Travel

Up in the cool of Cameron Highlands

Andy Davison and his family return once again to the cooler weather and scenic beauty of Cameron Highlands and enjoy a stay at their favourite boutique hotel there, The Lakehouse.

I usually receive a small cheer when I tell the family we are heading up to Cameron Highlands. It is Malaysia’s largest hill station, covering an area of roughly 700 square kilometres and comprising several small towns and settlements.

Cameron Highlands was first explored in 1885 by Sir James Cameron, who used elephants to push through the jungle. He spotted a large plateau which he thought suitable for development, but he died before acting on this, and his maps were mislaid or lost, with another 40 years passing before a second expedition discovered its location.

Development started in the late 1920s. British planters soon realised the climate was suitable for growing tea plants and in 1929 John Russell started clearing land for his tea plantation, the beginning of Malaysia’s famous Boh Tea.

It is this history which makes Cameron Highlands so fascinating.We usually stay at The Lakehouse, a boutique hotel which is simply delightful and another reason why my family always looks forward to the trip. It was built by a retired British Colonel, Stanley Foster, who had always dreamed of owning his own bed and breakfast. It opened for business in 1970 and is now a preferred destination for people looking for a relaxing break in the Highlands.

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The Lakehouse is a small, cosy Tudorstyle property with just 19 rooms but they are comfortable and furnished in traditional colonial British style – many of the bedrooms have four-poster beds.We stayed in the family room, which accommodated the five of us without any problems. There is a small bar and a larger lounge with comfy leather armchairs where I could happily relax for hours, if my children would let me. The log fire, which is lit most evenings, makes it even cosier.

It’s such a nice property that if you just want a very relaxing, enjoyable break, you need go no further. The average temperature in the Cameron Highlands is around 10 degrees cooler than Kuala Lumpur (or most other Malaysian cities for that matter), so strolling around the well-tended, flower-filled garden or just sitting outside during the day is a pleasure. For the more adventurous, there is a two-kilometre jungle walk starting behind the hotel, and an expert guide is offered at no charge to accompany you.

If you are keen on photography, the hotel is the perfect setting and, of course, Cameron Highlands itself offers plenty of scenic views. My 13-year-old son has recently taken an interest in photography and found plenty of material to practice his newly acquired skills, including my willing 18-year-old daughter, who cheerfully took a break from her endless selfies to “model” for him.

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We drive up from KL, which takes about three hours, and although the shortest road has plenty of turns and the condition of the road could be improved, it is nevertheless a picturesque drive. There is another route which is a bit longer but with a wider, better paved road. The Lakehouse can arrange transportation to the hotel for those without transport and can also arrange trips around the Cameron Highlands if you wish to explore and don’t have your own vehicle.

A word of warning however: there are very few roads in (or to) Cameron Highlands, so at weekends, it can be slow going, and if it’s a public holiday weekend, be prepared for long traffic jams. The best time to visit, unsurprisingly, is during the week.

The sprawling Boh Tea plantations are not far from the hotel, and we always drive up the tiny road past acres of tea bushes to the summit where there is a tea house offering tea and cakes or scones. You cannot help but be in awe at the amount of work which must have gone into clearing the jungle and planting the tea.

For those interested in how the freshly picked leaves end up producing cups of tea there is an old but still functioning factory where you can watch the process first hand and enjoy an informative short tour.

cameron-3If you are feeling energetic, there is a rather steep pathway behind the tea house which will lead you up the hill another 100 metres. Here, you can enjoy stunning views over kilometres of rolling hills, trees, and tea plants.When the weather is cooperative, the scenery is as lovely as any you’ll find in the country.

In addition to growing loads of vegetables, Cameron Highlands is also the centre of strawberry production in Malaysia, so there are plenty of small farms growing them and shops selling them. You can even pick your own strawberries in quite a few places.

The whole family enjoys eating, and the hotel offers plenty of food options, including a personal al fresco barbecue dinner.We also look forward to indulging in afternoon tea on the terrace, which is always a treat.

This time we tried out the hotel’s picnic lunch which proved a big success. It consisted of two wicker hampers, each overflowing with a splendid selection of sandwiches, fruits, cheeses, and various other goodies.We enjoyed this sumptuous meal sitting on the grass overlooking one of the tea plantations.

The staff at The Lakehouse are always attentive and courteous, and the practice of washing guests’ cars each night is a most welcome touch, particularly since some of the side roads can be rather rough and occasionally muddy.

A typical end to any of our excursions to Cameron Highlands is that as soon as we get back to KL, my kids ask me when we are going back again!

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This article was originally published in The Expat magazine (November 2016) which is available online or in print via a free subscription.

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