Photograph by von Essen Hotels
The most authentic and unique hotels in Wales, chosen by National Geographic Traveler editors for the 2011 Stay List
Bodysgallen Hall & Spa, Llandudno, Co. Conwy
National Trust maintains historic decorum in 17th-century manor house two miles from Llandudno's seaside promenade. Building's core is 13th-century soldier's lookout tower. (Ask staff for access.) Reading niches in two oak-paneled drawing rooms, spa in converted farmhouse. Lily ponds, parterre garden, 16 stone cottages occupying 220 woodland acres. Stone mullioned windows, stained-glass panels define main hall bedrooms. Best ones? Those facing floodlit Conwy Castle. 31 rooms, $265.
Fairyhill, Reynoldston, Swansea
Ivy-clad Georgian mansion amid rolling hills and moors of unspoiled Gower peninsula. Sculptures from Welsh artists highlight wooded grounds. Designer lighting, Egyptian linens, unelaborate furnishings. Local flavors dominate in dining room: eggs from much-loved ducks, cockles from Penclawdd, Welsh black beef. (Chef even cooks with marsh grass.) Load up on spicy apple or tomato chutney in gift shop for picnicking among the primroses and sea holly at nearby Oxwich sand dunes. 8 rooms, from $281.
The Grove, Molleston, Pembrokeshire
Respectful rehab of derelict centuries-old steading (small farm) near volcanic headlands of Pembrokeshire coast. Georgian house, coach house, medieval longhouse, even the pigsty are now swaddled in modern comfort: silk wallpapers, international objets d'art, rolltop baths with rain forest showers. Log fires warm lounge and oak-paneled dining room. Walk on path to trendy cafés of Narbeth. Go mountain biking, surfing, or "coasteering" (wet suit, helmet required) at a protected coastal reserve. 16 rooms, from $145.
Holm House, Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan
Roaring '20s are alive and well at this 1926 seaside mansion. Champagne and cognac in speakeasy-style fireside bar; jazz-age silks and flocked wallpaper in restaurant; decadent rooms with freestanding brass tubs, fur throws, embracing sea views. Indulge with tropical fruit and flower organic facial in spa. Nearby Victorian pier with 1920s pavilion sustains the illusion. Timeless reality check: a bracing hike along 14-mile Glamorgan Heritage Coast trail. 12 rooms, $249.
The Imperial Hotel, Llandudno, Co. Conwy
Your palace on the promenade. Intricately elegant decor glorifies public areas of this 1865 Victorian. More contemporary rooms offer great views of Llandudno Bay. Ozone-treated indoor pool. Organic wines and free-range meat in restaurant; bar on ground floor opens to veranda. Climb the Great Orme headland for bracing views, or ride the cable-hauled tramway (last of its kind in Britain) to the top. 98 rooms, from $203, incl. breakfast.
Llansantffraed Court Country House Hotel, Llanvihangel Gobion, Monmouthshire
It's a perennial feast at this William and Mary-style redbrick country house on 20 parkland acres. Homey rooms (some with four-posters), dining room with summer terrace. Launch point for exploring Wye Valley, Brecon Beacons National Park. Owner (he kickstarted Abergavenny Food Festival) sources 85 percent of menu within 25 miles. Hotel's commitment to community extends to guests. (Arrive by helicopter, and you'll be asked to donate to children's charity.) 21 rooms, from $241.
Pen-Y-Gwryd Hotel, Nantgwynant, Gwynedd
Expect the unexpected at this slate-roof mountaineering hangout in heart of Snowdonia National Park. (A gong summons you to breakfast and dinner.) Only five rooms with en-suite baths; forget about TV or Internet. Here it's climbing or hiking by day, drinking and singing by night, in an artifact-filled shrine to Sir Edmund Hillary. (This was his training base for 1953 Everest expedition.) Look for famous signatures on ceiling (Anthony Hopkins, Bertrand Russell, among others). 16 rooms, from $40, incl. breakfast.
Plas Dinas Country House, Caernarfon, Gwynedd
Unassuming exterior belies regal character of this 18th-century residence nestled in Mt. Snowdon's foothills. (Princess Margaret lived here in the 1960s.) Traditionally steadfast rooms: four-poster beds, Queen Anne furnishings, clawfoot tubs. Distinctive Welsh dining amid gilt-framed family portraits. In hotel's Masterpiece Theatre-like setting, you may solve a murder staged by local acting troupe. Day trip to Caernarfon (under three miles away), a seaside castle modeled on walls of Constantinople. 10 rooms, from $143, incl. breakfast.
Tyddyn Llan Restaurant With Rooms, Llandrillo, Denbighshire
A foodie mecca at edge of Snowdonia National Park. Owner-chef almost never leaves kitchen, creating inventive Welsh cuisine from locally reared or caught ingredients. (Try laverbread, made of seaweed from Llyn Peninsula beaches.) Creaky staircase to cwtchy ("cozy" in Welsh) rooms: brass beds, antiques, flat-screen TVs. Garden with fish pond, beckoning view of Berwyn Mountains. 13 rooms, from $334, incl. breakfast and dinner.
Ynyshir Hall, Eglwysfach, Machynlleth, Powys
Soul-nourishing solitude on Dyfi estuary next to 192,247-acre bird reserve—Wales's only UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Appropriately Victorian—Queen Victoria actually owned the place—its rooms reflect artists they're named after, like blue-Delft-tiled Vermeer (Richard Gere's favorite). Stargaze with experts, add to your bird list; join chef in foraging for mushrooms, wood sorrel, marsh samphire. Come Wednesday, browse traditional Welsh street market in nearby Machynlleth. 9 rooms, from $403.
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