Helga's Folly is a hotel on a hilly road in Kandy that can only be described as one very trippy experience. It used to be a family home in the 1930s and today attracts visitors who come to see its walls and rooms flooded with strange drawings and photographs.
A friend once put it like this: 'there is not one sane corner in this place to sit in'. It's a mad clutter of antiques, old paintings, puppets, murals, photographs, sculptures, and there is that pervasive musty smell of a very old house. You will either be confused and kind of creeped out by this place, or you will absolutely love it, there's no in-between.
Who is Helga?
Helga getting married at 17
Helga de Silva is part of a celebrity family who used to live in this building a couple of decades ago - Helga still lives here, in fact. By celebrity family I mean - her father was a politician, her mother an artist and designer, her grandfather a minister, her grandmother a famed feminist and her aunts were author and architect (Minette de Silva, to be precise - only Sri Lanka's first female architect). Her husband, in-laws, siblings and children are also well known in their own right.
Photographs of this large, arty, obviously quirky family cover some of the walls of the hotel. Some of the paintings in the hotel are by Helga herself.
The small road that leads to Helga's Folly is flanked by a concrete red sign that boasts 'one of the most extraordinary hotels in the world'. As you drive in you are met with walls that are covered in crazy paintings, mostly in the style of Alice in Wonderland. You'll find the Cheshire cat, Alice herself and even the Mad Hatter a la Johnny Depp on the outside.
You can't wander around inside for free unfortunately! Either pay a fee of $3 (Rs. 386) at the counter or order a soft drink for the same price. Someone will show you around.
The central space is a flood of colours with old wooden floors, comfy sofas, and a clutter of random artifacts, too many to document in this post. Let's just say it's an eye-full. This space is open to the garden so there's lots of light coming in and you might spot the occasional mongoose sneaking around outside (more on that later). There's even retro music playing through speakers deceptively hidden behind a gramophone here.
Errybody in the club gettin' tipsy
The restaurant is upstairs, with lovely black and white checkered floors, and a crazy red-themed wall with plenty of random paintings and mirror work. It's weird just like every other part of the hotel.
Each table has a candle-wax thing, where loads of candles have been placed on a candle holder and have melted all over it to create table decor that makes you think of the Addams Family. The windows are painted too, with colourful pictures of owls and such. There are doors here that open to a large balcony. We didn't take a look at the menu but we've heard they generally serve Western food, in the Rs. 2000 range.
Walk through long narrow corridors guarded by some of the craziest paintings you've seen to get to the rooms. Some of the figures on the walls are from mythology, and there are plenty of random unicorns too (watch out for the patriotic one with the Sri Lankan flag on its horn).
The corridors are pretty interesting, with some wooden chests here and there, paintings on the walls or on canvas or on cloth, from different art periods, and in one corner you'll even find a shelf of very old books. There's a library downstairs by the way, with a random collection of books, from Jules Verne to Dostoyevsky.
This place isn't somewhere you stay for rest and relaxation, in the most conventional sense. The rooms are cluttered with colour and similar madness as outside and has that same musty old house smell. The beds are comfy though. And personally, it's an ideal place to come to with your friends and tell ghost stories. It'll cost you an expensive Rs. 24K to stay here one night, but it might be worth it with a few friends if you guys are the crazy type who enjoy strange old houses whose walls are covered in whimsical characters.
Do keep your windows closed when you're away though, because as notices on the walls warn, you need to watch out for monkeys that might jump inside from the wild green outside.
The Pool & Garden
The pool-side is actually quite nice here. It's one of the saner spots, with just concrete and wood, a couple of seats, and the three wise monkeys on the wall. The pool is pretty big and is surrounded by loads of towering green plants. And of course there's a giant elf just chilling next to the pool wearing pieces of mirror.
The garden is accessible from different parts of the hotel. It's lovely with some parts clean lawn and other parts wild green, and the occasional interesting sculpture peeping out from the foliage. Mongooses and monkeys included.
Helga's Folly is one of those places you have to be there to really get it. Pictures or a YAMU post can't really tell you what it's like (check out our gallery either way). It's insane, kind of creepy, but awesome at the same time. We don't think there's anything quite like it in Kandy or Colombo. So the next time you're in the empire city, even if you're not up to staying here, the place is definitely worth the visit.
Some famous folks who have stayed at Helga's Folly include Mahatma Gandhi, Vivian Leigh, Lawrence Olivier, Nehru, and even Kelly Jones of the band Stereophonics who - we were told - was then inspired to write the song 'Madame Helga'.