One thing that is very unique about Stafford is that there are no printed menus anywhere because the meals are bespoke ordered or concocted on the day of depending on what is available that day. The only exception to this rule is a printed menu for the gin bar!
Dinner on our first night was in the main dining room and the other couple staying there along with us were dining as well. They were wrapping up and raved about everything they had just eaten. We couldn’t wait to dig in!
Our 5-course dinner included:
- Carrot & ginger soup
- Mango sorbet
- Pan-fried salmon, fresh tomato & braised potatoes (paired with lemongrass tea)
- Lychee panna cotta with strawberry (paired with mint tea)
Course after course, each one kept getting better than the other as each one was presented to us. The soup and garden salad hit every fresh note possible while the pan-fried salmon and panna cotta sent you on a sensory food trip. I also really enjoyed the tea pairings with the last two courses and I can’t recall ever having a meal with a tea accompaniment before this.
One thing to note is that the portion sizes are just right. We are all used to shoveling piles of food into our mouth but the smaller-than-normal plates will allow you to enjoy every bit of the food and not feel like Sherman from The Nutty Professor afterward.
An Eastern/Western Breakfast Affair
Waking up at the Stafford Bungalow was a rather strange experience with the sounds of birds and nature all around which starkly contrasted the car horns and the din of construction from the concrete jungles of home.
Danuka took our breakfast orders the night before after we feasted on a fantastic 5-course dinner so we were adorned with fresh fruit juice, the smell of coffee and a freshly baked bread basket in the garden that overlooked the adjoining tea estate. I am the biggest fan of freshly baked bread (especially on airplanes!) so my eyes lit up with every bite from the basket.
For my main course, I ordered a Sri Lankan omelet, a spicy omelet with curry leaves, green chili, and tomato, while my wife ordered some pancakes. No complaints from either of us as we enjoyed what we had ordered. After we ate as much as we could muster, we sat there sipping on our coffee looking at the tea plants in the great beyond in the bright sunshine. It seemed life couldn’t be any more peaceful than this very moment.
The Highest Of High Teas?
With a tea estate surrounding the property, it only seemed right to a) drink some tea and b) have afternoon high tea. While my wife and I are predominantly coffee drinkers these days, we do enjoy a high tea experience now and then.
While we went through our meals for the day with our head butler, he cautioned us against having lunch and high tea back to back as it would be too much food. We took his advice and skipped lunch and opted for afternoon high tea around 3:00 pm. We were famished after skipping lunch and were eager to chomp down on some elegant finger food and raise our pinky finger in the air while sipped on our tea.
Our garden table was made up with a pot of Ceylon black tea along with a snack tower consisting of freshly baked oh-so-warm scones, butter biscuits, eclairs, ham sandwiches, and carrot cake. With our pinkies in the air, we scarfed everything down and sipped on our tea to the sounds of birds and tea pluckers working in the distance.
So, how was it? Well, just okay.
While we were wowed with the three meals that came before this, the afternoon high tea felt a little short in my opinion. I am a big eater (literally and figuratively) and the small portion sizes here left a lot to be desired. Maybe, if we ate lunch we wouldn’t have been so voracious, but we would have liked a few more ham sandwiches, at least. We didn’t ask for me because we didn’t want to seem too pushy so we just kept drinking more tea to satiate our appetites.
A Surprise Romantic Dinner
It was the last night of our stay and we were really looking forward to another fantastic multi-course dinner. Little did we know that there was a surprise in store for us!
After we had our pre-dinner glass of rosé, Danuka escorted us to the game/entertainment room (which is in a detached house from the main bungalow) that was set with a candlelit table for 2 covered in rose petals from, you guessed it, their garden.
It ended up being really cozy in there with just the two of us dining in private. We had no idea what we were about to feast on so these were the courses that were served, in order:
- Pear and orange salad with French mustard dressing
- Green bean soup (with brown bread buns)
- Cajun chicken with pepper sauce and mashed potato (paired with Earl Grey tea)
- Brownies with vanilla ice cream (paired with French Vanilla tea)
Every course scored really high marks with me as I savored every bite from the salad to the brownie. The tea pairings, yet again, really complimented the dish well and I was starting to wonder why more places weren’t doing this?
We were both very surprised and pleased with this private dinner. The extra-special VIP treatment this night (and during our entire stay, in general) was much appreciated and left a lasting impression on us both.
The Common Areas
There are so many living areas in the bungalow and you are free to lounge in any of them during your stay. Near the entrance, there is a sitting area fitted with a TV to enjoy a movie night along with a separate set of lounge chairs to relax in.
We spent a fair bit of time in the main living room before and after dinner. The fireplace could be lit on request, a vinyl player spins up some calming tunes and a gin bar set up in the evenings. After dinner, we escaped back to the living room to sip on more tea that was paired with our meal before retreating to bed.
Without a doubt, my favorite common area had to be the garden upfront. We had breakfast, lunch and high tea out there and spent most of our only full day lounging on a pair of sunbeds. It has been a while since I spent most of the day outside since it is really hot in my home base of Colombo. This is what I call the life!
Since I was in a rather remote part of the hill country, it was no surprise that wifi was a little on the slow side. It was available and did fine for casual browsing but don’t expect to be doing any video calls or high broadband streaming during your stay. Instead, use the time to disconnect and break away from the digital noise. That’s what I did and highly recommend it to everyone coming to Stafford.
If you can sit still for too long, feel free to go for a walk around the surrounding tea estate. You can walk down to the picnic area below where there is a little creek with a river running through and benches for you to sit on. You could even try your hand and picking tea leaves. I gave it a try and let’s just say I won’t be quitting my day job any time soon..
For the sporty types, you can even swing a racket at the tennis court or swing your putter at the mini-golf course.
So.. Yay or Nay?
Although our stay at Stafford Bungalow was relatively brief, it was one of the most relaxing stays I’ve had in a long time. The remoteness of the property along with your lack of high speed internet forces to disconnect and enjoy what is around you.
What really sets Stafford Bungalow apart from my other recent stays is the level of detail when it came to their service. They never forgot about my wife’s dietary restrictions and were very cognizant about what we liked and didn’t like – down to how I liked my gin and tonic.
The bungalow is a vast, charming place with enough room for several groups of people to cohabitate peacefully. All the different living areas, nooks, and crannies meant that you can make your stay as relaxing and reclusive as you liked. Even though the whole place is a throwback to the bygone British era, the modern amenities will snap you right back to the present day.
All in all, it is a bit of a trek to get to Stafford Bungalow whether you subject yourself to 6 – 7 hours in a car, train, or a combination of both. However, when you finally do arrive, it will be all worth it as you will be in good hands with the superstar team at Stafford Bungalow.
- Service is top-notch – you will feel like you are very well taken care of
- Meals are ordered to your specifications
- Food is fresh and correctly portioned
- A very relaxing stay allowing you to disconnect and enjoy the company you are with
- High tea was a touch disappointing
- It is rather remote so you will be spending most of your time at the property
- Wifi works but is limited in terms of speed
- If it rains, you will be stuck indoors
- You can take the train to Nanuoya station (4 – 5 hours from Colombo Fort station) and then arrange transportation to Stafford Bungalow (1-hour car ride)
- If you are hiring a driver, let Stafford know that you will be requiring accommodation for them (for an additional charge). There are very few alternatives nearby so it is better if your driver stays there.
- If you need non-diary milk, it is best to bring some with you. They will happily accommodate you!
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
An expat remote worker based in Colombo, Sri Lanka with a penchant for window seats on planes, travel, and technology that makes everyone’s lives easier.