Country Inns of Wales
Published: April 2009
By Alison Tyler
Looking for the quintessential country escape?Four welcoming inns set in the Welsh foothills offer the perfect combination of creative regional restaurants and charming Celtic interiors.
Griffin Brecon, Powys
The Inn Set in the shadow of the Black Mountains, this unassuming country house is the inn that put Wales on the gourmet map. When Felin Fach Griffin opened, in 2000, it upended the nation's reputation for unimaginative cuisine, drawing in-the-know foodies from their usual perambulations in the Cotswolds and Dorset to the Welsh hills. Downstairs, the cozy inn is filled with slouching leather sofas and roaring log fires. Upstairs, the seven rooms mix the exotic with the familiar. The four-poster beds come from Rajasthan and Morocco, but the woolen blankets and the chunky wooden furniture are 100 percent Welsh.
The Food Rising-star chef Ricardo Van Ede's revolutionary formula: polished yet unfussy pub food that uses the best local ingredients—Welsh rib eye, Portland crab, Caerphilly cheese. But he gives even classic dishes playful twists: his wood pigeon is paired with eggplant caviar and a velvety walnut foam. Our favorite meal, though, is breakfast, when guests can toast their own wedges of bread on the Aga oven and eat them dripping with Welsh butter and homemade jams. 44-187/462-0111; www.eatdrinksleep.ltd.uk; doubles from $190, including breakfast; dinner for two $125.
The Bell at Skenfrith
The Inn This 17th-century riverside inn, which faces the ruins of Skenfrith Castle, was restored in 2001 by owners Janet and William Hutchings, but it retains a welcoming, lived-in feel. Overstuffed sofas, inviting wing chairs, and buttercup-yellow walls add warmth to the cool flagstone floors of the sitting room. The eight guest rooms have all the trappings of a proper Welsh country home (down duvets, homemade shortbread at turndown), with luxurious additions, such as toiletries from Devon-based Cath Collins and knockout river views.
The Food The emphasis throughout is on regional produce: nearby Bower farm provides Gloucester Old Spot pork, while duck and game are courtesy of Hutchings, a skilled marksman. Chef David Hill (also a local) puts a contemporary twist on classic Welsh dishes, but his desserts remain suitably traditional, from a berry crumble to oozing cheeses served with grapes and fig chutney. 44-160/075-0235; www.skenfrith.co.uk; doubles from $205, including breakfast; dinner for two $140.
The Drawing Room
Builth Wells, Powys
The Inn Chefs Melanie and Colin Dawson have been raking in the awards for their five-table dining room in the historic market town of Builth Wells. The Drawing Room was named Welsh Restaurant of the Year for 2006-07 by both the AA restaurant guide and the Good Hotel Guide—the British culinary equivalent of taking home both a Golden Globe and an Oscar. The intimate, three-room inn (which dates from 1725) draws well-heeled Londoners for its decidedly romantic feel, with antique pine furniture, a Victorian-era fireplace, and a perfectly tended garden.
The Food The Dawsons' Cardigan Bay Crab salad with prawns, avocado, caviar, and mustard mayonnaise is a favorite at dinner, and the duck eggs with wild mushrooms are the top breakfast pick. As with the other inns, all the ingredients are locally sourced—except for the beurre français, which the Dawsons adopted only after much deliberation. 44-198/255-2493; www.the-drawing-room.co.uk; doubles from $412, including breakfast and dinner.
The Inn After years of living in London, young Welsh couple Ed and Louise Sykes returned to the sleepy coastal town of Newport to transform this Georgian house into a shabby-chic restaurant and inn with six rooms. In the welcoming lounge, contemporary art mingles with books and antiques, while guest rooms are done up in an urbane, neutral palette, with chunky reclaimed-wood headboards and slate bathroom floors. Those in the main house, though smaller, are filled with Victorian details and period furnishings.
The Food Chef Davide Daltoe's concise seasonal dishes—Preseli lamb cutlets in a subtle and delicate rosemary jus, a flavorful spiced pumpkin soup—are a triumph of substance over style, proving that with such marvelous raw ingredients little else is needed. 44-123/982-0008; www.llysmeddyg.com; doubles from $180, including breakfast; dinner for two $100.
Best Time to Visit
The most pleasant weather—and the best regional produce—are found from May to September.
The area is best explored by car. Trains run several times daily from London's Paddington Station to Cardiff (two hours) and Swansea (three hours), where rental cars are available.
Burn off the extra calories by taking advantage of the spectacular walking trails in Wales's national parks. Two of our favorites: the rugged Pembrokeshire Coast National Park (www.pcnpa.org.uk) and Brecon Beacons National Park (www.breconbeacons.org), where you'll find trails that wrap through the mist-clad Black Mountains.