Hotel Review: The Hafod

Hafod hotel

With the Jubilee weekend approaching, husband and I decided we would make use of the long weekend by getting out of the country. We left England for the first time since Covid restrictions were imposed, driving west into Wales. As hoped, the bunting was less prolific here.

We had booked ourselves into The Hafod Hotel at Devil’s Bridge (east of Aberystwyth) for three nights, on a dinner bed and breakfast basis. We were glad to have opted to be fed entirely here as there were few other options in the immediate area. The bar and restaurant proved popular with both residents and non-residents, something that at times affected service. The staff were unfailing friendly and welcoming but clearly working as hard as they could in challenging circumstances.

We had asked for a superior rather than basic room. What we got was newly refurbished accommodation. There wasn’t a great deal of space but it was fresh and clean. We appreciated the walk-in shower in the en-suite (there was no bath). The view of the valley was delightful.

The hotel is situated on a busy through road – although all roads in this area are narrow and twisty. It is popular with bikers, who parked their machines under our window. Across the road are tables that were well used by both residents and passers by. It all added to a convivial atmosphere. Overnight the traffic dropped and we were able to sleep well in the peace and quiet.

Within the hotel, food and drinks may be enjoyed in the restaurant or a large bar area. Between these is a lounge where we had our pre-dinner tipples. The hotel sources what it can locally and I enjoyed several gins from the Dyfi Distillery this can be visited in nearby Machynlleth.

From the lounge area a staircase rises to the guest accommodation. I was amused by a doorway that had been blocked with a smaller staircase it would be a challenge to climb.

The food on offer was oriented towards pub fare rather than fine dining. Portions were generous – rather more than I am used to eating. The menu was unchanged throughout our stay so I did repeat a few dishes.

While the halloumi fries were tasty, the delicious feta and melon starter suited me better.  My usual choice of fish arrived drenched in a sauce so I switched to the chicken burger thereafter. This contained a portion of whole chicken that I believe was deep fried – a preparation I usually avoid but managed to digest without issue. The cheese board proved excellent – local cheeses served with a good supply of biscuits and grapes. Husband enjoyed each of the puddings he ordered, trying a different one each evening.

Pleasant though our stay at the hotel was, the highlight for us was the location. From the hotel at Devil’s Bridge we walked both up and down the valley in which it sits. There were numerous waterfalls to marvel at as the various rivers converging in this area tumbled through steeply cut gorges. By climbing through woodland we gained a spectacular view of the surrounding area.

Paths could be challenging to navigate at times – seriously boggy in places riverside and worryingly narrow above ravines. It was worth persevering to appreciate the topography. We heard cuckoos and woodpeckers. We pondered the preponderance of the rhododendrons that grew in every location.

Man-made structures were also admired, including the eponymous bridges – three built, one on top of the other, the oldest dating back many centuries.

We travelled to Aberystwyth on the Saturday morning to take part in their Parkrun, getting back to the hotel just in time for breakfast – we had previously checked it would be served until 10.30am. Sadly, my poached eggs were barely cooked on this day. I wondered if the kitchen staff had been inconvenienced by our later arrival at the table.

We returned to Aberystwyth in the afternoon to explore the town and enjoy a coastal walk – this was time well spent.

On our final day, having checked out of the hotel, we enjoyed a lovely walk in the nearby Hafod Estate. The riverside paths here were well maintained and the surrounds picturesque. It was a fitting end to a most enjoyable short break.

Hafod room name

Hotel Review: Talland Bay Hotel, Cornwall

Talland Bay sign

At the end of last month husband and I travelled to Cornwall to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. We stayed for three nights at Talland Bay Hotel on a dinner, bed and breakfast basis. The hotel is situated above the titular bay and offers uninterrupted views of the nearby coastline. At the time of booking all sea view bedrooms were already taken so we were allocated one with a country view. This looked out over the carpark and access lane but was still lovely – spacious, clean, an interesting decor, and with pleasing extras such as a variety of loose leaf teas and freshly baked cookies that were replenished daily.

The hotel has recently been refurbished and we appreciated its many fresh and quirky features. It is proudly dog friendly and several guests had brought their canine friends. All were as well behaved as the ones we encountered in our bedroom and the various public areas.

One of the reasons we chose this hotel was for the food, which has won several prestigious accolades. We were not disappointed, dinner each evening proving a highlight of the day. It was also pleasing to find that, wherever possible, both food and drink are sourced locally.

Our short break was booked direct with the hotel and the package included some generous extras. On the first evening we enjoyed a complementary gin, distilled just down the road and using ingredients grown in the hotel gardens. We also ordered wine from a local vineyard. Both were so much enjoyed we had them again the following evening.

The hotel gardens look out over the bay and also contain many singular installations. The weather was not warm enough to sit outside but we spent a pleasant half hour seeking out just some of the entertaining artworks that created a curious and fun ambience. 

We noted the existence of beach huts in the grounds, and a shuttered kiosk. I suspect when warmer weather arrives these will also be brought into play. 

The bay itself is just a short walk down a steep lane. From here there is access to coastal paths that offer those willing to tackle many ascents and descents, as we were, scenic walks to Polperro (west) and Looe (east) – both of which are well worth exploring.

Within the hotel, residents, may look out for both amusing and tasteful details in what is a truly individual establishment.

As I mentioned above, we were celebrating our wedding anniversary so, on the actual day, wanted to toast the occasion with some fizz. Having enjoyed the locally produced wine we were happy to accept a recommendation from the sommelier and ordered the local vineyard’s version of champagne. As promised, it was lighter, fresher, and slipped down remarkably easily.

On our final day, having built up an appetite with a longer walk from the hotel – taking in lanes, woodland, river and coast – we sat down to the final item on our holiday package, an indulgent and delicious afternoon tea.

Service throughout our stay was both friendly and efficient. When we mentioned we would be unable to get to breakfast on our first morning – due to our participation in the Eden Project Parkrun and subsequent exploration of the place – a takeaway breakfast was offered that proved most welcome.

Our package included complementary tickets to the Lost Gardens of Heligan – well worth taking the time to visit. Touches such as these make a place more memorable, tempting a return visit. 

Access to the hotel is via a narrow and winding lane but there is ample parking in the grounds and the location is gloriously peaceful. All of this contributed to what was a delight filled few days of fine living with plenty of options for walking and sightseeing locally.

It is well known that Cornwall is a beautiful county to visit. For those planning to do so, I have no hesitation in recommending Talland Bay Hotel.

Hotel Review: Billesley Manor near Stratford

hotel sign

Earlier this month I enjoyed a few days away in Shakespeare country. Husband and I spent three nights at the Billesley Manor Hotel, situated a few miles west of Stratford-upon-Avon. A manor house has existed on this site since before the Norman Conquest. The current Elizabethan Grade 2 listed building has benefitted from a recent multi-million pound refurbishment, retaining character but adding contemporary touches.

hotel entrance

We stayed in one of several rooms located in converted stone barns, across a carpark from the hotel reception area. It was modern, clean, spacious and comfortable, although the soundproofing between rooms was such that I could hear neighbouring guests as they moved around, chatted and then later snored. Wi-Fi in the barn was notably glitchy compared to that available in the manor. If we return we may choose to stay in the main building.

Our room was serviced daily, including replenishment of the hospitality tray and bathroom products. A small teddy bear was provided that residents were invited to take home. Of course, we did.

hotel bedroom  billesley bear

The manor includes a library where Shakespeare is reputed to have written his play, As You Like It. The room is now a games lounge with books on the ceiling.

As You Like It Lounge  As You Like It desk

Adjacent to the hotel grounds is the preserved 11th Century church where the bard married Anne Hathaway (not the only church in the area to make this claim). We walked along local lanes into town to visit her cottage. It was closed for the winter but quieter and more atmospheric for this.

All Saints church

Located amidst rolling countryside and therefore with fewer dining options, we had booked in on a dinner, bed and breakfast basis. On the first evening we were treated to a complimentary cocktail. Dinner choices were delicious – well cooked and beautifully presented – although sadly these changed little over our three night stay. Without being told, staff picked up it was husband’s birthday and kindly provided an appropriately presented pudding.

welcome cocktail  happy birthday pudding

Breakfast included a cold buffet of juice, fruit, cereals and pastries. Tea or coffee were brought to our table and refilled on request. A tasty, full English breakfast was also available but no other hot options. We were pleased this meal was offered until 10.30am, enabling us to take part in the Stratford-upon-Avon Parkrun without having to rush.

The hotel grants guests inclusive use of its spa – a small gym, 12m indoor pool, sauna and steam room. Treatments are also available although we did not try any of these.

The grounds include two tennis courts and a topiary garden inspired by Alice in Wonderland. We enjoyed the short wander this offered. Had the weather been warmer we could have requested equipment for other outdoor games.

topiary garden  topiary garden 2

A short walk across fields from Billesley is the village of Wilmcote where Mary Arden, Shakespeare’s mother, was raised. Her family farm has been preserved for tourists but was closed for the winter.

The Stratford-upon-Avon Canal runs through Wilmcote and may be followed into town, passing a steep flight of locks, the final one of which links the canal to the River Avon.

Adjacent to the river are the various theatres in which the Royal Shakespeare Company performs. We considered booking tickets for a matinee but the production looked to be some sort of modern interpretation of Much Ado About Nothing that didn’t appeal. Instead, we explored the pretty town alongside many other tourists. Even in the off season, the place was busy.

stratford

Back at the hotel we enjoyed seeking out little touches that make a place more memorable. The dog statue, doggy treats and water bowls by the front door made clear such pets are welcome – a guest staying in an adjacent barn room had a snuffling companion who they walked in the grounds. The bar area, with its cosy open fires, was overlooked by a minstrel’s gallery. We appreciated the atmosphere created by the dark wood panelling, including several ‘hidden’ doors, but not so much the colourful ink splodges adorning more traditional portraits. The globes above the bar may or may not have been a hat-tip to the London theatre.

doggy statue  minstrel's gallery  globes

Staff throughout were welcoming and attentive making our stay relaxing and pleasant. We enjoyed our few days away – the walks, history and literary links that, although Shakespeare focused, included mentions of other luminaries. The rolling Warwickshire countryside reminded us of our home county, Wiltshire. I can think of no better accolade.

hotel garden

St Peter Port, Guernsey, staying at The Duke of Richmond Hotel

Last weekend my husband and I visited Guernsey. We flew the short hop from Bristol and arrived in glorious sunshine, sharing a taxi from the airport to our hotel with a friendly young local woman returning from a business trip. This theme of friendliness was a constant throughout our stay.

We spent three nights at Duke of Richmond Hotel in St Peter Port, an easy walk from the harbour, castle and several interesting museums. The superior king room granted us space and comfort, a worthwhile investment given the unfortunate weather that was to plague our short break.

   

 

On arrival we were eager to explore so, after checking in, walked down the hill into and then around the small harbour town. It is a pretty place, not too busy, and with plenty to reflect on and admire.

Although we planned on trying several local eateries, for ease we chose the Leopard Restaurant at our hotel on the first night. It was a good choice.

Having slept off our delicious meal in the large and comfortable bed we awoke to rain. This continued for the next two days of our stay.

We donned raincoats and visited the Guernsey Museum at Candie, just a few hundred yards from our hotel. It is set in beautiful flower gardens and offers a key to enable visitors to climb the nearby Victoria Tower. Naturally we availed ourselves of this and took in the somewhat murky views from a wind blown summit.

The small museum includes a series of art galleries and I particularly enjoyed the work of Peter Le Vasseur. I was disappointed to discover that the neighbouring Priaulx Library remained closed while we were there.

  

A break in the clouds encouraged us to walk back into town and around the harbour to visit La Valette Underground Military Museum which contains many artifacts from the Second World War German occupation.

Returning through town, trying to decide where to eat that evening, we were caught in a torrential downpour so retreated back to the comfort of our hotel. After a warming bath I was grateful for the complimentary fluffy bathrobe and slippers, snuggling into a chair in our room for a couple of hours with my books.

Unwilling to risk further inclement weather we opted for another dinner in the Leopard restaurant. It was delicious.

The next day saw a repeat of the weather. We toured Castle Cornet, enjoying the spectacle of the firing of the midday cannon, but were once again soaked through by the rain. The afternoon was spent reading back at the hotel.

   

Due to the weather we were unable to use the swimming pool, or enjoy the extensive terraces, but we did enjoy the eclectic decor and comfort of The Duke of Richmond.

   

    

As is so often the way with these things, on the morning of our departure the sun returned. We enjoyed a final tasty breakfast and flew home over the small island, now glittering in the rays we had hoped to bask in ourselves.

We last visited Guernsey for our honeymoon and returned last weekend for our Silver Wedding Anniversary. Having informed the hotel of this before we arrived I had expected some mention of our celebration. None was made, and I offered no reminder. What this does show is that every guest receives the genuine warmth and welcome shown to us by each member of staff we encountered. The weather may have dampened our enjoyment of Guernsey, but the hotel was, throughout, a comforting pleasure.

Review of The Haven Hotel, Sandbanks

My husband and I discovered the The Haven Hotel at Sandbanks when he was working for a prolonged period of time in nearby Poole and it was suggested that this would be a convenient place for him to stay. The recommendation proved fortuitous at the time, the location being a short drive or cycle ride from the centre of the town where his temporary office was situated. It has since offered us a tranquil and luxurious setting for several short breaks as a couple, as well as when accompanied by our teenage sons.

Last week we enjoyed a two night stay in a Harbour View room, with dinner in the La Roche Restaurant on the first evening. Our two sons had a basic room on the floor below, which suited their needs well. This was our fourth visit to the hotel in just over two years, from which you may rightly deduce that we enjoy the time we spend here.

We arrived early afternoon and, after an efficient and friendly check-in, were told that our room would be available in a quarter of an hour. We opted to wait in one of several, comfortable lounges overlooking the sea. The sun was out and, after the busy drive down, it was good to be able to unwind.

1618543_3993089361699_456119364_n

Our room was as cleanly presented and well equipped as ever. Little touches such as padded as well as wooden coat-hangers in the wardrobe; a small box containing a nail file, cotton buds and cotton balls amongst the supplied toiletries; bottles of water as well as the generously stocked hospitality tray, pleased me

I was less pleased to find a set of scales in the spacious bathroom. Of course I could and did choose not to use them, but they reminded me that I should not be indulging in the delicious food on offer with quite my usual abandon.

The Harbour View rooms overlook the Sandbanks Chain Ferry and offer impressive views of the coastline as it enters Poole Harbour. On previous visits we have enjoyed watching the many boats as they sail in and out. On this occasion the water was perhaps a little choppy and sea traffic was minimal.

On one previous visit we upgraded to a Sea View room which offers, as the name suggests, a more encompassing  view of the English Channel. As a writer I value the chance to bathe in visual stimulation and would therefore recommend this upgrade in warmer weather. Last week it was rather too cold to spend long on our balcony and the Harbour View room sufficed.

The boys’ basic room lacked a balcony and looked out over the car park. It was, however, clean, bright and spacious with a well equipped bathroom, the same hospitality tray and a small fridge. Their television did not appear to be working when we arrived, but this was quickly sorted by a member of staff as soon as we reported it to reception. All of the staff that we encountered during our visit were unfailingly polite, friendly and helpful. My boys particularly appreciated the free WiFi that is available in all rooms.

Having settled in and enjoyed the provided refreshments (my younger son particularly appreciated the hot chocolate and selection of delicious biscuits) we ventured out to explore the surrounding area. The location of the hotel is a definite draw. It has direct access to a sandy beach, which can be followed all the way to Bournemouth and beyond. For those willing to get in the car it is a short drive to many places of interest, such as Corfe Castle which we have visited in the past. On this occasion we preferred to explore on foot.

On the first evening of our stay my husband and elder son made use of the well equipped hotel gym while I accompanied my younger son to the swimming pool. Despite the incoming rain he enjoyed a good number of lengths of the outdoor pool before retreating to warm up inside. These facilities are all part of the Harmony Spa that hotel guests may use.

1932281_3993089281697_553875685_n   1780766_3993089321698_270312668_n

Having worked up an appetite we tidied ourselves before making our way down to the restaurant for dinner. The quality of the food is another aspect of The Haven that tempts us to return time and again.

My husband and elder son started their meal with mussels, a rare treat as I have an intolerance for shellfish so do not offer such delicacies at home. They declared them delicious, perfectly prepared. My younger son started with a tasty soup and I with the pate. I found my choice rather bland but acceptable.

For main course my husband and elder son chose the sea bass, my younger son had duck and I ordered the beef. Although the others were effusive in their praise of the various dishes offered (there was much sharing and tasting going on) I did not fare so well. Portions of the beef were served rare which I cannot stomach. My family polished off my meal for me and scoffed at my inability to appreciate such a perfectly presented treat.

For dessert my husband and elder son had a sticky date pudding which they both enjoyed. My younger son ordered cheese, which he shared, and I chose the chocolate torte. Had I read the description more carefully I would have realised that this was a creamy concoction, not what I had in mind. I gave it to my boys and it was appreciated as intended.

Most dishes on offer are freshly prepared and menus change regularly. I cannot fault the quality of the food, the service or the ambiance of the restaurant. My family enjoyed their meal and it is nobody’s fault but my own that I had made too many poor choices given my personal preferences. I did not raise any issues with the staff at the time and would continue to recommend La Roche even if I did not enjoy my eating experience on this occasion as much as on previous visits.

After a good night’s sleep in the spacious and comfortable bed I awoke ready for my breakfast. This is mainly self service from a wide selection of fruit, cereal, yoghurt, cheese, sliced meat, fish and pastries, along with the usual variety of hot offerings. Staff will also take orders for freshly prepared kippers, smoked haddock and poached eggs. We all found plenty to suit our individual preferences and left replete.

1970419_3996762293520_1454556608_n

After a day spent hiking along the coast we ate at a local restaurant on the harbour before returning to the hotel for our second and final night. Although the hotel was busy there was little noise apparent when in the rooms.

We had until 11am the next day to pack up, and could have continued to use the hotel facilities had we wished. However, the sun was shining so we opted to enjoy another local walk before bidding a reluctant farewell.

I hope that we will have the opportunity to return again soon. My younger son is determined that we should go back in the summer, that he may walk from his room to swim in the sea.

1606870_3999838090413_1215587465_n