When Australian actress and Barbie star Margot Robbie revealed her favourite cup of tea in an online video with British Vogue, she not only gave Dilmah a global shout out, but also highlighted its beautiful country of origin, Sri Lanka, too.

“I like a very particular brand of tea – Dilmah,” she said in the show while producing a perfectly packaged collection of teabags from her handbag for all to see. The video went viral on TikTok last year, everyone put the kettle on, and our travel daydreams went in the direction of the ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean’. Well, if it’s good enough for Barbie …

It’s likely that Sri Lanka is already on your radar. Being less than a four-hour flight from Singapore, it makes for a relatively easy getaway from the Lion City’s urban sprawl to a place steeped with astonishing natural beauty, rustic charm, sweeping beaches, intriguing wildlife, a thriving surf scene, booming creativity, hands-down some of the best smiles you will find in the world and – of course – tea.

Mesmerising landscape

Sri Lanka’s tea industry was established during the 19th century by the British during colonial rule. Today it’s the second-largest exporter of tea in the world after China, and the industry indirectly employs close to a million people. Arrive in Colombo and head for Sri Lanka’s Hill Country, a three-and-a-half hour drive away, and you’ll not only see the tea industry in action, but you’ll become immersed in a mesmerising landscape evoking the English countryside, the cleanest of air, luxury accommodation, and the omnipresent feeling of times gone by.

Travelling to Hatton, a town in Sri Lanka’s Central Highlands, is an eye-opening journey in itself. Grip onto your car seat as the winding roads can feel treacherous, but it’s all worth it when faced with rolling carpets of lush green tea as far as the eye can see, the vast swathes of landscape punctuated by pops of bright clothing belonging to the tea-pickers who are methodically filling their bags with leaves.

Freshly picked leaves

Hatton is home to Margot’s beloved Dilmah Tea Company which was founded in 1985 by Merrill J Fernando, a visionary and much revered local who passed away in 2023. We arrive with our adrenalin pumping and craving a cuppa. It’s ideal then, that we stop at Dilmah’s Dunkeld Tea Factory, just one of the many tea factories dotted amid the 2000 hectares landscape, to learn about its inner workings. Our charismatic tour guide and naturalist, Keith, blows us away with his knowledge as we’re introduced to enormous churning machines, freshly picked tea waiting for grinding and sifting, and huge sackfuls of preened leaves that make up the 350,000 kgs produced here annually, ready to be sold at market.

Throughout the factory tour, female tea pickers appear, bags stuffed to the brim with leaves balanced precariously on their heads, at the factory doors. It’s back-breaking work, but the Fernando family are part of a robust union safeguarding entitlements for tea pickers including fixed daily wages, basic necessities, twice-weekly rations, housing and electricity, primary school education for children and an on-site doctor.

A visit to Dilmah’s tea factory is just one of the activities available when you stay at Ceylon Tea Trails, a collection of five restored historic tea planters’ bungalows on what was once the stomping ground of the British planters. Filled with a fresh understanding of the tea-making process and several cups later, we head to one of the properties, Castlereagh Bungalow. We’ve never had a step-back-in-time like it.

History & mystery

Less of a ‘hotel’ and more of a ‘home’, Castlereagh dates back to 1870 and feels filled with history and mystery from the moment you go inside. Stylings include old desks and cabinets stuffed full of secrets, tapestry rugs, plush sofas, colourful soft furnishings, and furniture standing majestically in the shadows of soft, inviting lighting. A lounge and sitting room ooze comfort with fireplaces, grand mirrors, decadent lighting, and a bar stacked with alcohol, graciously poised for soothing sunset drinks.

Luxurious trimmings

Off the communal areas is just one corridor with five bedrooms dotted on either side. Huge four-poster beds await with equally luxurious trimmings including chairs and a coffee table placed before French doors that open out to a bucolic country garden. This is where we sit, at an altitude of 1250 metres, sipping Dilmah tea while gazing out at the pretty flowers and frondy palms. Beyond the burgeoning bougainvillea Castlereagh Reservoir almost hides away, surrounded by an abundance of tall green peaks that make the water look magical.

Swimming in the property’s infinity pool, games of croquet, naps-on-tap, leisurely afternoon teas of quintessential English classics such as Battenburg, cream sponge and scones, afternoon strolls and soaking in the private jacuzzi hidden in the shrubbery are all part of the schedule here. Come evening, simply tell your attentive personal butler what you fancy to eat and the chef will whip it up for you to enjoy on the verandah, soft jazz in the background, fireflies performing a dance around you as you dine. A place of pure peace and tranquility, entirely removed from the modern world, and not a Ken in sight. Barbie would approve.

Hit the surf

The sweeping south coast of Sri Lanka has always been a hotspot, but post-pandemic there’s been a shift in scene. Edge further down past Weligama and you’ll hit an emerging section of coast quietly bubbling under. Hiriketiya may just be a tiny village but it has big dreams. Not content with being home to a perfectly formed crescent of sand, a smattering of sunbeds and super-popular surf spot, it’s also producing some very sophisticated hangouts including spas ( tonicspahiriketiya), yoga retreats ( salthouse_srilanka) and restaurants. Hilltop escape Mond ( mond.hiriketiya) serves fabulous healthy dishes and hosts inventive workshops like ‘Theatre For Kids ‘ and ‘Sound Healing’. Verse Collective ( versecollective.com) is your go-to for co-working in front of Dikwella beach and Dots Bay House ( dotsbayhouse) is excellent for teens who want local live DJs and nightlife. Meanwhile, hip restaurant and cocktail bar Smoke & Bitters ( smoke.bitters) features in Asia’s 50 Best Bars and Sri Lankan Rishi Naleedra, chef-owner of Singapore’s Kotuwa and Cloudstreet restaurants, has been known to pop by to collaborate.

STAY: Ideal for getaways for larger groups, Aussie owned Sudu Villa Hiriketiya is a 4-bed, 4-bathroom villa with enough space to sleep thirteen people in total. There are two kitchens (upstairs and downstairs), a private swimming pool, stellar views and a secluded vibe. Pitch up on the rooftop terrace for ocean vistas, G&T in hand.

Go wild!

Head to the east of the island to Yala, one of the oldest of Sri Lanka’s 15 National Parks. Rise early to explore the thick forest, savannah, grasslands, and endemic plant and animal species unique to the island. Get a front seat in the jeep to spot 44 species of recorded mammals including the Sri Lankan Leopard, Sri Lankan Sloth Bear and Sri Lankan Elephant, plus fascinating birds, reptiles and amphibians. Paul Hogan, eat your heart out!

STAY: Wild Coast Tented Lodge features cream-coloured tents which seem to simultaneously merge with and rise out of the landscape like giant boulders. Inside, king-sized beds, a handmade copper bathtub, and your own private plunge pool await. Cocoon Suites boast a viewing deck to observe an abundance of wildlife at the nearby waterhole.