Travel Notebook

Q&A with Malik Fernando: A Chat with the Man Behind Resplendent Ceylon

Malik Fernando would be the first to tell you that he quite stumbled into becoming a luxury hotelier. He envisioned that his future, after studying overseas at Babson College in Boston, would entail working in the family business selling Dilmah Tea. As time passed and Malik found himself visiting estates and running the plantation side of the business, the idea started to form to open a tea resort … and so, Resplendent Ceylon was born. Today, this hospitality arm of Dilmah Tea operates Ceylon Tea Trails, Wild Coast Tented Lodge and Cape Weligama, with two more resorts on the horizon: Sigiriya and Trincomalee. We recently chatted with Malik about the Resplendent Ceylon circuit, what makes Sri Lanka such an enchanting destination and, of course, which teas you must try on your next visit.

Talk to us about luxury tea tourism. Must one be a tea lover to appreciate the RC properties and Sri Lanka?

Not at all. Tea Trails, our first resort, is located in the heart of scenic Ceylon tea country where even non-tea lovers would learn to appreciate this wonderful herb – however, there is much to do apart from the tea aspect, including scenic walks and mountain biking, with superlative Relais & Chateaux service and meals. Cape Weligama and Wild Coast Tented Lodge are not as closely connected to tea as Tea Trails and have their own unique aspects. Cape Weligama is all about Sri Lanka’s southern coast – beaches, surfing, cinnamon, history and whale watching. Wild Coast is safari-oriented – leopards and elephants –but located on a pristine rugged beach. It really is a wonderful place for switching off and being at one with nature, amidst gorgeously designed tents and facilities.

Norwood Bungalow at Tea Trails

In three words each, describe the vibe of Ceylon Tea Trails, Cape Weligama and Wild Coast Tented Lodge.

Ceylon Tea Trails: colonial tea bungalow

Cape Weligama: mesmerizing ocean views

Wild Coast Tented Lodge: pristine jungle glam

What time of year is best to visit?

Peak tourist travel to Sri Lanka is December–April, focused on the European winter. However, with changing weather patterns and travelers from America, Australia, the Far East and the Asian region, Sri Lanka has now become a year-round destination – different parts of the country enjoy different patterns.

What is the optimal duration for a stay that includes all three RC properties, the “Resplendent Circuit”?

Ten nights total. Three nights Tea Trails, three nights Wild Coast Tented Lodge, four nights Cape Weligama, ideally. We call it “The Resplendent Sri Lanka Journey – Tea, Sea & Safari.”

What makes Ceylon tea so distinctive?

Sri lankan tea

Ceylon Tea is prized for its quality and its variety, which is unmatched for a small island boasting dramatically different teas in different parts of its tea-growing regions. The Low Grown teas produced in Sri Lanka below 2000-foot sea level are known for their superior leaf appearance, highly valued in the Middle East, the coppery “infused leaf,” and its strong and reddish brewed liquor. The High Growns, above 4000-foot sea level, on the other hand, are known for their bright, colorful, brisk and aromatic liquors. High-Grown Ceylon teas have unsurpassed liquors ranging from light, bright golden color to deep red.

What’s on the horizon for Resplendent Ceylon? Can you give us a glimpse of what the Sigiriya and Trincomalee properties will be like?

At Sigiriya, set in a 14-acre ancient forest, 35 rooms and suites will be elevated to treetop level, with spectacular views of lakes, rice paddies, and mountains. The resort is designed by star architect Lek Bunnag, who also created Cape Weligama. Expected to open end 2020, it will bring Resplendent Ceylon’s signature blend of sumptuous accommodations, personalized service, gourmet dining and authentic experiences to the Cultural Triangle, the most visited part of Sri Lanka, capped by the World Heritage Sigiriya Rock Fortress. After climbing Sigiriya or an elephant safari in the nearby national parks, guests may cool off in the longest swimming pool in Sri Lanka.

Trincomalee will be Robinson Crusoe–style cottages on a pristine beach; design work has not yet begun.

What are your three must-have items when traveling?

My phone battery pack as I devour a full charge rapidly, a cashmere scarf and an iPad loaded with downloaded travel magazines.

Last book you read?

I love history. Between the Wars: 1919–1939 by Philip Ziegler.

We heard you have a bit of a designer watch obsession … which is your favorite?

I end up wearing my trusty Rolex GMT Master; it looks the part in any setting.

Beyond Sri Lanka, where’s your favorite place to travel?

Currently road tripping across Northern Spain – Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias and now Galicia. Amazing food and drink and wonderful people and vistas.

And with respect for Sri Lanka, what’s your favorite place in the country?

I love the tea country, naturally! At Tea Trails or Stonyhurst, my cottage in Nuwara Eliya, the highest town in Sri Lanka.

What’s your favorite Sri Lankan dish and which Ceylon tea would you pair with it?

Hoppers are a classic – crispy pancakes with an egg in the middle, with coconut sambal, onion sambal and fish curry. Paired with a High Grown Dilmah Dimbula region tea like Udawatte – without milk and sugar, of course. Like ginger with a Japanese meal, the Ceylon tea flavorfully cleanses your palate ahead of each delicious mouthful of Sri Lanka curry!

sri lankan curry
Mouth-wateringly delicious Sri Lankan curries

Will your children carry on the Dilmah tradition?

Of course. My brothers and my kids will be the third generation once they finish their studies.

What’s on your travel bucket list for the next 5 years?

Peru, Colombia, New England – as a group of eight friends, we do an annual trip which I enjoy curating.

Our thanks to Malik Fernando for taking the time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions. For more information about the Resplendent Ceylon properties, email us and we’ll put you in touch.