One of Wales's loveliest small towns has one of its loveliest small hotels – and they even have an option for you to stay within the grounds of Abergavenny Castle, as Toby Keel found out.
Ringed by mountains, bless with a picturesque river, fine gardens and a fascinating market, Abergavenny enjoys a glowing reputation these days. Earlier this year it was even named one of the best 10 places to live in Wales by the Sunday Times – quite the accolade when you consider the charms of places such as St David’s, Tenby and the Gower Peninsula.
It is also developing a name for itself as a great foodie destination, with the annual food festival each September a real highlight on the local calendar, while the Walnut Tree Inn a few minutes outside the town is one of just seven Michelin-starred restaurants in Wales.
The Walnut Inn’s owner’s have another place you need to know about, however: the Angel Hotel, a delightful place to stay in the very heart of the town centre. And like the restaurant the hotel is going from strength to strength, so much so that the AA named it the best hotel in Wales in their 2016/17 awards.
The hotel itself – arranged around a central courtyard – has rooms 34 rooms spread out over three floors. Most of the rooms are recently refurbished (sensibly, the Angel is re-doing them little by little, rather than causing months of intensive chaos), with tasteful, relaxing decor and a lovely feeling of spotlessness.
Accommodation doesn’t end there, though: the hotel has also expanded into three nearby houses, offering a completely different feel.
One of them in particular is absolutely splendid. They’ve bought (and beautifully-refurbished) the Victorian gatehouse of Abergavenny Castle itself, tuning it into Castle Cottage, a two-storey house with kitchen, two sitting rooms, a courtyard garden and views of the castle simply couldn’t be bettered.
We absolutely loved it: it felt like an ideal mix of a lovely self-catering place with the stress-free ease of a hotel stay. And speaking of easing the stress, they’ll even lend you a car should you arrive by train: the hotel has a little electric vehicle called a ‘Twizy’ which guests can use during their stay.
Food and drink
Dinner in the plushly-furnished Oak Room restaurant kicked off in fine fashion with amuse-bouche that won’t be easily forgotten: a divine mouthful of crab wrapped in a delicate pastry and topped with caviar that gave a fabulous mix of flavour. So heartfelt was one of the little cries of joy from our table that the waiting staff even brought some more over.
Other highlights included pork belly with tiger prawns, while the chocolate fudge delice – made with banana and peanut butter – was ludicrously sinful.
More informal dinner surroundings are available in the Foxhunter bar – full of comfy leather sofas and so on – while if you decide to head to the aforementioned Walnut Tree Inn for dinner, incidentally, make sure you let the hotel know: they offer a free taxi there and back for hotel guests eating in the sister restaurant, so you can take full advantage of the wine list.
Finally, if you’re at all in the mood for afternoon tea, go for it: the Angel’s is famous for miles around and regularly gets mentioned in ‘best afternoon tea in Britain’ round-ups.
What to do
For walking, cycling and climbing, Abergavenny is a perfect base on the edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park, which has a mass of things to do – as this article shows. But you can enjoy a beautiful walk without recreating one of those infamous SAS training weekends for which the park is famous. Three lofty peaks surround, the town, all of which – including the dramatic Sugar Loaf – can be reached on foot. If you want to do all of them in a day, it’s easily done in the Angel’s ‘Twizy’ electric car.
Abergavenny’s medieval castle is unmissable, a hopelessly evocative collection of ruins dating back to Norman times, while at the centre is a well-preserved tower that houses the town’s cleverly curated museum.
The latter includes everything from Roman remains to a brilliant recreation of a 1940s shop, full of interesting-looking packets and tins.
The town’s Linda Vista gardens are also well worth a visit if the weather is good. At the other end of the aesthetic spectrum – and no worse for it – is the Big Pit National Coal museum, where you can experience a miners’ life.
Abergavenny has plenty of interesting little shops and cafes, including a cavernous Italian-Welsh deli – but the highlight is the covered market. It’s a mixture of chic, rough and ready – a fascinating place to delve for an hour two.
There are different themes on different days; flea market day was particularly fascinating, as we found everything from extravagant hats to 1950s Hornby railway sets.
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