Review by Fiona Duncan, published 17th August 2011.
I don’t often get the chance to use the hotels I write about in the way they are principally intended: for the pleasure, if you’ll forgive the rhyme, of leisure.
Here at Gliffaes, I have a rare treat: two full days without agenda. Andrew and Fergus are fishing on the Usk below and I am reading, walking, relaxing in the sunshine. And as I unwind, I ask myself: “What, for me, is the greatest reward a hotel can offer? What is its point?” And the answer: peace.
I defy you to find a more peaceful hotel than this, and I don’t just mean the surroundings. To be sure, sitting on the wide stone terrace with nothing but the sound of birdsong and the rushing river certainly helps, but for a sense of peace to really take hold – the sort that says “I must return” – the hotel itself has to be genuine, unpretentious, honest, satisfying for its guests and loved by its owners.
Gliffaes is one such place. It isn’t, technically, perfect, but to me its imperfections don’t matter: they are like wrinkles on a well-lived face.
You could remark that some of the clientele are staid, and the decoration is in places a little tired (not, though, the lovely bold Lewis & Wood fabrics and wallpapers in the reception rooms). You could bemoan the inexperienced nature of the junior staff, and their poor English, coming as they do from a dozen different countries, (including Nepal in the case of chambermaids from the nearby Gurkha camp), though you should instead bemoan the fact that the British regard the lower rungs of the hospitality industry as beneath their dignity, whereas foreigners don’t. You couldn’t find fault with much else. Well, I can’t.
Gliffaes stands above the River Usk, in the shadow of the Black Mountains. Crowned by two quirky campaniles, it was built in the 1880s in Italianate style, surely the result of the first owner’s extensive Grand Tour travels. It has lovely grounds that once employed 14 gardeners and, for fishermen, five salmon and trout beats along the river. For the past 60 years it has been in the same family, and now Susie and James Souter run it with dedication, while Susie’s parents live in the lodge by the gates and are still involved.
There are 23 bedrooms, four of which have superlative views over the river and the sky-high hill that rises steeply beyond it (talk about vertical gardening: on that hill, with its patchwork of woods and cultivated fields, vertical farming is practised).
Bedrooms are traditional, with pretty country house fabrics and somewhat dated, but serviceable, bathrooms. They feel right for the house. For those saving money, the smallest doubles are cute and, at £104, good value considering the hotel’s many attributes.
Which, you will find, apart from its terrace, grounds and river, copious afternoon teas and James’s knockout martinis, include very satisfying food. In a packed dining room, all our dishes hit the spot, and were particularly appreciated by my two patient, hungry and (for now, at least) very peaceful fishermen.
- Near Crickhowell (01874 730371; www.gliffaes.com). Doubles from £104 per night, including breakfast. One adapted room for guests with disabilities
WHERE TO EAT
The Bear Hotel (01873 810408) or No 18 Brasserie and Coffee Shop in Crickhowell (01873 810337), with a wander around the old-fashioned town (where you can go down to the river as well), with its rare family-run shops such as Nicholls, for clothing, housewares and gifts, and the wonderful Webbs, which sells everything for the house and garden at amazing prices.
Also good is the cosy Nantyffin Cider Mill Inn, just a mile from Gliffaes(01873 810775; www.cidermill.co.uk). Farther afield, but not too far, you’ll find excellent food at the Felin Fach Griffin Inn (01874 620111;www.eatdrinksleep.ltd.uk).
WHAT TO DO
Gliffaes has charming strolls around the grounds and along the river, with proper walking all around. Avoid the busy Brecon Beacons and head for the Black Mountains, rounder, gentler and less crowded. The hotel can provide routes; in autumn the owners lead walks.
Don’t miss Tretower Court (pictured above), a castle with a medieval garden. Children will love Llangorse Activity Centre (0333 600 2020;www.activityuk.com), with indoor and outdoor activities. Or stay at Gliffaes and borrow the hotel’s tandem; or use the river for trout and salmon fishing (five beats, permits £26 a day, with ghillie on request).