Every once in a while you find a hotel that you really love. The kind where you make mental plans to return nearly as soon as you put the key into your room door and plop onto the down feather comforter. It’s exotic enough from your own home to make being away really special yet has the feel of a home. Once you find this gem you are torn between keeping it to yourself and sharing it with all your friends!
I recently found my new favourite place to stay in Wales: Gliffaes Country House Hotel, an old-fashioned fishing lodge in Crickhollow. It’s the only four-star hotel in the Brecon Beacons National Park and sadly I’m not the only one in love with the place. Visit Wales has given it a Gold award and it has earned a whole host of other accolades. Since word is already out, I might as well tell you about my little secret hideaway…
Gliffaes is the type of place where you can check in and be transported back 50 years (with wifi and Roberts radios). It reminds me of the romantic places my husband and I would go for a weekend away before we had kids. There’s an unstructured formality about the hotel. Borrow a book from the sitting room and kick back in the conservatory which has a commanding view of the River Usk. The estate has acres of winding daffodil paved paths leading down to the river and you can book fishing instruction/licenses/tackle. Or take advantage of local mountain biking facilities, white water rafting or gorging (forging your way through river gorges – wearing wet suits of course). Feel just like taking it easy and just exploring? Visit nearby market towns Brecon and Abergavenny or Tretower Court and Castle.
When it’s time for dinner, peruse the slow-food menu in the bar while sipping a glass of wine (there are 80 different vintages to choose from). When your meal is ready a waiter in black quietly lets you know and then leads you into the formal dining room where your meal is served.
But don’t think prawn cocktail or gammon steak, the food was good. Really good. They are part of the slow-food movement using the freshest local produce and locally sourced meats, and fish from sustainable stock.
I had a starter that was out of this world: Bresola with Crisp Per Wen Cheese (similar to brie) smoked beetroot and a fruit balsamic jelly. Salty and sweet, soft and crispy. Yum.
But where are the children? (I almost forgot about them too). After a day of fishing and holding baby lambs they ate earlier in the conservatory and borrowed Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and High School Musical 2 to watch in their room while we dined. The hotel is very small (23 individually decorated rooms) and they were just around the corner. It felt like we were living in a big house in the country and having a few people over for dinner. I had the manager bring the girls chocolate fondant cake and ice cream up to their room – and I think they thought they were in heaven.
There’s always a friendly manager at the front desk ready to get you whatever you’d like (ours doubled in the bar sometimes too). Think Faulty Towers character with Laura Ashley style. A bit quirky, but comfortable and stylish.
We stayed in a large double with a view of the River Usk and valley and the girls stayed in a separate room across from us in a large double (they brought in a camp bed so all three could sleep comfortably). The girls (9, 10 and 12) had never stayed on their own in a hotel room, and our youngest was a bit nervous. But once she figured out how to use the listening service on the phone – which is basically an intercom between the rooms – she relaxed and enjoyed her freedom. “Mummy, can you hear meeeee!” “Yes darling, I can hear you!”
In the morning we opened our white box sash windows to the mesmerising sound of rushing water and a chiseling woodpecker. There were lots of extras in the rooms – including a vintage Roberts radio and Villeroy and Boch china cups and saucers. There’s a fabulous old (and working!) shoe shiner in the landing. You won’t want for reading materials – with lots of luxury magazines (Country Life, Conde Neste Traveller and a selection of travel books and suggestions of local activities).
Breakfast was a real highlight. The girls loved the fresh (as in right out of the oven) French pastries. There was just-squeezed orange juice (my personal favourite), Welsh farmhouse apple juice, and homemade muesli, Llaeth Y Llan forest fruit yogurt and freshly cut pineapple, watermelon, honeydew and mango. You can order a cooked breakfast with the works or “just” scrambled eggs with smoked salmon or an oatmeal and goat cheese slice. If the weather is nice you can grab a cafetière and newspaper and sit out on the expansive patio that overlooks the River Usk.
And I was just looking in my diary … I think we can go back in the Autumn!
IF YOU GO:
Gliffaes Country House Hotel Crickhowell, Powys, Wales NP8 1RH +44 01874 730371 www.gliffaeshotel.com Nicely renovated old fashioned fishing lodge with lots of character and very, very good food.
Cantref Adventure Farm and Riding Centre Upper Cantref Farm, Cantref, Brecon, Powys LD3 8LR +44 01874 665223 www.cantref.com The kids will enjoy the animals (we got to hold a baby lamb) and the slide.
Black Mountain Activities The Activity Centre, Three Cocks, Brecon, Powys LD3 0SD +44 01497 847897 www.blackmountain.co.uk White water rafting (minimum age 16), river gorging, caving. Can also rent a canoe or mountain bikes.
Hawk Adventures Garreg Wen, Golden Grove, Llanarthney, Carmarthenshire SA32 8JR +44 01558 668878 www.hawkadventures.co.uk Another local extreme sport option.
Tretower Court and Castle NP8 1RD +44 01874 730279 cadw.wales.gov.uk Experience 15th century living at its best.