Helga's Folly

Morgan Ommer

Where is it? In Sri Lanka's leafy Kandy hills overlooking the lake and the gold-roofed Temple of the Sacred Tooth, reputed to hold one of Buddha's teeth.

What's so special about it? Helga de Silva Blow Perera, daughter of the Sri Lankan ambassador to Paris, Frederick de Silva, grew up in the house before redesigning the place using eccentric, flamboyant colours, rich fabrics and 1960s furniture. The house has had numerous famous guests, before and since its reinvention: Sir Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, William Holden, David Lean, Sir Alec Guinness, Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, designer Zandra Rhodes and Kelly Jones of the pop/rock group Stereophonics. The band's hit song Madam Helga was inspired by Jones' visit.

What's it like? The house is decorated with a mixture of ancient Buddhist temple paintings, hunting trophies, 18th-century Dutch chests and photographs of celebrities, all ingeniously reflected in mirrors. Silk flowers and Christmas-tree baubles hang from ceilings and the dining rooms feature seven-branch candelabras, antique china and silver cutlery. It might seem overwhelming but somehow, amazingly, it all comes together. Common rooms (the dining rooms, library, writing room and reading room) are picked out in theme colours of red, black, green, blue and so on. The swimming pool is surrounded by a tropical garden that is home to statues of fairies. Visits to a private tea plantation are open to guests of the folly only, because it belongs to Helga's husband. Tennis, golf, boating, yoga and meditation can all be arranged.

Tell us more. Helga refuses to rent out all of the 40 rooms. 'I call it an anti-hotel,' she says. 'It's more of a home and I don't like it full - it spoils the family feeling.' Naturally there are no tour groups. Every guest room is different; one revels in pink walls, a four-poster bed and a yellow mosquito net topped by a golden crown, while another features a ceiling decorated with signs of the Zodiac.

What's on the menu? Helga's kitchen tends to be organic and self-sufficient: the coffee, tea, pepper and spices used are homegrown. All peppercorns are freshly bashed. Eastern dishes are usually vegetarian, although the house speciality is peppered, seared yellow-fin tuna, served with an aubergine salad with a kick. Every day means a different starring role on the menu: Monday's featured dish is Jamie's kedgeree (tuna, rice, garlic, butter, fresh coriander and a touch of curry powder); Friday's is fish poached in tea, lime, soy sauce and honey and served with yellow rice; Saturday's special is fish poached in tamarind and served with perfumed rice. Dinner is served by candlelight in one of the dining rooms or on a small terrace overlooking the lake.

Helga's Folly, 32 Frederick E. de Silva Mawatha, Kandy, Sri Lanka. tel: 0094 81 2234571; fax: 0094 81 447 9370; e-mail: [email protected]; see