If it’s your ambition to enjoy an Edwardian country-house party, you should go to stay at Llangoed Hall Hotel, eight miles from Hay-on-Wye. Actutally, the real date of the building, architect Clough Williams-Ellis’ first major work, runs from 1913 to 1925, a few years after the death of that merry monarch, but the confidence, the grandeur, the luxury and the service of Edwardian country-house life are all here. Only the guests, in jeans and jumpers (although a strict jacket dress code remains for dinner) let the side down. The house, with a surviving 17th-century wing, was derelict when Sir Bernard Ashley (husband of the late Laura) discovered it in 1987. He took it on as a major project and it opened as a hotel in 1990.
The deliberate country-house atmosphere is further emphasised by the lack of any reception desk or concierge, and evening drinks are served, not from a bar, but by yourself from a huge selection (dozens of whiskies) on a large antique table in the statuesque drawing room. On the walls, as everywhere else in the 23-bedroom house, are wonderful paintings mostly from the first half of the 20th century, all collected by Sir Bernard. In my corner of the drawing room, there is a Harold Gilman oil of a young officer and a Henry Lamb portrait. There is a whole room of Whistler prints, a Cadell landscape and fine full-length dashing portraits of society ladies. Whew.
The blue dining room has lots of portrait sketches of the period and succulent still lifes of fish and vegetables highly suitable as i chose a delicious starter of asparagus, poached egg and hollandaise sauce followed by Dover sole with beurre blanc, peas and new potatoes. Most ingredients are local (honey is from nearby Llyswen village), fish is from Cardiff and the house wine is from the vineyard of a friend of Sir Bernard’s in Provence. My sumptuous bedroom is up in the roof, and from its many mullioned windows, I could gaze at sheep in the bright green fields with mist wreathing the Black Mountains beyond. Swallows and house martins nest in the eaves, and the 10 acres of gardens and park, leading down to the Wye in the valley below, are lush with lawns, pillars and outbuildings.
These last, in the same local stone and designed by Williams-Ellis, currently hold Sir Bernard’s fabric company, Elanbach. Its reworked, recoloured chintzes, toiles and Indian prints are all over the hotel, which has an ongoing programme of redecorating, together with numerous antiques, from early Welsh oak to Regency rosewood. There’s an Elanbach shop for guests on site (another is in Paris), although this and the company is likely to move to a larger site soon. A final word, don’t bring your own reading; the house is full of books, and, if they fail, there are more than 30 secondhand book- shops down the road in Hay. 01874 754525; www.llangoedhall.com
RAIL/ROAD LINKS: Nearest station is Abergavenny (30 mins’ drive); trains London to Newport (1hr 50 mins) for connecting trains, or trains London to Cardiff (2hrs). Road, 4hrs from London
ACTIVITIES: Clay-pigeon shooting; fishing via hotel. Five golf courses, canoes on the Wye; gliding, paragliding, riding, walking in the Elan Valley and Brecon Beacons
HISTORIC SITES: This is castle country: 15th-century moated Raglan Castle, near Abergavenny (www.castlewales.com/raglan) and Norman Chepstow Castle. National Trust properties include Croft Castle, near Leominster, the Croft family home since Domes-day; and medieval Powis Castle, Powys (www.nationaltrust.org.uk). Cadw sites include Tretower Castle, Norman ruins with medieval house; Bronllys; Grosmont; Skenfrith; White Castles and Tintern Abbey (www.cadw.wales.gov.uk)
SHOPPING: Hay-on-Wye (eight miles), world book centre. Here-ford (29 miles) market town and cathedral city. Black Mountain smokery, Crickhowell; Llanfaes Dairy Icecream, Llanfaes; Penpont Organic, Penpont Estate, Brecon; Beacons Farm Shop, Bwlch, Brecon
MARKETS: Markets: Abergavenny; Brecon; Hay-on-Wye; and Llan-deilo. Farmer’s markets: Abergavenny and Brecon. Antique markets: Abergavenny and Brecon
RESTAURANTS: Walnut Tree Inn, Llanddewi Skirrid, Abergavenny, now with Shaun Hill (01873 852797; www.thewalnuttreeinn.com). Felin Fach Griffin, near Brecon (01874 620111; www.eatdrinksleep.ltd.uk)