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Aitken Spence
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The Tea Factory to become a Heritance Hotel

Sri Lanka’s popular hill country hotel, The Tea Factory, is being re-branded as a Heritance Hotel on 15 December. This is the natural outcome of the successful development of an abandoned tea factory building into an eco-friendly, world class hotel.

Recognising that a hotel does not stand in isolation but is part of its social and ecological environment, the group wanted a name that conveyed its commitment to the local community as well as to the expectations of discerning guests. Thus: Heritance – a merging of heritage and inheritance. The embracing of inheritance in the name acknowledges an appreciation for the inherited locality and environment of every Heritance property. It signifies a responsibility to safeguard and enhance for the future all that is inherited. The essence of Heritance is expressed in the service excellence and the local flavour, warmth and involvement that are hallmarks of a Heritance Hotel. It conveys a sense of duty for sustaining the natural resources of the locality of each property.

The idea of turning the tea factory on a hilltop towering over Hethersett village into a hotel was that of Aitken Spence director G C Wickremsinghe. Since it opened in 1996 it has become one of the world’s most unusual places for a holiday where one can truly experience life as it were on a tea estate during the colonial era. This depicts the true essence of a Heritance property where guests are able to experience the locality and community that surrounds the hotel.

With its branding as a Heritance resort, The Tea Factory joins Heritance Kandalama, Heritance Ahungalla and Heritance Madurai as a hotel of choice for the contemporary, eco-savvy tourist. Already popular with visitors as Sri Lanka’s first theme hotel with its heritage of tea, the hotel’s refurbishment has added comfort while its new focus has resulted in rare refinement.

This shows even before guests reach the hotel and they are saluted by a stately uniformed barrier guard. Doormen in regal livery stand ready to help guests alight from their vehicles while uniformed stewards offer a welcome cup of hot spiced Hethersett tea. The lobby, with its reception desk created from cogwheels and its soaring atrium supported by solid green and red painted girders from the original factory, inspires awe.
Plump sofas and armchairs have replaced wicker furniture and there is ample room to lounge and gaze out through the original wooden casement windows to the tea gardens and hills beyond. Milestones around the lawn indicate the distance from various towns: 258km from Bentota, 230km from Anuradhapura, 180kms from the airport. At 2,072ms above sea level the mingling of mist and sun is as dramatic as the cool air is refreshing.

At the other side of the lobby, the Kenmare Restaurant features new menus, new accessories, and the sparkling, positive Heritance attitude by staff keen to oblige. Tea themed cuisine like “Smoked chicken salad with tea vinaigrette,” “Tea and coconut crusted mullet” and “Hethersett tea mousse in tulip with seasonal berries” are also on offer. The Hethersett bar has every kind of wine and spirits as well as especially created tea cocktails. Try “Planter’s Best” a wine glass of brandy and strong, spiced hot tea to warm up. Adjoining it the TCK CK6685 railway carriage fine dining saloon features a new seven course, fixed price menu with enough choices to satisfy the most demanding gourmand. A memorable High Tea is served in the tea lounge every afternoon with sandwiches and cakes and tea prepared individually for every guest from their own choice of leaf.

Every bedroom on the four floors of the former tea drying lofts has been refurbished to a warm and reassuring cosiness. The board floors have deep pile carpets; the furniture is wooden and practical; and the compact bathrooms have an added sliding glass door for the shower/bathtub. Each room has its own tea/coffee set up, together with boxes of leaf tea (no tea bags!) for a taste of the hotel’s own brand of tea. Even the bottled water comes from the hotel’s own spring where a certified water plant, disguised as a plantation bungalow, produces 4,600 bottles a day for all the Aitken Spence hotels.

While some hotels in Sri Lanka have upgraded to boutique properties offering guests every conceivable luxury, Heritance Hotels have gone further. At the Tea Factory addressing guests’ concern for conserving the environment was paramount in its renewal as a Heritance property. For instance, hot water and central heating are provided by biomass from locally farmed gliricidia wood instead of from atmosphere-polluting, imported diesel. Waste and water management is based on sustainable recycling processes; vegetables are organically grown or sourced locally, generating income for the area. Through its Welfare Society, the hotel sponsors community development projects.

Guests can stroll on their own eco walks to explore the locality or join in organised trekking three times a day through the nearby Kudawatte jungle watching for birds and wild animals. The Heritance Tea Factory experience invites guests to take part in tea plucking and see the tea they have plucked being processed in the hotel’s Micro Tea Factory and have it presented to them in a packet the next morning. Other activities include mountain biking; mini golf; cultural events with the village community; and being rejuvenated in the Six Senses Spa.
As The Heritance Tea Factory, the hotel is set to become more than an unusual place to stay, adding a satisfying experience of Sri Lanka’s heritage to the perfect holiday.