Bodysgallen Hall, near Llandudno in North Wales, is proudly owned by the National Trust. It is managed, along with two other grand houses (Middlethorpe Hall in York and Hartwell House in Buckinghamshire) by Historic House Hotels, with all profits going to the Trust.
We arrived after a drive of over four hours from our home in London. Not something that we were particularly looking forward to, but the wonder of Audible, in particular David Tennant reading the new recording of HG Wells’ War of the Worlds certainly helped.
Bodysgallen Hall is delightful. The bucolic drive up to the Main Hall is complete with caring sheep and their leaping lambs. The 17th century stone-built house is very handsome as it comes into view from the long driveway. Once through the heavy and ancient entrance door, you enter the hall with its rich dark oak panelling, huge fireplaces, stone mullioned windows, carved heraldry, plaster-work cornices, and decorative antiques. Ceilings are low, as are typical with buildings of this age, and the floors slope very gently, adding to the authenticity of the transformation of this historic private home into a hotel.
Whilst the Hall has been modernised and is really comfortable, it has the snug and slightly faded charm of visiting your favourite aunt and uncle’s house in the countryside. In the best possible way. Bodysgallen was transformed into its current incarnation in the 1980s. A period not remembered for its general stylishness, but a decade in which country home interiors really flourished, thanks to design masters Colefax and Fowler, and Osborne and Little. The hotel has been immaculately maintained since then, and there’s a sense of this 80s aesthetic gently grafted onto the original Tudor features, which makes for a very welcoming ambience.
The welcome from the staff is really warm too, nothing is too much trouble for them, this, the plump sofas, and intimate scale of the place, make you feel totally at home. The house is known as the Main Hall, and there are 15 bedrooms there, plus the restaurant, bar, and lounges. All are individually decorated in rich and warm colours. There are 16 self-contained cottages beautifully set around the grounds, which I’d love to try on another visit.
Our room in the Main Hall, number 8, was spacious, bright, and nicely decorated with floral and daintily-patterned linen fabrics in peachy tones, a really large and comfortable bed (we slept so well) pretty lamps, and two squashy armchairs next to a stone fireplace (sadly bricked up), and something that we all too often don’t get when we travel; lots of wardrobe space.
Lots of space too in the bathroom to keep all our things, a properly deep bath, and quality Floris toiletries. We couldn’t stop commenting on the softness of the water. Goodness, it makes such a difference when you’re used to the water that comes out of London taps.
Shortly after we arrived, we sat down to Afternoon Tea in front of the fire in the Hall on the ground floor. There are two other public lounges to enjoy in the Main Hall, all three are cosy and charmingly decorated and you can have tea, or indeed drinks, or just relax, in all of them.
A good choice of classic teas is offered and extra hot water is served without asking for it. The sandwiches were clever, little twists on standards, such as pickled cucumber in the smoked salmon, and spring onion with the egg. Delicious warm scones were served with thick cream, and two kinds of jam (cherry and strawberry). As well as home-made pastries, we really enjoyed the generously buttered Bara Brith (Welsh fruit loaf) served, a lovely local addition.
After tea, we walked over to the spa. It’s definitely unlike any other spa I’ve been to. The period feel of Bodysgallen Hall continues to the delightful building in which the spa is housed, it used to provide homes for the estate workers, and as you walk in, there’s a charming seating area with armchairs around the fireplace. You can have drinks, light meals and tea served in the spa as well as in the Main Hall.
The treatment room I was lead to was large and airy, you can see that the original layout of the building has been maintained to keep its integrity. Mia, who gave me my facial, was knowledgeable about the Aromatherapy Associates products she was using, and I was treated to the best facial I’ve ever had. The Essential Rose facial was so relaxing. Mia has magic fingers. The smoothing strokes, gentle tapping, light pressing and good quality oils and gels were soothing and refreshing in equal measure. When Mia said how much she enjoyed giving treatments, I commented on how much it showed. It’s like have a great meal prepared by someone who puts all their love into every dish. She concentrated on lymphatic drainage and as a result, when I looked in the mirror the following morning, there was a definite reduction in the puffiness under my eyes. Almost miraculous.
The spa offers a wide range of different treatments for men and women including several different facials and body massage options, Caci, Environ and Gommage facials, and beauty treatments. There are six treatment rooms, and the hotel’s leisure facilities are located at the spa with a good-sized swimming pool, sauna steam room, jacuzzi, gym, and a lovely sun terrace with sadly too little sun to enjoy it during our visit. These facilities and the rest area are free to hotel guests. If you are going to enjoy the treatments, I would advise booking them in advance, as it is a very popular spa for hotel guests and local residents.
Many people come to Bodysgallen Hall to retreat from their usual busy lives. There is a palpable atmosphere of calm and tranquillity throughout the Hall, so breakfast is enjoyably unhurried and provides a gentle way to ease into the day. Whole poached pears were an unusual addition to the breakfast buffet. We were served delicious, properly grilled kippers, oozing poached eggs, lightly smoked haddock. Toast with the crusts cut off. Generous pats of butter. Good Assam tea. Perfect.
After breakfast, we explored the 200 acres of parkland surrounding the house. The park is a delight to walk through. The weather was pretty dull, but we were enchanted with the woodland, the follies, the walled rose garden, boxed parterre and dainty fountain.
It was too early in the year for the kitchen garden to display its bounty – other than rhubarb which we enjoyed at dinner – but we came across abundant clumps of aromatic wild garlic growing alongside the bluebells in the woods. The Obelisk, set on the top of a high slope in the grounds has become a local landmark visible for miles around, and is a more modern addition, having been built in 1993.
After our walk, we spent a busy day exploring Conwy and Llududno, both are within a ten minute drive of the hotel.
Our evening began with drinks in The Library before dinner. Head Chef John Williams has been at Bodysgallen Hall for several years, with an interlude running his own restaurant in Shrewsbury. The restaurant has achieved three AA rosettes, and his food runs a good balance between classic and modern, with a strong emphasis on fresh British produce, as local as possible, with some of it coming from the Hall’s own grounds.
I started with what the menu described as Bodysgallen onion soup, a lowly name for such an exciting dish. I chose it for the use of spring onions which were grown in the grounds, and was delighted by the different textures it presented, with crunchiness of croutons, and the deeply savoury creaminess of the beautifully bright green wild garlic volute. I particularly enjoyed the jellied onion consommé cubes and cheesy hits of the cheese and onion cream.
I chose cod for my main course, a butter poached loin, perfectly bouncy and gently flaking under the fork, with crispy polenta cubes, tasty young leeks, and a tomato butter sauce which managed to be full of buttery flavour without being overly-rich.
We’d seen the rhubarb growing earlier that day in the walled garden, so we had to plump for the rhubarb, with its five different presentations of the main ingredient. Rhubarb mousse, rhubarb sorbet, rhubarb gel, rhubarb meringue shards, and poached rhubarb. Each tasting of rhubarb at its best, with every element completely distinctive and delicious.
The internationally-sourced and concise wine list offers eight wines of good quality, with half the list of South American origin. The Pinot Noir Casa Santiago from Chile which we selected was a well balanced wine, with aromas of cherry, strawberry and hints of sweet spice. It drank particularly well with the Creedy Carver duck which my husband ordered for his main course.
We thoroughly enjoyed our stay. It was my first visit to North Wales, and I’m keen to go back to discover more of this beautiful location. If you are looking for a restful break, in an excellent hotel which beautifully blends centuries of history with classic comforts, a wonderful spa, an impressive kitchen, all in a charming setting, I can happily recommend Bodysgallen Hall to you.
To book and find out more, visit www.bodysgallen.com
By Shelley Sofier