If you’re seeking a country escape in the heart of the Brecon Beacons National Park, Gliffaes is a class act. Framed by 33 acres of grounds that bristle with rare botanical species, this Italianate Victorian manor is old-school in the best possible way – whether you’re taking afternoon tea on the terrace or playing croquet on the lawn.
Why we love it…
Gliffaes still feels like a delicious little secret. Just a discreet sign off the A40 through the Brecons sends you swinging along a little back lane, past hedgerows, fields and woodland, to the drive that sweeps up to this glorious country escape. Forget putting the postcode in the Sat Nav (it will drop you on the wrong side of the River Usk) and instead follow the hotel’s more detailed directions.
Evoking all the whimsical romance of the Victorian era, the house was the pet project of Reverend William Henry West who, fresh from his Grand Tour travels, put an Italian spin on the place, adding a campanile and an impressive terrace overlooking the hills.
The rooms have the kind of timeless style that echoes the character of the property – and are utterly peaceful. The views of the surrounding wooded hills are calming to the soul, as are the grounds where you can – when the Welsh weather allows it – while away many a happy hour playing croquet, admiring rare and magnificent trees, and perhaps even trying your hand at fly-fishing for wild brown trout.
Classy but utterly without pretension. Every guest who has the good fortune of staying here receives the same warm reception. Walkers are very much welcome (this is, after all, a retreat right in the heart of the national park). Bring wellies, waterproofs and smart casuals to dress up a little for G&Ts in the lounge and dinner.
Gliffaes is a family-run affair (and indeed has been for the past 70 years), with Susie and James Suter now at the helm. And their love of the place shows in all the little details that have gone into preserving the Victorian manor: from the stucco ceilings to the ornately tiled fireplaces and highly polished antique furniture. We particularly like the nods to Wales, such as the Welsh tweed upholstery, and the artworks by contemporary Welsh artists that hang on the walls, referencing the surrounding hills and countryside.
Personal and friendly yet unobtrusive. You are left to wander and explore at will, but the knowledgeable staff were on hand should you need anything – such as the rules for the croquet set (well used during our stay), maps of the local area, or a picnic for a walk in the Brecons. The atmosphere is low-key and part of the pleasure of staying here is simple escapism: lingering over tea and the papers in bed in the morning, as the first light spills over the hills, strolling at leisure in the grounds and taking the time for pursuits redolent of a graceful era.
Many country escapes make the mistake of trying to wing their style into the 21st century and failing miserably. Gliffaes stays true to its roots. The elegant look of the rooms is in keeping with the property’s period character – lots of florals and plaids, antique furnishings, plush carpets and drapes, and heavenly beds you can sink right into. Nice touches include retro Roberts radios and freshly ground coffee for morning lie-ins.
Most romantic of all are the river-facing rooms, with French doors opening onto little balconies and dreamy views, and the four-poster room, with a four-poster bed capped off by a hand-embroidered canopy.
All evenings at Gliffaes should start with a drink on the terrace in the summer (we can heartily recommend the local Brecon gin) or by the fire in the bar in the winter.
Gliffaes sets the bar high with its menu always emphasising regional and sustainable ingredients. It’s nice to see that some dishes feature home-grown herbs and fruit from Gliffaes’ kitchen gardens. Dishes are refreshingly unfussy and big on integral flavours often with a seasonal slant – think breast of wood pigeon, mushroom, thyme and truffle-infused risotto, duo of Welsh lamb (rump and shepherd’s pie) with minted pea fritter, and fillet of sea trout with bacon and laverbread oatcake, celeriac and trout scotch egg. These are complemented by a solid selection of hand-picked wines (the house one starting at a modest £20).
Breakfast reveals similar attention to detail and traceability, with homemade muesli, apple juice from the Gliffaes orchard, coffee from Read’s in Dorset, smoked salmon and kippers from the Black Mountain Smokery in nearby Crickhowell, and local bacon and sausages from a Brecon butcher.
What’s here and nearby
Tumbling down to the River Usk, the gardens are the major draw at Gliffaes, and the owners have created a special map outlining a ‘tree walk’, ticking off some of the rare and exceptionally beautiful trees in the grounds: from ancient oaks to Japanese maples and handkerchief trees. Besides walks, there’s croquet, cycling (you can even borrow a tandem) and fishing in the grounds. Almost right next door (well, a mile or two) is the venue for the popular Green Man Festival. Some of the best Brecon Beacons hikes are right on the doorstep, naturally, with endless trails threading up to the highest peaks within easy reach. The medieval castle and court of Tretower is a couple of miles away. And it’s around a 10-minute drive Crickhowell, perhaps the prettiest of all Brecon villages, with chocolate box Georgian houses lining the old-fashioned high street. A great four-mile circular walk up to 451m Table Mountain begins here. From the summit, there are far-reaching views out over the Brecons.
Covid-19 Update: Gliffaes reopened in August – for normal stays, and also for these post-lockdown escape packages!
NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: From Gliffaes Country House Hotel, it’s about 20 miles west to the start point for our alternative hike up Pen y Fan without the crowds
At a glance
Snooze factor: 10 It’s oh so quiet here. The beds are divine and the night skies as dark as they come.
Food factor: 9 Good
Eco-friendly factor: 8 Beautiful mature gardens to explore and a chef that believes in keeping things local and sustainable.
Location factor: 10 Nicely secluded in the heart of the Brecon Beacons National Park.
Price: Doubles from £159 up to £335 for the best rooms (breakfast included). Keep an eye out for deals and packages on the website.