It’s not often you get to stay in a hotel on a site dating back to the year 506AD, and Llangoed Hall evokes a sense of an intriguing past. Llangoed means ‘holy meeting place,’ and is built on land that previously held the mysterious-sounding White Palace, home to the first Welsh parliament. The current house was built in 1919 and designed by Clough Williams Ellis.
Now a luxury country retreat, deep in the Wye Valley, it is known for its beautiful Brecon Beacons setting, Laura Ashley upholstery (husband Bernard once owned the hotel) and first-class food.
It is grand, but it’s not stuffy. There’s a wood-panelled dining room and library (the latter dating back to the 17th century), a striking carved staircase and a first-floor pillared gallery, from which most of the bedrooms lead off. Bernard Ashley’s art collection is extensive and includes works by James McNeil Whistler and Augustus John, and there are frames of family photos dotted about.
Its 23 bedrooms are all different and all feature Laura Ashley linen; ours (Room 1, in the ‘state deluxe’ category) had a pale mustard and lime colour scheme. It looked out over the grounds to the Black Mountains, past huge kidney-shaped flowerbeds – unseeded when we visited, but stunning you imagine come summer when cosmos and sweet peas grow.
Some rooms have four-poster beds; ours had a large lounge area with low seating and a basket of fruit. There’s no tea or coffee provided in rooms – something I missed – but you can choose from complimentary soft drinks or sip a sherry from your own decanter.
Apart from the rooms and spectacular setting, the real wow factor is the food, with some ingredients grown on the grounds. Chef Nick Brodie has installed a new kitchen garden, beehives, smokehouse and keeps ducks and chickens. Greenhouses (which guests are encouraged to explore) house radishes, beetroot and spinach and there’s an honesty box for plants and cuttings.
The prestige tasting menu (£95), is a great way to enjoy Brodie’s food. You can go for an eight-glass wine flight to accompany it (the list has been developed with Tanners of Shrewsbury and the flight is £74), but a glass of champagne was enough for me. The star dishes were a scallop ceviche with caviar and cabbage-like kohlrabi, and a rectangle of Wagyu beef with wafer-thin mushrooms and a black bean sauce.
Breakfast was another highlight: the full Welsh isn’t huge – perfect for me – but it is delicious, and I tried traditional laver bread, a kind of fried patty made from seaweed.
While the dining service is very formal, staff are friendly, and manager Brian put us instantly at ease as we arrived in muddy boots, fresh from a walk around the ruins of 13th century Llanthony Priory.
While it would be easy to spend a day wondering around the hall’s 17-acre grounds, complete with a maze, giant chess set and orchard, the surrounding countryside provides all the fresh air activities you need. Pen Y Fan is the highest peak in south Wales and is easily accessible from the Storey Arms outdoor education centre on the A470.
It’s a relatively steep walk up and the views are spectacular, across to Fan Y Big, Corn Du and down to Cwm Llwch lake. If you’re in the mood, Llangoed Hall does a lavish-looking afternoon tea. Perfect to revive weary walkers.
Three things we loved
- There’s no traditional reception desk at Llangoed Hall. Instead, staff just look out for people arriving and magically appear at the door.
- The huge bathroom and tub, Penhaligon’s toiletries, and pretty floral china designed especially for the hotel.
- The walled garden. The chefs all put hours into it, maintaining and planting.
High50 insider tips
• The hotel is popular with well-known faces during the Hay Festival (26 May to 5 June 2016) so if you’re going, book early.
• You definitely need a car to explore: Llangoed felt in the middle of nowhere to this Londoner. It’s 40 minutes’ drive to either Hereford or Abergavenny stations (book taxis from the hotel in advance), but pretty Hay-on-Wye and Brecon are nearby.
Lucy Handley was a guest of Llangoed Hall. Bed and breakfast is from £150 per night.