Llangoed Hall is the Queen of Welsh hotels and simply has to be experienced. It owes its style and excellence to two remarkable men. The first was Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, the architect of – amongst many other projects – Portmeirion, the fantasy village he created on the North Wales coast. The second was Sir Bernard Ashley, the businessman and engineer who promoted his wife’s designs, turning Laura Ashley into an international brand.
The Ashleys had a factory in mid-Wales and in the 1970s while driving to it from from London they often passed Llangoed Hall, which was by then semi-derelict. Laura was fond of the old hall, which had been magnificently rebuilt between 1913 and 1919 by the distinguished architect Clough Williams-Ellis. Ellis had been called in by Mrs Archibald Christy, the owner of what was then known as Llangoed Castle, a simple Jacobean manor house that had been constructed in 1632.
Sir Clough provided a vision that was elegant, based on maximising space to create harmony. While Portmeirion is quirky, Llangoed Hall is calm personified. Ellis reorientated the castle and created an elegant Edwardian country house with large fireplaces, a spacious dining room, a morning room, drawing room and billiard room. A long hallway – resembling a Tudor Long Gallery – ran along the ground floor and the first floor too. These two gracious levels are linked by a broad oak staircase lined with nineteenth-century neoclassical statuary.
By the time the Ashleys were driving past, Llangoed Hall was falling apart. The Christy family had sold it on many years previous and the new owners wanted to demolish it, as it was too expensive to repair. Thank goodness its listed building status meant they could not - so it was simply abandoned. After the tragic death of Laura Ashley in 1985, Sir Bernard bought the hall to turn it into a tribute to his wife and a showcase for her work. No expense was spared because, although Ashley thought the restored building could double as a hotel in due course, he wasn’t interested in it making money for himself.
After the death of Sir Bernard in 2009, the hall was sold off by his family. In an unusual deal all the furniture, all the Laura Ashley prints and wallpaper, even the family photos, were sold with it so that the newly commercial Llangoed Hall could remain linked forever to one of the twentieth-century’s best-loved designers.
Sir Bernard’s art collection was also incorporated into the hotel, which gives the hotel its other USP. Works include a nude study by Augustus John of his own daughter, a print by Sickert, a landscape by Dame Laura Knight and some exceptional early twentieth-century Scottish art, including George Spencer Watson’s Silver Arrow, portraying a mysterious, unidentified beauty wearing an arrow-shaped brooch in her hat. On the first floor is a strikingly long portrait of American Colonel John Bowles by his son-in-law Herman Dudley Murphy, and some sunny Venetian waterscapes from the Grand Canal by Louis Ginnet.
All the bedrooms are quietly distinct. Two favourites are “Paultons” and “Ashley”. Paultons is on the very top floor – the old attic. It’s spacious, light, and calm in duck egg blue with a large four poster bed. This suite is often assigned to brides preparing to be married at Llangoed Hall.
“Ashley”, on the floor below, has lovely views of the gardens and is the only room in the hotel still decorated in original Laura Ashley wallpaper. However the first apron that Laura Ashley ever made (at her kitchen table) is framed on the wall of the garden room.
These days the hotel is only open three or four nights a week on a dinner, bed and breakfast basis (It is always closed Monday to Wednesday).
Dining at Llangoed Hall begins with drinks in the drawing room with its rich red sofas and massive stone fireplace that includes an historic bust of Britannia. Dinner is taken in the garden room and the garden restaurant, both part of a very sympathetic extension of the hall that Bernard Ashley created in 1987. Meals are also served in the beautiful Blue Room which is adjacent to the drawing room and has a serene quality all of its own.
Food is very important at Llangoed Hall. In November 2013/14 the hotel was recognised as Conde Nast Johansens Restaurant of the Year. And in 2015 it entered the UK’s Good Food Guide, within the Top 50, where it remains today supplemented by an extensive orchard and vegetable garden in the grounds which guests are free to wander.
For those feeling more active, there are a further 17 acres running down to the River Wye to explore. If you want to venture further still, it’s less than half an hours’ drive to Hay Bluff, the northernmost tip of the Black Mountains, a prominent upland massif which straddles the border between Wales and England, offering superb views on a clear day.
There is always a danger of not wanting to leave Llangoed Hall. The fact that the hotel has nothing so vulgar as a front desk where you pay your bill only adds to the feeling that you might stay another night or two in this delightful country house.