The Grand Hotel is a luxury hotel built in 1824 when Sir Edward Barnes was appointed Lieutenant Governor of Ceylon after taking up a post in the forces. Having fallen in love with the picturesque city of Nuwara Eliya, he built his beloved bungalow ‘Barnes Hall’ during the British era, which he later left behind when the British troops departed from Ceylon.
Prior to its discovery by Dr. John Davy in 1819, Nuwara Eliya was already home to an illustrious history that showcased ruins of ancient irrigation systems and stone inscriptions that dated as far back as 900 and 1000 AD. Nuwara Eliya, or the “City of Light”, has deep roots as a popular Royal Township.
The origins of the Grand Hotel Nuwara Eliya go all the way back to the historic stories of the Ramayana where pygmy elephants (a breed small in size and covered in fur) ran free in the uninhabited forest areas of Nuwara Eliya and later were hunted down for sport.Infamous elephant hunter, Major William Thomas made a name for himself by killing nearly 100 elephants in a single day. However, the location of his burial is the site of a bizarre phenomenon as lightning strikes his tombstone and leaves evidence of a natural occurrence which cannot be explained up to date.
It was the early 19th century British Planters who made plans to make this little valley, a home away from home for themselves. Privy to it all, at the heart of the merry-making, romance and history, stands the best hotel in Nuwara Eliya – The Grand Hotel.
In 1819, Sir Edward Barnes, adjutant to the Duke of Wellington at Waterloo, arrived at the shores of this tropical island, as the fifth Governor of Ceylon. During an elephant game hunting party led by Dr John Davy, news of this “City of Light’s” 36F climate reached Sir Edward Barnes. His intrigue led him to visit the province, and his enchantment with the beauty of it led him to commission the roadway to reach Nuwara Eliya, making it more accessible to residents of the island. Gradually converting this charming misty mountain village to a model British village.
It was a mere two years later, in 1828, that he fell deeply in love with the beauty, culture and serenity of this island nation and began building his holiday home – Barnes Hall. This holiday home has now become the regal mansion known as The Grand Hotel Nuwara Eliya.
Sir Barnes’ time in Ceylon was short lived, as in 1831, at the request of the crown, he left for Britain leaving behind his beloved home in the hands of his successor, Sir Robert Wilmot-Horton, vowing to return. But alas, Sir Barnes never did.
Shortly thereafter, Barnes Hall was purchased in 1843 by Reginald Beauchamp Downall, a planter and member of the Legislative Council of Ceylon, who operated it as a quaint guest house. Nearly 50 years later in 1891, Barnes Hall was purchased by The Nuwara Eliya Hotels Company, who, to this day owns and manages The Grand Hotel Nuwara Eliya.
Since this change of hands, The Grand Hotel has seen expansion and improvement throughout the decades. 1892 saw the expansion of the Northern Wing, now referred to as the Governor’s Wing; 1904 saw the addition of a second floor to the Governor’s Wing and the addition of the Southern Wing, now referred to as the Golf Wing; 1930 saw the construction of the third storey with its architectural Tudor facade; and the naming of its main restaurant, Barnes Hall, after its original owner.
However, throughout the years, The Grand Hotel has welcomed a slew of notable guests and dignitaries, including, 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, Marshal Tito of Yugoslavia, as well as Sir Thomas Lipton.
It was in 1954 that Queen Elizabeth first visited this regal mansion, on an Easter Sunday, to enjoy a cup of fresh Ceylon tea during her visit to the island. It was from there on that she fell under the magical spell of Sri Lanka, and became a frequent visitor of the Grand Hotel, Nuwara Eliya. Whiling away her evenings in privacy and serenity, the Grand Hotel continues to be a favourite retreat for the British Royal Family.
Standing tall with pride for 194 years, Grand Hotel, Nuwara Eliya is a golden testament to the rich history of a thriving colonial community in the 19th century. From an unparalleled range of cuisine to indulge in, to exceptional amenities prepared for comfort, relaxation and adventure,Grand Hotel, Nuwara Eliya retains the stateliness and grandeur of a colonial mansion and rightfully claims its place as one of the best hill country hotels in the world.
The hotel has 154 rooms, including three presidential suites, four junior suites and a governor’s suite that have been maintained to preserve the traditional design. The Grand Hotel has a number of restaurants, bars and a billiards room.
Grand Hotel Nuwara Eliya is poised to uphold its stature and indomitable presence in the international hospitality arena and looks forward to 200 years and beyond of fulfilling its credo, ‘Regally serving you, our Royalty’.