Welsh wine has come on in leaps and bounds in recent years. And there’s no better proof of this viticultural coming of age than Llanerch, one of the UK’s first vineyard hotels, with its crisply designed rooms, restaurant dishing up season-driven food, and vineyard tours and tastings.
Why we love it…
Sipping a glass of sparkling rosé as the late afternoon sun deepens and the vines roll into the distance is not the most Welsh of scenes, granted. A few years ago, talk of Welsh vineyards would have raised a loud guffaw – or a raised eyebrow at the very least. But we are always prepared to keep an open mind where wine is concerned. And we’re glad we did: Llanerch is a class act.
Who would believe that the M4 is just a mile away? Not us. The silence here is a wonderful thing. We’re but a stone’s throw from the bustle of Cardiff yet totally immersed in nature. Our room seems to magic us to another place entirely, with its chicly romantic decor and vineyard views. And we love the fact you can easily hook onto tours and tastings with the immensely likeable (and very informative) Denise.
The estate centres on the original mid 19th-century farmhouse, which still has accents of the past, with exposed beams and wood paneling. Wine is, as you might expect, a prevalent theme in the local art on the walls, claret-kissed colour schemes, and vine patterns woven into the lights, wallpaper and blinds. And that’s before you’ve even cracked open a bottle of the good stuff…
After negotiating motorway traffic, arriving at Llanerch sure is a breath of fresh air. The approach here is informal yet professional. We received a warm croeso (welcome) at the separate reception area, which doubles as a little shop where you can buy a bottle of Cariad wine to take home. And we couldn’t resist buying a vine – now flourishing in our garden, you’ll be pleased to hear…
A little history
Llanerch has its origins as a humble dairy farm. In the mid 1980s, the then owners Peter and Diana Andrews had the bright idea to give the farm a new lease of life. They planted the very first vines – hybrids combining the hardiest French and German grapes. Steady wins the race and now the six-and-a-half acre vineyard is thriving, producing between eight and 12 tonnes of grapes a year and 10,000 bottles of Cariad wine.
There isn’t a bad room in the house, but some are undeniably more special than others. At the simpler end of the spectrum are the ground-floor courtyard rooms, with muted colours, a clean, contemporary look, views looking out across the Italian-style courtyard with its olive and cypress trees, and bathrooms with walk-in showers and White Company cosmetics.
Upping your budget gets you views of the rolling Welsh countryside and an over-the-bath rainshower in a superior room. And if it’s romance you want, suites fit the bill perfectly, with their super king-size Respa beds, Melin Tregwynt throws, and sitting areas with Chesterfield sofas. Most luxurious of all is the Cariad Bridal Suite, complete with dreamy vineyard views, walk-in-wardrobe, and a huge bathroom with a claw-footed tub for lazy soaks.
The food and…the wine
Llanerch has really nailed it when it comes to food. Gazing out across the vineyard, the bistro has kept things stylish and understated, with bare wood floors, cheek-by-jowl tables, globe-shaped lights and a partially open kitchen where you can watch the chefs at work. The service is pitched just right: friendly and efficient without being too in your face.
We loved the nod to local produce and seasonality in the menus. You might expect the likes of braised beef cheeks with oyster, stout foam and Jerusalem artichoke, or pheasant saltimbocca with cured ham, sage, Madeira-braised lentils and glazed celeriac. These are sophisticated flavours pulled off with finesse. Pair with one of the Cariad wines, which include dry, citrusy whites, berry-laden rosés and a fruity sparkling brut.
Breakfast reveals a pinch of creativity, too. Besides the usual options, we were happy to see choices like full Welsh with laver bread focaccia.
A tour of the vineyards and a tasting of the estate’s Cariad wines with Denise is a must. These fun and informative tours last around an hour and a half and run daily at noon, 2.30pm and 5pm from April to October. Otherwise, explore at your leisure: perhaps with a wander through the 10 acres of woodland skirting the hotel. TV chef Angela Gray has her cookery school here, with classes ranging from lunch and supper clubs to skill-building workshops and children’s cookery courses.
If you want to walk off the overindulgence, take a wander across to Hensol Castle, an 18th-century neo-Gothic stately home, with a riot of turrets and towers. It’s now a wedding and conference venue as well as a soon-to-be gin distillery (open to the public). Cardiff and its big-city sights is just 10 miles distant.
At a glance
Snooze factor: 9 It’s nice and peaceful and the beds (by Respa, 100% handmade in Ireland) are frankly the dream.
Food factor: 9 Much better than we expected: quality local produce delivered with imagination and flair.
Eco-friendly factor: 8 Walks through woodland to lakes, where you might catch sight of Canada geese or kingfishers if you are lucky.
Location factor: 8 Yes it’s close to the M4, but you’d never know it. And the vineyard views are quite special.
Price: Doubles from £130 (breakfast included). Keep an eye out for deals and packages on the website.