Sir Edward Barnes, governor of Sri Lanka for 62 years from 1776.

Sir Edward Barnes, governor of Sri Lanka for 62 years from 1776.

The Grand Hotel in Nuwara Eliya is unquestionably grand. Very grand, in fact, the kind of grandeur born of its associations with the pinnacles and cornerstones of British colonial rule.

Built as a holiday home for Sir Edward Barnes, governor of Sri Lanka for 62 years from 1776, it is the epitome of ‘Little England’, as this charming Hill Country town is known.

That’s because it was to here that most of the senior administrators and crown servants retired for the summer months to escape the heat, humidity and hoi polloi of Colombo.

And it was here that the coffee, tea and spice planters established the social and professional hierarchies by which the Brits characterized their outposts of empire.

All of which is nicely summed up by this piece on the website, which explains how, “on Easter Sunday of 1954, Queen Elizabeth stopped by at the Grand Hotel to have a cuppa during her visit to the island”.

It adds: “However, the Queen is just one of many high-profile guests who’ve set foot in the hotel over the years. Some of the other famous guests include Lord Mountbatten, Duc d’ Abruzzi (cousin of the Italian Sovereign), Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (nephew of King Edward), the Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar, Prince Reuss XXXII, the Maharaja of Kapurthala, and Sir Thomas Lipton.”

Aristocratic antecedents

As we said—very grand. And the hotel’s aristocratic country-house antecedents can be seen everywhere, from the paintings that grace its walls to the furnishings and furniture that spell ‘class’ and ‘privilege’ in anyone’s language.

Says “Given its iconic status within the town, the Grand Hotel is a treasure trove of history, a supreme example of beautiful architecture, and a relic of a bygone era, all at the same time.

“In the 1920s and 1930s the Grand became the centre of the season’s social activities for visitors from Colombo. Golf (the course runs close to the Hotel) was the main sport although cricket, polo, hockey, croquet and lawn tennis were also played and there was hunting too.”

In 1891, the Nuwara Eliya Hotel Company acquired the property (which was still a single storied mansion back then), and continues to be its owner to this day. Undoubtedly a piece of Sri Lankan history, the hotel is now considered a ‘national heritage’ by the Department of Archaeology.

And definitely worth a visit.


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