“Enthralling views, and an island of traditional calm outside Llandudno”
Review by Fiona Duncan, published 11th January 2009.
In a world that seems, especially on the morning that I wake here and switch on the bedside radio, to be in an economic freefall born of greed and short-sightedness, I find myself unwilling to do anything other than celebrate a place like Bodysgallen Hall. That's not to say it's perfect, but its endeavour has been honest and sensible, one that's respectful of the past, but not living in it; dignified, gently paced, an island of calm, it seems to me, in a rough and dangerous sea.
It's the first of three important houses that were restored and opened in the 1980s as Historic House Hotels (the others being Middlethorpe Hall in York and Hartwell House in Buckinghamshire) and it is very much my favourite, with special features such as its remarkable garden and central tower. The medieval core of a fine 16th-century mansion, the tower was built as a lookout for Conwy Castle. The higher you climb, the older its spiralling staircase becomes: Victorian at the bottom, 13th-century at the top.
The encircling view is enthralling. As you turn, first Conwy Castle, then Snowdonia, then the sea and Anglesey, then Great Orme, catching the golden light, and lastly Llandudno, with the promise of its marvellous 19th-century promenade, come into view.
And as if that's not enough, there are Bodysgallen's grounds, including terraces overlooking Conwy and its estuary, walled rose garden, cascade and rare 17th-century parterre. Surrounding cottages have become bedrooms and suites, and there's a stone-built spa and leisure centre (pool, sauna, gym, free to guests) as well as a new casual restaurant to contrast with the formal one. All I survey, I think, atop the tower, is mine for the day.
If it were mine for longer, I may be tempted to get in some loud music and throw a party, or at any rate to shake things up. Maybe it's the hotel's injunctions that set the tone for a low-key, if not downright doddery spell in the lacklustre dining room. Is it really necessary to spell out a dress code ("T-shirts, trainers, tracksuits and shorts are NOT acceptable")? Appropriate dress for this place, I think sullenly, as low conversations punctuate the silence and the waitresses stand to attention, would be something involving a crinoline.
But I'm being harsh. Bodysgallen preserves the past, but it doesn't ignore the present (a fine modern menu from chef Gareth Jones; flat-screen televisions; luxurious Anne Sémonin treatments in the spa) and if it's a surprise to come up against the flowery Sanderson wallpaper that I chose for my first home 30 years ago, it isn't a disaster. The bedrooms here are pretty, old-fashioned (flouncy dressing tables, coronets above the beds, pleated lampshades, brass wall lights) and warm. The two fine, oak-panelled sitting rooms, the library and the bar are cosy and traditional. The staff are endearing and more than kind. The hotel feels – today at least – a welcome antidote to the outside world which it manages to keep, if not at bay, then at least at a respectable distance.
Bodysgallen Hall, Llandudno (01492 584466; www.bodysgallen.com) Doubles from £165, including breakfast. One specially adapted room for guests with disabilities.
The Hotel Guru verdict
Though they lack the best views, the cheaper rooms are more than acceptable
Correct, endearing and kind
Very traditional; lovely house and gardens; too many dos and don'ts
|Food and drink|
More imaginative than you'd expect; smallish portions; lighter dishes in bistro
|Value for money|
Situation, gardens and spa add value