10 best: Welsh wonders
From seaside cottages to rambling manors, Alastair Sawday selects boltholes from his new book, 'Wales - Special Place to Stay'.
Gesail Farm, Powys
Escape to waterfalled valleys -- cross a ford and cast civilisation aside. This is a much-loved family bolthole (above) by the wild Aran mountains. The sitting room is just as it should be: painted stone walls, old beams, a fireplace and blanket-strewn sofas. The dining room snugly seats eight and the kitchen -- the old buttery -- is a neat space strewn with Welsh slate.
Upstairs, bedroom floorboards softly creak and slope; while the bathroom, with its vintage 1970s white suite, is quite bohemian. There's no TV, and mobiles only work at the end of the valley, but there's a friendly pub in the village.
Details: Cwm Cywarch, Dinas Mawddwy, Machynlleth. Self-catering; sleeps six to eight. Tel: 0044 207 424 0444; snowdoniaescapes.co.uk. From £350 (€400) per week.
Plas Tan-yr-allt, Gwynedd
Who shot Shelley in the drawing room? The poet fled in 1813 leaving the mystery unsolved. His former home has a colourful history, irresistible to the owners who have just finished a glorious restoration: roll-top baths, luscious colours, underfloor heating and handsome furniture. The feel is of a contemporary country house and there's country-house cooking to match.
Nick uses local ingredients, and guests eat together at an oak and slate table -- a convivial treat. Wonderful views stretch from the terrace and gardens over the bay.
Details: Tremadog, Porthmadog. B&B. Tel: 0044 176 651 4545; tanyrallt.co.uk. Doubles from £125 (€144).
Holm House, Vale of Glamorgan
A glittering hotel by the sea. Stylish, intimate and spoiling, interiors mix Art Deco with contemporary flair. Find half-panelled walls, vintage wallpaper and a mirrored bar/sitting room. Doors downstairs open to a terrace with gardens below and the sea beyond; on a good day, you're on the Côte d'Azur.
Slip into the airy restaurant for delicious comfort food; retire to beautiful bedrooms with Frette linen, super beds, designer fabrics, and Italian ceramics in smart bathrooms. There are loungers on a first-floor sun terrace, a spa for treatments and a hydrotherapy pool. Heaven.
Details: Penarth. Tel: 0044 292 070 1572; holmhouse.co.uk. Doubles from £135 (€155).
Peterstone Court, Powys
Sheep graze in fields to the front, a swimming pool shimmers by an 11th-century church, a dining terrace overlooks the River Usk. Inside, you'll find a panelled sitting room with an open fire, a spa in the vaulted cellars, a brasserie/bar, and a formal restaurant for weekends.
Bedrooms mix country-house style with contemporary colours. Rooms in the old stables reach over two floors and have a smart-rustic feel. Those in the main house have grander dimensions, some with high-ceilings and four-poster beds, others with leather headboards and cavernous sofas; all have fine views. Much of the food in the restaurant is reared on the hotel's farm.
Details: Llanhamlach, Brecon. Restaurant with rooms. Tel: 0044 187 466 5387; peterstone-court.com. Doubles from £110 (€126).
Ffynnon Fendigaid, Ceredigion
Arrive through rolling countryside, with birdsong and breeze the only sound. Within moments, you will be sprawled on a leather sofa admiring modern art and wondering how a little bit of Milan arrived here.
A place to come and pootle, with no rush; you can stay all day to stroll the fern-fringed paths through the acres of wild garden to a lake and a grand bench, or opt for hearty walking.
Your bed is big, the colours are soft, the bathrooms are spotless and the food is local -- try all the Welsh cheeses.
Wide beaches are minutes away, red kites and buzzards soar above you.
Details: Rhydlewis, Llandysul. B&B. Tel: 0044 123 985 1361; ffynnonf.co.uk. Doubles from from £70 (€80).
33 & 35 Quay Street, Fishguard
These stone-built fishermen's cottages have gazed south across the harbour for 300 years. Boats bob, rigging chinks and the water laps at the sea wall.
Step through a front door onto cool terracotta tiles. Living spaces have wood burners, a wall of books and comfy sofas; dining areas have big roomy tables; kitchens are modern and well-fitted. After washing away the last stubborn grain of sand, flop out in fresh, bright bedrooms -- some overlook the harbour, the gentle sound of the sea drifting in through open windows. Coastal walks and beaches are close, shops are a stroll away.
Details: Pembrokeshire. Self-catering. No. 33 sleeps five; no. 35 sleeps six. Tel: 0044 123 989 1180; quaystreetcottages.com. From £315 (€362) per week.
Penally Abbey, Pembrokeshire
A fabulous position for this 1790 house up on the hill with huge views of Carmarthen Bay to the front; sink into a Chesterfield in front of the fire and gaze out to sea.
Sprawling lawns are yours to roam and the coastal path passes through. Return to grand four-posters and wild flock wallpaper in the main house, a simpler cottage feel in the coach house, or warm contemporary luxury in St Deiniol's Lodge. Steve's gentle, unflappable manner is infectious and hugely relaxing; Elleen cooks in the French style, much of it picked up in the kitchen of a château many years ago.
Details: Penally, Tenby. Hotel. Tel: 0044 183 484 3033; penally-abbey.com. Doubles from £150 (€172).
Plas Bodegroes, Gwynedd
Close to the end of the world and worth every second it takes to get here. Chris and Gunna are inspirational; their Georgian manor house -- reached by an avenue of ancient beech trees -- is a temple of cool elegance, and the food is possibly the best in Wales. Come to relax and be yourself.
Bedrooms are wonderful -- the courtyard rooms are especially good, where exposed wooden ceilings give a smart Scandinavian feel. Best of all is the dining room, almost a work of art in itself; cool and crisp with exceptional art on the walls. Don't miss the Lleyn Peninsula: sandy beaches, towering cliffs and country walks.
Details: Efailnewydd, Pwllheli. Restaurant with rooms. Tel: 0044 175 861 2363; bodegroes.co.uk. Doubles from £110 (€126).
Gothic Villa, Carmarthenshire
The Bowens have done a great job of restoring this Georgian-style, one-time Customs Office. The result is restfully, stylishly inviting. A wood-burning stove, coir matting, and harmonious colours are the backdrop to just-the-right paintings and pottery.
Outside, a pretty garden grows up around a sheltered terrace. Walk the broad, sandy beach at low tide. If you're a railway fan, in the 1840s the line came through and runs between the house and the estuary.
Details: Ferryside. Self-catering. Sleeps seven plus cot. Tel: 0044 126 726 7122; gothicvilla.co.uk. Short breaks of three nights from £395 (€454).
The Crown at Whitebrook, Monmouthshire
An unbeatable combination of attentive service, sublime food and impeccable style makes this a real find for those seeking affordable luxury. The Crown is a small restaurant with rooms in a tiny village wrapped up in the Wye Valley. Walks start from the front door; climb the ridge for imperious views or head south to Tintern Abbey. Bedrooms are seriously comfortable, with crisp linen, pretty colours, decanters of sherry and fluffy white robes. As for the food, it's Michelin starred and utterly delicious. Whatever can be is homemade. Superb.
Details: Whitebrook, Monmouth. Restaurant with rooms. Tel: 0044 160 086 0254; crownatwhitebrook.co.uk. Doubles from £115 (€132).
Irish Independent readers can buy a copy of Alastair Sawday's mini guide to Wales for £4.99 (rrp £9.99) plus £2.99 p&p (a total of approx €9, including postage). Visit sawdays.co.uk/bookshop using code IRISHINDWALES when prompted or call 0044 1275 395431 during office hours. Offer ends June 30, 2010.