Luxury London spends a perfect winter weekend in the Welsh countryside
As the car winds through verdant Welsh countryside, I imagine what would have been on the minds of two of Palé Hall’s most famous guests – Queen Victoria and Winston Churchill – as they journeyed through the same hilly landscape to the country estate on Snowdonia’s eastern edge.
Palé Hall was built in the late 19th century for Henry Robertson, a railway engineer whose accolades included building tracks across Shropshire and the West Midlands, and who lived here until his death in 1888. It has since served as a military hospital, a nursery for evacuated children and a shooting lodge for the Duke of Westminster. From around 1984, the property switched between hotel and private home depending on the wishes of its owners. Its most recent, Alan and Angela Harper, bought the estate last year and have worked tirelessly to rejuvenate the majestic manor. It is now the first hotel in Wales to become a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World.
Palé Hall stands proudly at the end of a long driveway and as I step out of the car my luggage is immediately taken by one of the attentive staff, before I am quickly brought homemade biscuits and tea in the entrance hall. An open fire crackles away, and guests chatter softly over afternoon tea.
In a nod to Roberston’s ancestry, tartan lines every corridor and staircase, while the rooms – other than the Westminster, the Victoria and the Churchill – are named after Scottish castles. I am shown to Denbigh: a warm gold suite with a feature fireplace and a view of the Berwyn Mountains.
Impressively, all the interior design at Palé Hall was carried out by the Harpers, lending a real sense of comfort and personality. Angela sewed the skirts for the dining room furniture, and the books that fill the library shelves are from her personal collection. Care has been taken to restore the stained glass and panelled ceiling in the Churchill suite, but other happy surprises were revealed along the way – such as Victorian prints found behind the library wallpaper and the encaustic tiles discovered underneath the former (and questionable) 1970s carpet.
It would be quite easy to abandon all gadgets at Palé Hall and imagine you have time travelled to a simpler era, as I do in the Denbigh suite. Even the televisions are hidden seamlessly behind mirrors.
The original hydro-electric generator installed in the 1920s is still running and keeps the mansion warm for most of the year. In fact, this renewable source preserved many original features for the years it lay empty when the Duke of Westminster used the estate for its shooting rights.
Michelin-starred chef Michael Caines has worked closely with head chef Gareth Stevenson to create a fine dining menu inspired by seasonal and local cuisine. Ingredients are sourced from neighbouring towns and villages; a walled garden is being cultivated to grow organic produce out back.
The tasting menu is fresh and flavoursome, including scallop ceviche, tender and deeply rich venison loin with baked beetroot and a dessert of marinated strawberries, pistachio meringue and lemon curd presented like a piece of modern art.
Feeling happily full, the prospect of the wonderful, warm bed upstairs is too enticing to resist (however the drawing room operates an honesty bar for night owls who fancy a digestif).
The next morning, I leave the tranquil cocoon of the house to explore its grounds. Sparkling frost and gentle mist make a magical scene in the sunlight: Palé Hall is just right for winter escapes, and this relaxing retreat feels a world – and almost a century – away from London, despite only taking around three hours to reach.
With a heavy heart I leave its warm glow, and as I drive away, I now imagine that Queen Victoria and Churchill would be thoroughly impressed with the Harpers’ restoration, and would have wondered – like me – when they would be able to return.