Switch off your phone, leave your laptop buried at the bottom of your bag and soak up the verdant landscapes of Sri Lanka’s legendary Hill Country at this wonderfully laid-back rural retreat.
More than a tranquil escape, this low-key getaway is also an organic working farm, priding itself on using traditional hand-rolling methods to cultivate, pluck and roll small batches of top-notch tea.
A social enterprise focused on creating employment and positive initiatives for local communities, AMBA is based on the same site as one of the first tea estates in Ceylon to be developed by a local family. The Estate’s dedicated team all see a percentage of the profits from every box of fragrant tea, delectable jam and tantalising coffee purchased from the Estate – or sold internationally.
Fair-trade, organic and sustainable, AMBA’s ethos is an inspiring one. Tour the tea plantation, venture out on a scenic hike, cool off in a rock-pool or curl up on the terrace cushions – ideal for gazing out across the lush valley below with a cup of the good stuff in hand. A perfect fit for couples, large groups and families, this is a chilled out hideaway with exemplary eco-credentials and an enchanting insight into Sri Lanka’s past.
Up a grassy path and close to the tea production headquarters sits AMBA’s hundred-year-old farmhouse, part of the original tea estate. Here there are three double rooms, a twin room, two small rooms with daybeds — great for kids — and two shared bathrooms. This is the most historic part of the property, and is in the heart of the tea-drying and rolling action, meaning that it has more of a lively bustle than the estate’s two tranquil bungalows.
We stayed in Clove Tree Cottage, a whitewashed art deco-style bungalow a few minutes’ walk from AMBA’s main farmhouse. Filled with antique furnishings, the house benefits from a wonderfully relaxed feel. Whether taking tea and cake on the terrace or playing cards late into the night, it invites you to slow down and unwind.
Book your room on an individual basis, or nab the whole bungalow if travelling with friends. The same goes for Eagle Rock Villa, just across the garden. Both have a mixture of ensuite and shared bathrooms, depending on what you would prefer. Our double bedroom had a simple ensuite, while our companion crossed the corridor from her room to use a generously-proportioned bathroom.
Appealing communal spaces include sitting rooms with enormous bouquets of freshly-cut flowers, shelves brimming with books and board games, as well as a lovely large terrace, with striking valley views.
Drinking & dining
An absolute highlight of any stay at AMBA, much of the estate’s food is prepared using organic ingredients from the property’s extensive gardens. We feasted on Sri Lankan classics for breakfast — including veggie curries with thosai — plus tropical fruit, curd and treacle, as well as endless cups of AMBA’s own tea and coffee. Each of AMBA’s three houses has its own kitchen, so food is prepared according to guests’ preferences — though most of it is vegetarian — and eaten together at an agreed time, table d’hôte style.
Breakfasts are big and filling, and we opted out of lunch, returning to the house to munch on still-warm sponge cake after long walks and river swims. The team are happy to put together picnics for excursions, too!
Gathering each evening for dinner on the terrace adjoining Clove Tree Cottage felt like a real event. We chatted to fellow guests and savoured myriad flavourful dishes, with light starters followed by hefty helpings of rice & curry, and indulgent puddings.
Although AMBA — like many Sri Lankan properties — does not have its own liquor licence, you’re welcome to bring your own beer, wine and spirits. A bottle of red goes brilliantly with moreish curries, while an arrack nightcap slips down nicely after a heated game of cards.
Facilities & activities
AMBA’s must-do activity, in our experience, is the daily tea tour and tasting. Offering an insight into the history of Sri Lanka’s tea industry, as well as AMBA’s special model of sustainable high-quality tea production, it starts with an amble through the tea fields. Guided by production manager, Neethanjana, you’ll come to understand the tea plucking, drying and rolling process, before sipping a selection of the Estate’s terrific varieties. With AMBA exports fetching high prices at the likes of Fortnum & Mason’s and served at Claridge’s in London, this is the place to stock up on drinkable gifts — for yourself and others.
Grab one of the farm’s laminated walking route maps, lace up your boots and hit the trails. Whether you’re game for a craggy hilltop sunrise, a splash in a secret natural pool near the top of the astonishing Ravana Ella Falls, or a stroll through tea-clad terraces, the team’s got you covered. With furry fiends aplenty in residence at AMBA, you might even find you’ve a four-legged pal trotting by your side.
Hike up Ella Rock for astonishing views or retrace the paths of ancient trade routes which snake along the Estate’s boundary, where teams of elephants once carried salt to the Kingdom of Kandy. Glimpse the famous Nine Arch Bridge, admire the valley from atop Lipton’s Seat, and speak to expert host Simon about exploring historic sites in Haputale and Bandarawela.
We arrived with big plans, but found ourselves lulled by a rare moment of calm and seclusion: playing old-school board games, floating around in the freshwater swimming spot and nattering away for hours after delicious dinners on the terrace. A seriously special stay.
• The fascinating daily tea tour & tasting, the best we’ve been on in Sri Lanka. The tea itself has been rated the best on the island by a number of international critics.
• A cosy, family-friend’s-bungalow feel
• Big communal dinners on the terrace – a fun way to meet other guests, particularly if you are travelling alone.
• AMBA Estate does not have a liquor licence, but you’re welcome to bring your own bottles with you
• Part of AMBA’s charm lies in it being a very rural, rustic property. Do arrive with everything you plan to need for your stay, as Ella, the nearest town, is 40 minutes away.
When to visit
AMBA is open year-round and the hill country stays cool in comparison to the tropical heat of the coast. The rainy season in the hill country usually falls between May and September – we would recommend visiting in the dry season to make the most of exploring the area on foot.
Location & information
The journey from Bandaranaike International Airport to AMBA Estate takes just over 5 hours by car via the expressway.
There are also regular train services running from Colombo or Kandy and across the hill country, offering a picturesque way to discover Sri Lanka.
AMBA are able to arrange a car to pick guests up from Bandarawela train station.
See our travel tips for further info.
Amba Estate, Ambadandegama, Bandarawela
Ready to book your stay? Mention Lanka Hideaways when emailing Simon at AMBA for free places on the estate’s wonderful daily tea tour and tasting.