ANNIE CONSTANTINOU visits Bodysgallen Hall and discovers 17th century splendour, fine dining and a luxurious spa
Sweeping through the stone pillars of Bodysgallen Hall, I would not have been surprised to see a Dutch master at his easel capturing the pastoral scene of 220 acres of perfect parkland, dotted with grazing sheep, beautiful trees, and perhaps a courting couple taking an afternoon stroll.
As the drive gained height, majestic Bodysgallen Hall came into view, occupying an elevated position making the most of spectacular views across the gardens and beyond to Conwy Castle and the brooding mountains of Snowdonia. This setting and the splendour of the Hall’s 17th century architecture made us feel we had arrived somewhere truly special.
Bodysgallen Hall Hotel and Spa is set in a Grade 1 listed house which is now in the care of the National Trust. The core of the building is formed from an ancient watchtower, built in 1250 as an early-warning system for Conwy Castle, while the rest of the house was added between 1620 and 1900.
The Hall, minutes from the beach of Llandudno in North Wales, was one of three 17th century houses which made up the Historic House Hotels group, which was donated to the National Trust in 2008, securing a certain future for these important buildings.
Comfort and joy
The romance and history of Bodysgallen is evident as soon as walk into the ancient oak-panelled grand hall, with huge fireplace and lots of comfortable sofas, ideal for afternoon tea.
The spectacular drawing room on the second floor has another huge stone fireplace and is a great place to relax surrounded by antiques and paintings as well as the coats of arms of the families who used to live there.
The library, bar, breakfast room and dining room, are all easily accessible on the ground floor for those who have mobility needs. And although the car park is underneath the hotel you can drive up to the front door, where a ramp is available.
In the spa, there's a generous-sized swimming pool, well-equipped gym and several treatment rooms. The range of treatments is extensive as you might expect although I would suggest booking in advance.
Body treatments start at £30 and nails at £20. We had a swim, sauna and three treatments and enjoyed them all, particularly the shoulder and neck massage. There are also countless lovely products to tempt you too including those produced by Parisian Darphin, unique to North Wales.
There are 11 Classic Room in the main house all decorated individually and furnished with antiques and paintings. The original stone mullion windows are a particular feature.
There are a further four, Principle Suites, some with separate sitting rooms, and again, featuring original mullion windows and window seats.
All Classic Rooms and Suites offer spectacular views, generous-sized bathrooms, liveried towels and slippers and Floris toiletries. There are also 16 Cottage Suites if you'd like a little more space and privacy. Four are ‘dog friendly’.
Our stay was magical from start to finish, supported not least by the professionalism of the Bodysgallen team. Rarely have I encountered such excellent and unobtrusive service – their extra friendliness, care and attention to detail went far above my expectations.
There are many challenges in managing a 17th century building as a highly-serviced, luxury hotel, but at Bodysgallen the challenges are met with ease. I discovered the secret to this success: many of the team, including the director, assistant manager, bar and restaurant staff have worked there for many years. They know the place’s quirks, they have a feel for it which cannot be learned quickly. Put simply, they have a passion for the place and the guests.
This Historic House Hotel would not suit visitors seeking a contemporary interpretation of an ‘old’ hotel. Wi-Fi is available in most rooms, however, guests are asked to avoid using computers, tablets and mobile phones in the public rooms. The service, style, decoration and atmosphere is characteristic of the traditions and of such houses and evoke the charm of an era long gone. Beds are turned down, morning newspapers are delivered outside your door and the walls and floors are so thick you have no fear of your sleep being disturbed.
John concentrates on classic cuisine with a modern twist. Sourcing local produce is a key feature, and by autumn this year, he hopes that the productive gardens at Bodysgallen will make the AAA-rosette-rated restaurant more or less self-sufficient.
John prefers no flummery or unnecessary complications. His aim is to ensure he develops as much flavour as he can in every dish.
Some favourites included scallops seared with curry spices, creamed parsnips, smoked apple and young watercress: Welsh Bass, hand rolled macaroni, crab volute, and young greens: puddings, always a great temptation and usually involving chocolate, proved a hard choice. However on one evening I was served a seven-tier chocolate dessert so scrumptious that I am without words.
The disc of chocolate masking the tiers below was melted by the warm chocolate sauce and was complimented beautifully by the Tonka bean ice cream. Complete heaven.
Again, the effortless service in the dining room added to the experience of good food. One evening at dinner, there was an amount of delicious sauce left on my plate. I said to the Maître d, “If I was at home, I'd lick my plate.” Without missing a beat, she proffered her jacket as cover for an elicit lick. I restrained myself...
I thoroughly recommend losing yourself for an hour or so during the day or before dinner – great for working up an appetite – in the extensive gardens as featured on the BBC1 programme 'Glorious Gardens from Above'.
There's also a rockery with a cascade, a walled rose garden and several follies. Garden tours led by head gardener, Robert Owen, are a highlight.
Conwy, Conwy Castle and Llandudno
The nearest attractions to Bodysgallen Hall are the famous Victorian seaside resort of Llandudno, complete with pier, however, we really enjoyed visiting Conwy and Conwy Castle which offered much local history and of course had a great connection to Bodysgallen Hall.
Throughout the year, Bodysgallen Hall features a range of offers and themed breaks to suit all tastes. For example, the Escape to the Country break is priced from £260 per room per night with an allowance of £43 per person towards dinner in the fine-dining restaurant, as well as breakfast and unlimited use of the Spa. Included is admission to a local National Trust property.
Of particularly good value is The Great British Break, which runs during November. Choose to stay for any two nights from Sunday to Thursday and you will receive the second night for £20.15 (the first night is £179).
The offer includes accommodation based on two people in a double room, cooked breakfast on the first morning and full use of the Bodysgallen Spa. Dinner must be taken at the hotel on both evenings – why on earth wouldn’t you?
Bodysgallen Hall is a particular favourite of Justin Albert's, National Trust Director, Wales.“Wonderful walks, fabulously romantic gardens, inspiring views and world-class staff all come together in the unique experience that is Bodysgallen Hall Hotel,” he told me.
A stay at Bodysgallen is not cheap ... but it’s an experience I’d urge everyone to put on their ‘to do’ list.
“I am lucky enough to be a regular customer and always come away with a sense of wonder at the beauty of the place and feel fully refreshed to face a busy world. Very few experiences anywhere can match the walks, the fresh air coming down from Snowdonia and the fabulous fragrances of the gardens.
“Of course, a stay at Bodysgallen is not cheap and is at the top end of the price range for many people, but it’s an experience I’d urge everyone to put on their ‘to do’ list.
“Across Wales we are blessed with many different National Trust holiday experiences, from campsites and bunkhouses to exclusive holiday cottages and the four-star luxury of Bodysgallen.
“The one thing that unites them all is that they are located in areas of outstanding natural beauty and all can guarantee that spiritual uplift that everyone needs from a good break.”
I love that frisson of anticipation when arriving at a new destination. I try to avoid too much research beforehand so that I arrive with plenty to discover and uncluttered by other people’s opinions.
One should, of course, check that a destination suits one’s particular needs but it’s all too easy to ratchet up the expectations.
Here at Bodysgallen, my expectations were met and exceeded. It’s certainly become one of my favourite places. As we drove away through Bodysgallen’s pillars, we laughed at the unusual sign: “Llandudno: Left. Everywhere Else: Right”. We headed for Everywhere Else, but determined to return very soon.
To book a stay at Bodysgallen Hall visit www.bodysgallen.com / 01492 584 466. Bed and breakfast priced from £179.00 per night based on two sharing
National Trust places to visit