IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF THE FAMOUS…
Isn't it wonderful when you come across a hotel with a truly fascinating story behind it? You can almost feel the life of those years gone by pulsing in its very walls. Llangoed Hall, in South Wales, is one of those hotels. Recent guest ANDREA McVEIGH tells us more…
Just nine miles away from Hay-on-Wye and its annual Hay Festival, numerous famous festival guests have stayed in this magnificent stately pile, including Jane Fonda, Sting and Bill Clinton.
The building itself, set in magnificent private grounds, is positively steeped in a rich history dating back to 560 AD, when the original Llangoed Castle was first recorded on the site. Subsequently used as a monastery, it was also home to the White Palace, Wales’s first parliament building. Rebuilt in 1632 by Sir Henry Williams in the classic Jacobean Manor House style, the family lost it as part of a gambling debt and it then became part of the estate of Lord Glanusk.
At the turn of the 20th century, the house was acquired by the wife of a prominent London hatter who commissioned the famous Welsh architect Clough Williams Ellis to extensively restore and redesign the house, more than a decade before he began work on Portmeirion, his renowned Italianate village in North Wales.
Then came the Seventies, and a by-then very run-down Llangoed was in danger of demolition but its salvation came a decade later, when Sir Bernard Ashley, husband of the designer Laura Ashley, bought the property two years after her premature death and restored the Hall to its former glory.
Although now privately owned, many of the 23 bedrooms still feature some of her trademark flowery fabrics and prints, while some of Sir Bernard's own impressive collection of art and antiques, including works by American artist James McNeill Whistler, are displayed in the hotel’s grand sitting rooms and hallways.
It’s the perfect spot for a relaxing break, as my husband and I discovered during a recent weekend stay. We took a train from London to Hereford, and then hired a car for the remaining journey of around 30 miles which skirted the picturesque Brecon Beacons mountain range - alternatively, driving from Cardiff airport would have been an easy one-hour journey.
A superb year-round destination for a relaxing, get-away-from-it-all break, there’s fine food and exceptional wines to enjoy, plus a wide range of local country pursuits such as fishing, mountain biking, archery and clay pigeon shooting.
We were very tempted just to lounge in our beautiful room for the entire stay, making the occasional foray downstairs for an exquisite afternoon cream tea beside the roaring log fire, sampling cuisine prepared by Head Chef Nick Brodie, or just taking in the breath-taking views across the fields and surrounding woodlands to the Black Mountains.
Nearby, the small market town of Hay-on-Wye is, of course, famous for its annual literary festival, as well as its historic Hay Castle. We spent a whole day in the town browsing its numerous independent bookshops, quirky homeware shops and cafes serving delicious Welsh specialities, before driving into the surrounding Wye Valley. Located on the English/Welsh border, it has been designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty.
Returning to the hotel after a long day spent exploring, there was just enough time before sunset for a leisurely stroll around the grounds, which offer a maze and a walk along the banks of the river Wye. We also discovered one of the reasons why Nick Brodie’s culinary creations have earned accolades including a place in The Good Food Guide’s Top 50 UK restaurants, as well as The Sunday Times Country House Hotel of the Year award in 2015.
The vast organic kitchen garden, lined with heritage apple and plum trees, produces up to 95 per cent of the vegetables, soft fruits and herbs required by the restaurant during the summer, while most other ingredients, including Welsh Black beef and local Radnorshire lamb, are sourced from farms and suppliers within a five mile radius.
We also visited the hotel’s egg houses, complete with a bathing pond, populated by happy chickens, ducks and quails. If you like eggs for breakfast, there are always plenty of options to choose from!
To book, visit llangoedhall.co.uk. Llangoed Hall, Llyswen, Brecon, Powys LD3 0YP 01874 754525. A night at Llangoed Hall is priced from £150.00 B&B based on two sharing. A selection of menus are offered and the restaurant is open daily for lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. The menus include: lunch menu £25, four course dinner menu £75, eight course prestige tasting menu £85, with a Sunday lunch menu priced at £30. In 2017, the Hay Festival runs from May 25 to June 4.