Palé Hall – the ultimate luxury staycation at this top hotel in Snowdonia
For some, the pop of a Champagne cork instantly conjures up a feeling of pleasure. For me, it will be remembering the crunch of tyre on gravel, pulling up in front of Palé Hall and hearing that first, friendly welcome. While your welcome is guaranteed to be warm, hopefully, your forehead won’t be, as your temperature will be taken straight away as part of the hotel’s COVID-19 safety measures. Not only following government and industry guidelines, but Palé Hall has also signed up to the AA’s COVID Confident Charter. Social distancing rules apply and with hand sanitiser available all around the hotel, you can be assured Palé Hall are doing everything they can to keep you as safe as possible.
With COVID-19 restrictions being eased, Palé Hall only re-opened in August but it has lost none of the character which made it so special pre-lockdown – it still lives up to its reputation as one of the UK’s best places to stay, with all you could desire in a country house hotel. An impressive mansion, built in 1871 in an ‘’eclectic Jacobean‑style’’ and topped off with clock tower and spire, Palé Hall has collected numerous accolades since it opened in 2015 under new ownership after major restoration. It’s rated an AA Five Red Star hotel (one of the only three in Wales) and is a member of the Relais & Chateaux network. And if that wasn’t enough, it was recently included in TripAdvisor’s top 25 UK luxury hotels for 2020.
Set in extensive and impeccably well-kept grounds above the River Dee, Palé Hall’s lush lawns are an inviting place to sit out in warm, sunny weather while its cool woodlands beckon if the heat gets too much. (Yes, this really can happen in Wales). Inside, Palé Hall’s owners, Alan and Angela Harper have captured the Downton-like essence of a grand country house through thoughtful and tasteful restoration. Cosy by night, by day the floor-to-ceiling windows allow light to flood in, highlighting the smart colour schemes, warm oak panelling, pretty stained-glass, fine plasterwork, smart tiles, splendid chandeliers, grand fireplaces and antique furniture.
Climb the beautifully carved staircase, and you’ll find Palé Hall’s 18 stylish bedrooms and suites (Classic, Turret, Grand, Master and Superior). The rooms are in the same opulent country house style as the rest of the house: all individually designed and furnished but uniformly beautiful. The beds are naturally the centre-piece of each room and there’s some really eye-catching furniture.
The spacious Carmarthen, for example, with its large bay windows, commands outstanding views over the Dee valley and surrounding mountains. There’s a small dressing room and a fabulous bathroom with a large slipper bath and separate shower cubicle, toiletries are the finest, by Noble Isle.
The TV disguised as a gilt-framed mirror is a superb touch. With no minibar (there’s complimentary Welsh Afon Mel mead and water from Palé Hall’s own source) or annoying hotel room clutter, bedrooms have real character and it all feels proper country house. Some of the rooms are dog-friendly. The Churchill Suite (Winston was an occasional guest during the 1950s) has a high, vaulted wooden and stained glass ceiling, which you can admire from atop the four-poster bed. The marble bathroom with copper bateau bath adds to the luxury. Another visitor was Queen Victoria and she’s remembered in the Victoria Room, where you can bathe in the same tub she did.
For those who like a bit more seclusion, four garden suites have recently been opened in the old Coach House away from the main building.
As regards dining, Palé Hall’s food is superb thanks to head chef Gareth Stevenson who’s worked in Michelin-starred kitchens alongside Gordon Ramsey and Raymond Blanc. Gareth must be on his way to his own Michelin star but already has an AA 3 rosette rating for his vision, creativity and skill. Gareth’s stage is the Henry Robertson Dining Room, Palé Hall’s fine dining restaurant, named for the hall’s Victorian creator. With its ornate plaster ceilings and marble fireplace, this room was designed to impress. It’s a light and elegant room, in no way diminished by the transparent screens socially distancing the tables (and thwarting would-be eavesdroppers), where afternoon tea and Gareth’s tasting menus, ‘’The Five’’ or ‘’The Eight’’ are served.
The Eight is a series of delightful and delicious dishes, each one imaginative, clever and utterly wow-worthy.
It starts with hand-dived scallop with aged ponzu (citrussy soy) sauce and slivers of radish, followed by sweet Norfolk quail, leg and breast, served with delicate peanut satay, pak choi and a zingy spoonful of yuzu gel. The heirloom tomato is served in a chilled tomato broth, really more of an intensely flavoured tomato consommé, with bocconcini and a crisp linseed cracker. Next up is a chunk of lovely, gently Roasted cod with wild garlic, Ratte potato, verjus and a sprinkle of caviar. The braised neck of Welsh lamb is slow-cooked to mouth-melting softness and flavour. It’s served with a duo of pea, a little ewes’ curd and gnocchi, boiled then fried gently to create a sublime crispy skin. The jus is nicely sticky, a black garlic treacle. A Victorian dinner wouldn’t be complete without a ‘’savoury’’ and Gareth gives a nod to this tradition with the next course, simply described as ‘’Hafod’’. If you know your onions, you’ll know this is a Cheddar-like Welsh cheese and served with pickled shallot and tomato chutney, this is the best cheese toastie you’ll eat. Anywhere. Ever.
Desserts are Peach Melba, crowned with a circle of delicate meringue with raspberry dust, and some dark chocolate mousse with peanut and miso ice cream to finish you off (in a good way…)As an alternative to fine dining, the Huntsman Bar and Bistro offers a short menu of moderately priced, but beautifully cooked dishes. It includes gravadlax, salmon and the most perfect chicken liver parfait for starters and for mains, Welsh Black beef, beer-battered cod and chips and chicken supreme with chorizo. The Huntsman also serves great sandwiches from lunch until teatime.
The Garden Pavilion runs along the side of the house looking out onto the lawns. A relaxed marquee-like affair, it’s comfortably furnished with fine rugs, tables and chairs, and an ideal place to enjoy a Palé Hall breakfast. Or to watch the dramatic thunder and lightning flashes of a Welsh summer storm, with a glass of something from Palé Hall’s extensive list of high-quality wines and other drinks. Everything about this country house hotel is top quality. The staff are the right degree of friendly, chatty if you want to chat, helpful and professional, all keen to give you a smooth experience from the moment you arrive.
At Palé Hall you’re encouraged to be a house guest, not a hotel guest. Although it’s the kind of place where it’s possible to arrive by helicopter, it’s also the kind of place which will sort out some carrots for your kids to go and feed Bertie the donkey (who provides his own novel form of wakeup call).
Palé Hall is the perfect place to celebrate an anniversary or any special occasion. To spend Christmas or New Year (there are some great packages on offer) or to get married – the hotel is licensed to perform civil ceremonies. Or just to indulge yourself using the L’Oréal excuse – because you’re worth it. It’s easy to understand why many of its guests return year after year. Such high quality can come with a bill to match but a truly memorable stay in beautiful surroundings, enjoying such excellent food, is priceless. In years to come, you won’t have forgotten Palé Hall or that first crunch of tyre on gravel.
Pale Hall Hotel & Restaurant
Tel: 01678 530 285
Looking for something different? We also recommend The Hand at Llanarmon
Nick stayed as a guest of Palé Hall Hotel, Snowdonia