This historic Welsh home has it all, writes Sheriden Rhodes.
It's a chilly morning in the Wye Valley in Wales, my breath billows like puffs of smoke. Frost covers the ground, like a dusting of icing sugar, while a thick mist hangs in the air. Looking across the valley to the snow-capped Black Mountains, Llangoed Hall, a striking Jacobean mansion, peers imposingly out of the fog.
The night before, I'd asked general manager Calum Milne where I could walk off the rich Welsh food we'd been served since arriving, imagining the grounds would be icy and slippery in the morning. "Well, you could either use the Hunter Wellingtons in the entrance hall," he says indicating the line-up of expensive wellies favoured by the Royal Family, "or walk up the driveway. It's heated." That's the kind of place Llangoed Hall is - luxurious but not in an ostentatious way.
Llangoed means holy meeting place, and it's astonishing to think this was the site of the first parliament of Wales, with a building of some sort here since AD506. The country house itself was built in 1602, and was previously owned by the late Sir Bernard Ashley, the widower and business partner of Laura Ashley, of fashion textile fame. He bought Llangoed Hall with the ambition of recreating the atmosphere of an Edwardian house party, replete with high-society customs, period furnishings and antique fittings, before turning it into a hotel in 1990. After Sir Bernard's death, Llangoed Hall fell into administration after the Ashley family sold the property.
Now under new ownership, plans are afoot for Llangoed Hall on the River Wye to again be the epitome of a Welsh country house.
Milne has returned for his second stint as Llangoed's general manager, and is passionate about restoring the hotel to its former pecking as one of Britain's top country hotels.
More than £2 million ($3.7 million) is being invested, including the refurbishment of the 23 guest rooms. Some Laura Ashley furniture has been retained and no expense has been spared on the luxury interiors.
Outside, the beautiful grounds have been manicured, a garden with 2500 roses established, the heated driveway has been resurfaced and new flagpoles installed to proudly fly the red, white and green of the Welsh flag. Amazingly, during clearing of the grounds, ramparts and battlements of the original Llangoed Castle were uncovered. These have since been repointed and lighting installed to make them a feature of the grounds.
The reason for my early morning walk was a fabulous five-course degustation dinner the night before served in the Whistler Room, surrounded by Sir Bernard's private art collection of 20 drawings by American James Whistler, the cheapest of which is reputedly worth about £300,000.
Nick Brodie, from Bath, was recently appointed as head chef and makes no secret of his ambition for a Michelin star with his masterful modern British dishes, such as pheasant egg with cured ham, celeriac and kohlrabi (a type of cabbage).
There's much to do nearby- mountain biking, walking, rock climbing in the Brecon Beacon National Park, not to mention the hugely popular Hay Festival which attracts the likes of Bob Geldof and Bill Clinton, who describes it as the "Woodstock of the Mind". But Milne says most guests tend simply to relax, read the papers by the open fire, play snooker in the historic library or enjoy a glass of wine on the terrace.
The writer was a guest of Visit Britain.
From London's Paddington Station, it takes about two hours to reach Cardiff by train. Car hire is available in Cardiff, or the hotel can arrange transfers.
From £190 ($360) for a standard room including breakfast.