Juliet Coombe goes on a tour of the recently refurbished Jetwing St Andrews Hotel and discovers a historical master piece in the heart of Nuwara Eliya.
As I stand at the road entrance to Jetwing St Andrews, looking up across pristine gardens and at the grand façade of this colonial styled building, with the wonderfully long covered grand staircase to reception, I can imagine how it must have felt, back in the heydays of tea-growing. I discover from Ishanda the hotel guide that the property was originally just a plot of land given by the Crown to a faithful civil servant in 1875 who seems to have sold off bits of it and built the original house that later became the Scots Club. Ishanda, explains, “We don’t know for sure but the name, St Andrews, may come from a combination of the Scots Club and the golf course just beyond the bottom of the garden where the 9th hole has been named St Andrews and where the owner swapped a strip of land elsewhere in exchange for what is now the 10th tee.” Looking across the golf course I have never seen so many huge eucalyptus trees in my life and reckon, probably erroneously that some must be 100 metres high.
It wasn’t until the early 1900s when the house became a hotel and over the course of time bits have been added on here and there, which might make it seem hotchpotch but doesn’t actually detract from it in any way as all the additions look stunning and make for a very interesting and lively hotel. As we walk along the corridors Ishanda points out the mainly red tiled floor and tells me, “It is 127 years old.” I try to imagine all the feet that have fallen upon these tiles, they do look really old but I wonder why they aren’t more worn in the middle but I’m quickly distracted by other rich features in the hotel such as the pictures of antique invoices on the wall and a menu, the simplest I’ve ever seen that really is just a schedule of courses; soup, fish, entrees, joints, vegetables, savoury, sweets, cheese, dessert and finally coffee. During the years before the Great War, the hotel hosted mostly people connected with horse riding and racing and stables were built for some famous champion horses of the time such as ‘Orange William’.
Despite a fabulous refurbishment the hotel has retained all its historic features like the grand full size 117 year old billiards table from Calcutta that can be found in the room that was formerly the Dance room fairly central to the hotel, in a magnificent high sided, wood panelled squarish and bright room. We then moved onto the old dining room where Ishanda pointed out to me the extraordinary looking red ceiling, “They originally though it was made of copper but no-one seems to know what metal it is actually made from,” he tells me.
The hotel played its part in WW2 by looking after oil-soaked British servicemen that were rescued from the Japanese, who sunk their ship HMS Hermes off the east coast of Sri Lanka. Another charitable act carried out by the hotel was performed when the Tamil labourers in Sri Lanka were declared stateless on independence in 1948, forcing the government into the position of processing a mass of applications for citizenship, which they couldn’t cope with; a second government office, kachcheri, was set up in the hotel.
As the tour finishes over looking the gardens I bid farewell and thank you to Ishanda walking back down the extended staircase; apparently this was created in the past to accommodate coaches that lacked the horsepower necessary to climb the steep incline; perhaps it is time to roll out Orange William again for old times sake and now that racing is back on the menu.I then walk back down the immaculate gardens, pausing to marvel at Dharshan Kumar’s prowess with topiary; a teacup, a teapot, an elephant, a peacock and even a fisherman fishing out of the pond number amongst his many finer trimmings. As I leave I look back longingly at the hotel one more time wishing I could stay much longer, as the light is dimming towards evening before I again get lost in the hustle and bustle of Nuwara Eliya.