We presented broadcaster Aled Samuel with a challenge – imagine staying in seven different Welsh hotels over seven nights!
Aled is currently presenting the fly-on-the-wall series Gwesty Parc y Stradey on Friday evenings on S4C, so his imaginary journey of indulgent bliss naturally begins there.
1/ STRADEY PARK HOTEL, LLANELLI
Naturally, we begin our journey in Llanelli’s Stradey Park Hotel, and you’ll be familiar with the staff after their appearances on S4C’s Gwesty Parc y Stradey. Don’t be put off by the lacklustre exterior of the place – the people make this place what it is, and the staff, as you’ve probably noticed, are very welcoming. The rooms are comfortable and the food is simply delicious. If you want to visit the myriad of local attractions, you’re in luck as there is plenty to see and do. And we’re also facing the right way for a trip to our next destination.
2/ THE DRUIDSTONE, PEMBROKESHIRE
A trip down the A40 to Pembrokeshire leads us to Haverfordwest. It’s a substantial town with plenty to see – the museum, the castle, the chapels and churches – but we won’t spend our second night here, but instead nearby coastal hotel, The Druidstone.
At first glance, it doesn’t look too promising, but the location is simply thrilling. The main building includes various bedrooms of different sizes, (but only a handful are en-suite), a bar, dining room and lounge. There’s not much to say about the décor – most of it is covered with paintings and photographs, and everyone has to queue for the toilet and bathroom. Don’t bother looking for a TV, there is only one here, and that didn’t work very well. You don’t go there to be connected, but to be near nature. It’s possible to rent the cottages, including a round one, but you’d best get your skates on as Druidstone’s loyal guests ensure that availability is scarce. There is something very special about Druidstone, and from the moment you sink your rear end into one of the old chairs, you will feel completely at home. The food is top quality and the staff are very friendly and you’ll always be in interesting company. Everything is put on the tab, so you won’t have to pay a penny until your departure. And by that point, you’ll feel so relaxed that you don’t care how much it costs (and it’s not that much). But you’ll definitely be back. After breakfast, take a stroll along the beach, or if the tide is in, along the coastal path either to Broadhaven or to Nolton and Newgale.
3/ GWESTY CYMRU, ABERYSTWYTH
Next stop: Aberystwyth. Take the A487 to Fishguard through St Davids, not forgetting to stop for a delicious lunch at the Ffwrn restaurant just off the square in Fishguard.
There’s not a minute to lose if you want to arrive at your third hotel before sunset. A delightful drive through Cardigan and Aberaeron and the town that inspired hit Celtic-noir drama Y Gwyll/Hinterland awaits.
If you’re staying in Aberystwyth, staying on the seafront is simply a must, if only to appreciate the raggedness of the rocks and the famous wild waves from the comfort of your own hotel bedroom window. But on a quiet night, the sea of Cardigan Bay can seem more like a mill pond. There’s certainly no shortage of hotels in Aberystwyth, but Gwesty Cymru is located smack bang in the middle of the promenade, where it’s possible to sit out on a peaceful evening to eat and watch the world go by.
4/ PENHELIG HOTEL, ABERDYFI
The next destination isn’t too far away, and if you’re keen to make it on time, it’s best to forget the walk to Clarach for now. Hit the A487 again and continue to Machynlleth and head over the bridge towards Aberdyfi.
You’ll find the Penhelig hotel on the way in to Aberdyfi on the right. Even though you probably won’t be able to check-in during the morning, drop off your luggage and park your car in the car park opposite the hotel. Behind the Penhelig is Aberdyfi railway station where the 11.10 takes you to the north. Call Castell Deudraeth Hotel (01766 772400) to book lunch for two, and inform them when you’ll arrive at nearby Minffordd railway station (12.43) and someone from Portmeirion will pick you up and take you to the hotel.
For around £18 per head, you’ll get a two-course meal and free entry to Portmeirion, and when you’re ready to leave, they’ll take you back to Minffordd station (there’s a train at around 16.00 which arrives back at Aberdyfi at 17.45). A train ticket without discount costs just over £12 per head. On the way, you’ll also see some of the most wonderful scenery in Britain. If you still have room for more food, I can thoroughly recommend the Panylog.
You’ll be in need of some exercise after all that, and there’s nothing better than wandering along the gorgeous beaches between Aberdyfi and Tywyn in the breeze. Turn back through the golf course in the shade of the dunes on the way back to the town, but be alert, because if someone waves their arms at you then you’re probably in the wrong place and are about to get hit on the head by a golf ball. Onwards along the coast to Tywyn on the A493 and then towards Llanegryn and Llanfihangel y Pennant to see Castell y Bere, the last Welsh castle to fall to the Normans and what’s left of Mari Jones’ house, which isn’t that much bigger than her beloved Bible. Over the hill to Abergynolwyn and left towards Tal y Llyn and Dolgellau.
5/ THE CROSS FOXES, DOLGELLAU
The fifth stop on our journey is The Cross Foxes. For years, the place was shut and in a state of disrepair but is now a fine, sophisticated hotel which boasts an open bar, restaurant and is the perfect place to relax. All of the bedrooms are unique and decorated differently. Ask for a room in the attic – they’re more expensive but also more luxurious. The price includes breakfast, by the way, so you can take your time in the morning before moving on to the next location.
A brief reunion with our old friend, the A470, past Dolgellau and heading right towards Brithdir after a mile or two. Try and find a place to park immediately after crossing the bridge. There’s a gate right next to the bridge and a journey down through the trees either side of the river. There’s a decent path all the way down known as the ‘Torrent Walk’ but you’re essentially in the middle of the wild Welsh countryside – it really is a unique experience. Within the hour, you’ll be back on the road moving through Dolgellau, Ffestiniog and Blaenau and onwards to Llanrwst through one of Wales’ most spectacular valleys.
6/ FFIN Y PARC COUNTRY HOUSE AND GALLERY, NEAR LLANRWST
Before Llanrwst, be sure to stop at Ffin y Parc, an old mansion turned hotel and bustling art gallery. The hotel boasts four rooms and a separate cottage and I doubt you’ll find grander settings anywhere else in Wales. The buildings were restructured to make the most of the surroundings and the wonderful scenery and no expense has been spared.
The attention to detail is astonishing and makes your stay even more worthwhile, and I doubt you’ll want to leave, but leave you must as there’s one more hotel on our journey through Wales.
7/ MANORHAUS, RUTHIN
There are several ways to get to Ruthin, but the most adventurous way is through Llanrwst and following the A548 to Llangernyw before turning right towards Llansannan on the B5382 and onwards on the A543 through Bylchau, Denbigh through another of Wales’ finest valleys, the Vale of Clwyd. Take the A525 to the old town of Ruthin. Journey through the town centre to find the Castle Hotel (not Ruthin Castle, by the way). Continue down Well Street on the left side of the old court (an old black and white timber frame building) and within a hundred yards you’ll find the Manorhaus hotel, a Georgian granite building on the right.
Here is where our journey ends. It’s another hotel that insists on splurging its interior with fine art. The rooms differ in terms of size but also each one is a gallery in itself and named after the artist whose work is displayed within. You can book a personal sauna, order a film to watch with your friends in your own personal cinema in the basement, sit in the library or wonder at your room’s design. Try your best to get up though, as the hotel’s food is wonderful.
You won’t want to miss breakfast the following morning either, and what better way than to burn a few calories than to climb Moel Famau and stand in awe at the beauty of the view. After all of this, I can assure you that the political maelstrom of the last few weeks in the UK feels a million miles away.
Gwesty Parc y Stradey, Fridays. 8.25pm, S4C, English subtitles available. Available on-line on catchup at S4C.Cymru. It is a Tinopolis production for S4C.
Copyright Aled Samuel