If you’re planning a weekend away to explore somewhere new without travelling too far, Wales has a lot to offer. For a couples retreat, stay in one of the luxurious suites in the stunning Llangoed Hall, in Brecon, and receive the ultimate fine dining experience in their award-winning restaurant.
Or why not get the whole family together and rent a holiday cottage at the Trefeddian Hotel, based in the picturesque village of Aberdovey on the west coast of Wales. With gorgeous views, delicious food and great company, there is something to suit everyone in our guide to the best Welsh weekend breaks.
The Dolaucothi Arms, Carmarthenshire
Remote it may be, but a weekend break at The Dolaucothi Arms is certainly worth the journey. Set in the tiny village of Pumsaint, and part of the National Trust’s Dolaucothi Estate, it’s a 16th Century coaching inn that overlooks two rivers, Cothi and Twrch, both of which the pub has fishing rights to.
Inside, the bar area stays true to its cosy, traditional roots – Chesterfield sofas, log burners, piles of worn books, polished quarry floor tiles and original sash windows are the highlights. But little touches, like meticulously arranged antique beer bottles on the shelves and modern two-tone walls, make it feel fresh and cared for. There are two menus, bar and seasonal, with the latter being a touch fancier. Try heirloom tomato and sourdough salad, a colourful, juicy plate reminiscent of panzanella, with Welsh goat’s cheese as creamy as burrata…
A ‘white palace’ allegedly home to the first Welsh parliament. A Jacobean mansion won in a card game. A family home restored to its former glory by designer Laura Ashley’s family. The site that Llangoed Hall sits on certainly vaunts a colourful history. Now it’s home to a country house hotel with acclaimed restaurant, extensive gardens (walled, rose and fruit among them) and stunning bedrooms.
All 23 bedrooms were styled by Sir Bernard Ashley (husband of Laura and owner of the hotel in the 1980s and ‘90s) and have been painstakingly maintained by the current owners. The most beautiful are the master suites. In ours, tall, arched windows gave views of the croquet lawn and the idyllic Wye Valley beyond. A four-poster bed was carved with swirly details, duck-egg blue settees matched the wall behind, and an antique wardrobe and writing desk were artworks in themselves. Then there was the bathroom, which came with a stand-alone bath, parquet flooring and a corner armchair. It was the kind of room you fantasise about owning…
The Crown at Whitebrook in Monmouthshire was Wales’ longest-standing Michelin-starred restaurant up until its closure three years ago. (It’s old head chef, James Sommerin, now has a fine dining restaurant in Penarth on the outskirts of Cardiff.) But, with a new owner and contemporary rebranding, The Whitebrook reopened to the public in October 2013. And it didn’t take long for new chef patron, Chris Harrod, to reclaim its coveted Michelin Star: less than a year. In January 2014, renovations were made to the accommodation, offering boutique lodgings to match the dining, which brought new merits from the AA and Welsh Tourist Board, grading the restaurant with rooms with five stars.
What Wales’ rural Wye Valley lacks in population, it makes up for with its abundance of foraged edibles. A self-confessed locavore at heart, Harrod looks to the rich Welsh landscape for inspiration in his fine-dining menu, so expect to see plenty of wild leaves, flowers and herbs from the Severn Estuary and surrounding Monmouthshire woodlands…
Owners Neil Kedward and Zoe Agar have looked to Oxwich Bay, on the stunning Gower Peninsular of South West Wales, for the setting of their third venture, Beach House. With an impressive seaside spot and a bounty of local fresh seafood, it’s soon to become popular with locals and tourists alike. Not resting on their laurels with such a spectacular beachside location, Neil and Zoe have enlisted acclaimed chef and native Welshman Hywel Griffith to the take the best of Wales’ rich produce to the next level.
Hywel makes no secrets about his passion for his native country, so expect a menu bursting with champion ingredients from the very best Glamorgan producers and the freshest seafood and shellfish. Keep tabs on Hywel’s Twitter account for picture proof of the slippery catch-of-the-day and deliveries of just-plucked seasonal produce…
Tell someone you’re going to Aberdovey and the standard reply tends to be “Abu Dhabi? Lucky you!” It’s not so much the visitors on the hot sands of the Arabian Gulf who are fortunate, however, but those who make a beeline for this picturesque estuary village in Snowdonia, on the west coast of Wales. Easy train connections from the West Midlands mean this is classic holiday cottage territory.
For a mixed generation get-together, we recommend one of the handful of cottages at the Trefeddian Hotel. A classic family-friendly retreat with a bit of old-fashioned grandeur still palpable despite extensive remodelling and renovation, it’s in a quiet position just outside the village, separated from the sand dunes by a golf course (visit off-season and you can watch its greens being dutifully nibbled by a flock of sheep). Cottage guests can use all the hotel facilities, which include a great children’s games room and swimming pool. There is a restaurant too but, if you’re staying in a cottage, you can eat in and enjoy home-cooked family meals some nights and, if you have willing grandparents in tow, leave them to babysit on others while you enjoy a meal or two out.
If you’re tired of tasteful greige gastropubs with rooms and beautiful but look-alike boutique hotels with the same painted furniture, button-backed headboards and just-the-right-side-of-wild patterned wallpaper, Ynyshir Hall is something genuinely different.
The décor at this elegant country hotel, on the mid-Wales coast, is determinedly colourful, a joyfully eye-popping antidote to the flinty mountains and surf-whipped shorelines that neighbour it. But while the cosseting rooms and access to lovely walks draw plenty of guests, most come for the food: the hotel’s restaurant holds a Michelin star and four AA rosettes and Chef Patron Gareth Ward’s tasting menus turn fine Welsh produce into culinary theatre.
James Sommerin, Penarth
The Victorian seaside resort of Penarth is by far the Vale of Glamorgan’s best town for food. A brisk walk along its beautifully-restored art deco pier will set you up for dinner at James Sommerin, a Michelin-starred fine dining seafront restaurant manned by its namesake. Welshman James offers a five-, seven- or 10-course tasting menu, showcasing his delicate style of cooking and love of local produce.
Despite the simple name, cod, caper, potato, bread is exquisite; rabbit with cavolo nero and parsnip is some of the richest, sweetest meat we’ve tried; and clever wine-pairing takes an already excellent meal into 10/10 territory. If you want to make a weekend of it, there are also nine stylish bedrooms on site, with views over the Severn Estuary and luxurious Welsh Mydffai toiletries.
Stephen Terry, owner and chef of Abergavenny’s The Hardwick, and proud adopted Welshman, has worked with the greats – including Michel Roux Jr, Alain Passard and a young Marco Pierre White – and pocketed Michelin stars, but there’s not a shred of show-off in him or his cooking. He and his brigade work with outstanding produce from Wales and the Marches, and turn out highly elevated pub food that never feels pretentious.
As well as hearty platefuls like Middle White pork belly and black pudding with capers, apple and mustard sauce, or ribeye steak with wild garlic, portobello rarebit and chips, there are vegetable-loving dishes, such as salt-roast beetroot with goat’s curd, cauliflower soup with Welsh cheddar, and seasonal treats of asparagus or puntarelle. Sip on a pint of Ty Gwyn cider, Butty Bach or Hereford Pale Ale. The old boozer’s smart but cosy rooms look neat and modern, with walk-in showers, tables commissioned from a local joiner, Melin Tregwynt textiles, and furniture and art from the Terrys’ own home.
On the quay in the seaside village of Aberaeron, this iconic waterside inn serves menus packed with fresh seafood and local produce – try Carlingford oysters with shallot vinegar, twice-baked Perl Las cheese soufflé or pan-fried scallops with Trealy Farm black pudding followed by local pheasant, fillet of seabass with a prawn crust or loin of Brecon venison with pear, carrot and chocolate.
Stay in one of four converted warehouse rooms or the hotel’s pink harbour-side cottage and relax before dinner with a Brecon gin and tonic sipped among plush sofas, roll-top baths or (if you’ve nabbed the Martha Jane room) an outdoor terrace looking out over Cardigan Bay. A classic Welsh breakfast is included – Welsh rarebit and Penlan bacon or Penlan bacon with black pudding and laverbread.
Once the private hunting lodge of the Duke of Westminster, this Georgian country house in rural North Wales is a family run Michelin-starred restaurant with 13 bedrooms. Book one of its ‘best’ rooms and relax in your own sitting area with an Illy coffee and home-made biscuits, or go for the Garden Suite with its secluded private garden area.
The restaurant pays equally close attention to detail. Fresh local and nationwide produce married with local farm-bred meat results in dishes such as aged Welsh black beef ribeye, roast pork with braised cheek, belly and black pudding and Cefnllan farm duck breast with confit potato and cider and apple sauce; visiting fans will want to put in an order for chef and owner Bryan Webb’s new cookbook, out in July.