Nuwara Eliya is often referred to by the Sri Lankan tourist industry as â€˜Little Englandâ€™. While most British visitors struggle to recognise modern England in Nuwara Eliya, the toy-town ambience does have a rose-tinted English country village feel to it, though it comes with a disorienting surrealist edge. Three-wheelers whiz past red telephone boxes. Water buffalo daubed in iridescent dye for the Tamil Thai Pongal festival mingle outside a pink, brick Victorian post office. A well-tended golf course morphs seamlessly into a rolling carpet of tea plantations. The dusty and bustling centre of town is a thoroughly Sri Lankan tangle, but scratch the surface a little to reveal colonial bungalows, well-tended hedgerows and pretty rose gardens.
In earlier times, Nuwara Eliya (meaning â€˜City of Lightâ€™) was the favoured cool-climate escape for the hard-working and hard-drinking English and Scottish pioneers of Sri Lankaâ€™s tea industry. A rainy-day, misty-mountain atmosphere blankets the town from November to February so donâ€™t come expecting tropical climes. But during Aprilâ€™s spring release, the town is crowded with domestic holidaymakers enjoying horse racing and sports-car hill climbs, and celebrating the Sri Lankan New Year. The cost of accommodation escalates wildly, and Nuwara Eliya becomes a busy, busy party town. For the rest of the year, the economy is based on tea, cool-climate vegetables, tourism and even more tea. Treat yourself to a night at one of Nuwara Eliyaâ€™s colonial hotels, play a round of golf and a few frames of billiards, and escape into the townâ€™s curious combination of heritage and the here-and-now.
The town has an abundance of touts eager to get a commission for a guesthouse or hotel. Theyâ€™ll intercept you on arrival at Nanu Oya train station with fabricated reports of accommodation being closed, cockroach-infested or just plain crooked. Just ignore them.