Foodie paradise in Sri Lanka's hill country
Taking a tea factory tour is a must for any aficionado of the heady brew, and there is one in the town of Bandarawela, 13km southwest of Ella. The Uva Halpewaththa Tea Factory’s guided tour shows the various stages of tea manufacturing, from sorting the fresh leaves to separating the different classes of dried tea, culminating in a tasting on the factory’s top floor with stunning views of the surrounding plantations. If you would like to bring a taste of Ceylon home, the company sells a selection of freshly packaged teas.
Bandarawela is also known for its lively Sunday morning vegetable market, where local farmers and traders gather to sell produce and household products to crowds that come in from neighbouring towns. Ella has a smaller, more convivial market of its own on Wednesday mornings, when Passara Road is lined with women dressed in brightly coloured saris selling fresh vegetables and herbs that will be used to create that evening's dinner in kitchens all over town. Visitors staying at one of the many family-run guest houses, all of which offer home-cooked suppers to their guests, can purchase vegetables to be prepared for their evening meal – the local chefs are remarkably accommodating. In fact, most are happy to give informal cooking lessons in their kitchen. Dinners need to be reserved by midday, though, to allow enough time prepare the many exquisite dishes that make up a Sri Lankan meal.
A few days in Ella will be long enough to sample the tea, gorge on Sri Lankan cuisine and learn to cook it at home. But the town’s unpretentious charm, its culinary surprises and gracious, friendly locals will make you wish you could stay much longer.