This fine romance of a Georgian manor is one of inland Pembrokeshire’s greatest escapes, with wide-open estuary views to lift spirits, woodland trails to get lost on, nouveau-chic rustic interiors and more than 1000 years of history hiding in its vast grounds.
Why we love it…
Watching the sun set across the silver-gold waters of the Cleddau River estuary at Slebech is a moment we won’t forget in a hurry. As day fades into pastel dusk, our gaze scans the silhouetted banks and alights upon a heron, patiently waiting to dive upon its prey. All is silent but for the odd shrill hoot or warble of a seabird that reminds us we are not far from the coast. But a few miles makes a difference: here among the woods and the water waits the Pembrokeshire few get to see.
We are amazed – and delighted – that Slebech is thrillingly tucked-away, despite being just a mile or so from the A40. With little signage to speak of, it still has the rare feel of a secret escape, and finding it involves a gloriously old-fashioned pootle along a maze of hedgerowed lanes and down a long private track, which only serves to up the anticipation.
The centrepiece of the sprawling estate is a Grade II-listed Georgian coach house that has been lovingly transformed into a one-of-a-kind boutique hotel. And the views? They’re pretty special, with terraces looking out across the Cleddau Estuary – a perfect prospect of woods and water. Take the views out of the equation and you could well be in Northern Italy, say, with the smell of woodsmoke drifting from the kitchen, rustic beams and rough stone walls everywhere, and olive trees dotting the courtyard.
We found the welcome discreet, low-key and warm. Once we had checked in and been shown to our room, we were pretty much left to our own devices. It’s all very non-hotel like: almost as if you’ve been invited to your wealthy friend’s pad in the country. There’s no need to dress up: wellies and walking boots are the only essential clothing for a romp around the beautiful grounds. Help is always on hand if you need it, and walking maps are provided.
It’s the people that make a place and Slebech has some real characters, among them head gardener Bruce Wright, who is a topiary wizard and accomplished wood turner – in fact he created a lot of Slebech’s bespoke wooden furnishings. Get him chatting, as we did, and you’ll hear some wonderful stories.
A little history
On a wander in the grounds, we came across find church ruins and tunnels that bear witness to the estate’s rich history. Vikings, kings, queens and the Knights Templar have all stopped here over the ages – as this was a secluded waterway and a resting place en route to the famous medieval pilgrimage destination of St Davids.
These are just as you might expect at a country manor of this calibre, with lots of natural light, plaids and florals offsetting white wall, Egyptian cotton-draped bedding, and exposed oak beams. Larger rooms come with generously sized tubs for soaking, and there are many pleasing original features – from slate floors to vintage furniture. The design is a successful fusion of rustic romance and contemporary living.
It’s well worth pushing the boat out for a suite. We stayed in the high-ceilinged, open-plan Dunluce 2 – a real beauty with its arched windows, handcrafted wooden furniture and exposed stone walls. We particularly enjoyed the whirlpool bathtub (great for post-walk soaks), and the terrace peering out across the gardens and estuary. Little extras like Bara Brith and Welsh cakes to go with tea and coffee, and organic Osmè toiletries were very welcome. We also got to peek inside the highly original Loose Box room, lodged in former stables (earmarked for our next stay).
Slebech plays in a different league to most restaurants in these parts, with a chef taking pride in local sourcing and elevating home-grown, organic and foraged ingredients. On the menu you’ll find the pretty sophisticated likes of seared king scallops with confit pork bon bons, estate celeriac puree, orchard apple and chive oil, and St Bride’s Bay lobster with cardamom and anise baby carrots. Personally we couldn’t resist the 30-day dry aged loin of Welsh beef with slow-braised Scotch egg, garden vine tomato, sautéed asparagus and spot-on triple-cooked chips. This was polished off by an excellent estate honey crème brûlée with berry compote. Served on slate, the dishes look pretty, too.
The gallery-style restaurant is date-night stuff, with high ceilings, bare stone walls, bistro seating and soft lamplight giving it a dash of understated romance. When it is cold, there is a fire crackling in the grate.
Freshly baked bread and pastries are a nice touch at breakfast. And there is a decent selection of fruit, muesli, yoghurt, cheeses and meats. While we heartily enjoyed the cooked options, such as the Welsh one (laverbread, cockles, fried bread and thick rashers of bacon), we did think these should perhaps be included in the room rate.
One of the true delights of staying at Slebech is the fact you get access to its 650 acres of wooded grounds, which afford cracking views out over a wide estuary. Just watching the changing tides and lights is quite something. This is a conservation area, and with any luck – and a keen eye – it’s possible to spot egrets, shell ducks, snipe and even otters.
The walled gardens are beautifully kept, with vegetable patches, topiaries and romantic ruins. If you want to venture further, there are woods to explore either on foot or by bicycle (free bike rental is a bonus).
The estate is a five-minute drive from 13th-century Picton Castle and its RHS gardens. Heading towards the coast brings you to some fabulous Pembrokeshire beaches. Our tip: check out cliff-rimmed, cave-laden Druidstone Haven, a 20-minute drive to the west.
At a glance
Snooze factor: 10 With such an away-from-it-all location, and what with the only passing traffic being estuary birds, plus seriously comfy beds, it’s hard to see how this could be better.
Food factor: 9 Slebech knows its culinary stuff. This is seasonal Welsh grub with a touch of finesse.
Eco-friendly factor: 8 For its wetland nature reserve and woodland walks.
Location factor: 9 If you want secluded, you’ll get secluded. And those estuary views… Just wow.
Price: Affordable style. Doubles from £85 (breakfast included)