Turning off the busy Conwy-Llandudno road and bumping over the cattle grid past this palatial property’s gatehouse, itself more lavish than many hotels, it becomes apparent that a stay at Bodysgallen Hall is a firm, fine waltz back in time to a picturesque, peaceful pocket of Wales where the clock stopped some time in the 19th century – or possibly even earlier. Thought to have started out life as a medieval watchtower for the fabulous Conwy Castle visible across the Conwy estuary from here, this resplendent residence is 17th century in character with its flurry of imposing gables arranged around a square tower, gracefully old-school in its service and just pure bliss in its dazzling gardens, meadows and rambling woods.
Why we love it…
Up you meander, over placid tree-dotted pastures grazed by sheep, deeper into an elegantly managed estate that runs to 200 acres, so that by the time you arrive at the entrance of the manor you have already forgotten modern life down below and have to pinch yourself that you are about to stay over at a place the majority of UK citizens would be happy to part with good money just to gawp at for a couple of hours.
Heave open a heavy-set front door thick enough to withstand a siege and inside it’s all mighty fire places, formidable oil paintings, intricate wood panelling, coats of arms and stained glass. And the feel is sustained throughout, from a traditional dinner menu dished out overlooking the glorious garden terraces up through the labyrinthine corridors to the antiquated floral furnishings and leadlight windows brimming with more stunning views up in the bedrooms. When you’re done with ambling around the grounds – which will take some time – you can make your way down to the neat little spa with its pool, sauna and Jacuzzi. What’s not to love, when your hotel is so much more than a stay it is basically a full weekend’s worth of downtime without the need to leave the property.
(Just a little) more history
This place is far more ancient than the date of 1620 etched on one of the gables. Whilst this was around the time it morphed into a semblance of the country house seen today, there was a building here since at least the 13th century (likely to have been the watchtower for Conwy Castle). The etymology of ‘Bodysgallen’ points to an ever older history: one theory gives the original meaning as ‘house of Cadwallon’ – a King of Gwynedd between 625 and 635AD who briefly conquered the Kingdom of Northumbria. It has been part of the trio of hotels forming Historic House Hotels since the 1980s and was given to National Trust in 2008, helping its colourful history to be the better preserved. Well, books have been written on Bodysgallen Hall’s history – and fortunately one of these is available for purchase at the reception.
17th-century formal finery. More than any other country hotels Undiscovered Wales have stayed at, this one feels the most absolute break with the day-to-day grind. This is partly because the grounds are so seemingly endless and the house’s historic soul has been so completely conserved, and partly because there is enough to do for a good couple of days just within the boundaries of this ostentatious oasis (see What’s here and nearby, below). The setting will certainly impress you the most, but breakfast and the afternoon tea do not lag far behind, with the evening meals and spa also very much worth sticking around for. The guests here are of a high calibre – dress your best to blend in at dinner!
The reception staff especially are salt-of-the-earth: a brilliant blend of helpfulness and courtesy. We would have liked to see this extended slightly more to the service at the evening meal, which sometimes comes across as standoffish, but hey – everyone can improve on something.
Rooms, and even more so the four suites – Conwy, Lady Augusta, Mostyn and Vaughan – are of a good size and with ornamental floral furnishings and Sanderson wallpaper that would make any admission-charging stately home proud. The Vaughan sports its own four poster but we loved the tranquility of the Conwy with its leadlight windows offering ringside seats on the assiduously tended gardens, ancient woodlands, historic Conwy town, the Irish Sea and the distant Snowdonian peaks. The suites have their own substantial living rooms too, although some bathrooms feel a tad confined. Ideal for families and those with dogs are the Hall Cottages, down one level of terracing towards the spa: stone-built abodes in amidst the gardens, some of which have their own private outdoor spaces.
Indulge in hors-d’oeuvres in the drawing room before being ushered into the huge restaurant, comprising one section with winsome views over the terraced gardens, hung with oil paintings (breakfast is also served here), and a second section which is occasionally used for large groups but is no less impressive. We tucked in to a seriously tender poached fillet of beef elevated almost to divine status by onion cream. We also devoured poached cod fillet which came with standout Carmarthen ham, cauliflower puree and truffle cream. Overall the menu offers a lot of very well done takes on the likes of scallop, duck, beef, pork and a couple of fish dishes (sea bass featured on each of our visits) – so nothing exceptionally original but all contributing towards an overall lovely eating experience. Where the food does get exceptional is at breakfast and for afternoon teas – at either, you’ll be having pretty much the most heavenly examples of these meals it is possible to have in North Wales.
What’s here and nearby
If you are canny with your timing, you’ll arrive (having pre-booked to ensure your spot) in time for afternoon tea. Take an hour sampling the mound of treats on offer overlooking the gardens in an experience the Times among others have rated amongst Britain’s best afternoon teas. Then have a saunter through the estate before dinner. There are four main trails to try – the Terrace Walk, the Ladies Walk, the Eastern Covert Walk and the walk up to the obelisk atop Pydew Mountain, and you won’t fit everything into your first evening. Beyond the formal lawns with their impressive topiary, fountains and hedged walkways, woods hide the old watchtower and rise up to a lane which you can follow up to the obelisk in about a mile. Needless to say the vista from here, out over Conwy Estuary to Conwy Castle, the North Wales coast and Snowdonia are inspirational. Then there is dinner, of course, and after a leisurely breakfast and a languish in the spa (pool, jacuzzi, sauna, Aromatherapy Associates and Environ treatments) there may be just time for another walk before afternoon tea beckons again. Of course, there is a world outside Bodysgallen: you are three miles from Llandudno with one of the UK’s longest historic piers and the 1902-built tramway ride up onto Great Orme headland. Conwy, with its bombastic Edwardian castle and impeccably intact medieval town walls, is 2.5 miles southwest. And then, just behind that, is Snowdonia…
NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: It’s 12 miles southwest from Bodysgallen Hall to the lovely mountain lake of Dulyn Reservoir
At a glance
Snooze factor: 8 It should be a 10 but it’s let down a smidgeon by some noisy plumbing.
Food factor: 8 Good, traditional evening meals with an exquisite breakfast making it well worthy of this mark.
Eco-friendly factor: 8 The sumptuous grounds here are working overtime to preserve a lush pocket of ancient woodland, besides the wildlife thriving in the formal gardens.
Location factor: 10 One of the most beautiful imaginable settings for a hotel in Wales, with the dramatic views of Snowdonia and a soothing blue band of ocean in the distance, viewed across gardens and woods so lovely they keep your eye off the mountains.
Price: Double rooms from £200; suites from £490 (breakfast and use of the spa included). (2020 prices).