11:30 EST, 30 August 2013
11:30 EST, 30 August 2013
Rain is falling, but the gardens at Llangoed Hall await invitingly. It’s 6.30pm and people are gathering for pre-dinner drinks in the drawing room. After walking round the building past the 17th-century side door that leads into the Billiard Room, I cross the terrace, take a sharp left and see two chefs in their whites picking raspberries.
Wye it’s a beauty: Llangoed Hall overlooks the pretty Wye Valley
And not junior chefs sent out without umbrellas to test their keenness, but the head honcho, Nick Brodie, and his sous chef, Josh Roberts. I’m impressed. ‘What would you recommend tonight?’ I ask. ‘The Welsh fillet should be good,’ says Nick. ‘And the haddock,’ adds Josh. Both are right. But, then, by the time we sit down for dinner we’re already besotted by this hotel, which once belonged to Sir Bernard Ashley, husband of Laura Ashley.
Following his death in 2009, it was bought by the now bankrupt Von Essen chain, but is currently owned by a Midlands businessman. Not only does it include Sir Bernard’s superb art collection, but almost all the furniture belonged at one time to the brilliant and fiery businessman (ripping telephones from their sockets and throwing them out the window was one of his specialities) who co-founded Laura Ashley with his wife in 1953. Good taste presides everywhere. And the cheerful staff, like the food, are local.
Stylish design: Rooms at Llangoed Hall marry comfort and elegance
Our room, reached via a proper rickety staircase and wide, light corridors, is on the top floor, where there’s a framed apron – the first garment Laura Ashley ever made – hanging in the passage. No duvets or spongy pillows here. It’s all crisp linen sheets, silk-edged blankets and feathers galore. There are three windows and a huge bathroom (stocked with Penhaligon’s products), a floral sofa and armchair. It makes a Downton bedroom look dowdy.
And the chefs pick their own raspberries…guests can expect a gourmet dining experience
Before dinner we wander around the ground floor and spot a note from Prince Charles saying how pleased he is that the Jacobean house – restored by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, who created the Italianate village Portmeirion – has been saved. Another letter is from Sir John Major thanking the hotel for his stay while attending the nearby Hay Literary Festival.
A young man is playing the piano as we sit with gin and tonics and devour wonderfully imaginative canapes, with views across to the Black Mountains, the sun setting over the Wye Valley. In the panelled dining room we sense that everyone is thinking the same thing: this is mighty special and something of a secret. Not for long. I suspect that Nick Brodie will soon be awarded a Michelin star but, having seen him picking raspberries in the rain, I don’t think it will go to his head. There are plans to build a spa, complete with pool. Prices might rise. For the moment, Llangoed Hall is the real deal.
Llangoed Hall Llyswen, Brecon, Powys LD3 0YP
01874 754525 www.llangoedhall.co.uk
Double rooms from £150 BB