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A Welsh Weekend at The Angel, Abergavenny.
Some time ago, we were invited to try the famous afternoon tea at The Angel Hotel in Abergavenny. It looked and sounded completely delicious – and my colleague came back enthusing about the hotel itself. So, a second invitation to stay at The Angel and learn more about the hotel itself was one not to miss. Travelling by train from London is relatively straightforward – a two-hour journey to Newport and then half an hour to Abergavenny itself where the hotel is a comfortable 10-minute walk from the station. Fortune smiled on me, the sun was shining and it was hard not to be charmed by this quirky market town which is perhaps best known for an annual food festival.
Arriving as evening was drawing in, it was obvious Abergavenny was beginning to get dressed up for Christmas with the streets lined with twinkly lights and the shopfronts full of tinsel and greenery. Inside the hotel was warm and welcoming, comfy armchairs, pretty autumn foliage, wood panelling, subtle lighting and perhaps more than anything else, staff who smiled. Checked in, I went upstairs to find my spacious deluxe room, which came with a sofa and armchair, large tv, small desk, tea and coffee making facilities and a welcome pack that included fresh apple juice, water and homemade shortbread biscuits.
I loved the tiny radio by the bed – and the fresh flowers brought a homely touch to the elegant space. Oh, and plenty of the sockets had those useful USB ports for charging phones and notepads
The massive king-sized bed was super soft and piled high with fluffy pillows. There were robes in the bathroom and plenty of luscious toiletries. I’d only question why the shower cap was hidden in the wardrobe – I did find it – after I’d soaked my hair in the shower!
Wandering around the charming public rooms, it was obvious that The Angel is somewhere local people feel as comfortable as hotel guests. I could easily have curled up for the evening in the Foxhunter bar and was particularly thrilled to meet the niece of Sir Harry Llewellyn the next morning. No, I didn’t know about ‘Foxhunter’ until then, but he was the champion showjumping horse who won Britain’s only gold medal at the 1952 Olympics. Obviously a local favourite, Foxhunter is buried on the Blorenge mountain between Abergavenny and Blaenavon and Sir Harry’s ashes are scattered there too. The bar is lined with pictures of the paid and the Angel Ale is called ‘Sir Harry’ in their honour.
The Angel Hotel has a history as a coaching inn dating back to before 1736. During the 1830s carriages travelled from the hotel to Hereford, Worcester, Wolverhampton and Birmingham. While the building has been extensively renovated, most recently between 1980 and 1981, there are plenty of original features, including a grand staircase and wonderfully proportioned rooms. A Grade II listed building, there are currently 34 bedrooms and 2 self-contained cottages.
We spent the evening enjoying a private dinner in The Cellar, one of three private dining rooms in the hotel. Our supper included platters of seafood (apparently a very popular menu item from the main restaurant)
We went on to try a range of Thai dishes – the hotel has a monthly Thai supper club if you happen to be in the area.
The Angel offers a range of group packages, for corporate events, weddings and large celebrations. Service for our group of around 18 was seamless and the phrase ‘service with a smile’ was definitely applicable – I haven’t come across such a friendly welcome in a long time
Of course, for regular guests, you are more likely to dine in the bar or in The Oak Room. Spacious and elegant, with large windows the Oak Room is used for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. Set here for afternoon tea with white table linen and champagne glasses, it looks particularly pretty.
We enjoyed breakfast here, though I was so full from the meal the night before that I couldn’t manage anything more than tea and toast. One of my friends, however, ordered a full breakfast, which came with excellent local bacon and sausages and some nicely prepared mushrooms.
The other opted for a healthy avocado and poached egg on sourdough.
It’s worth noting that the Angel has a sister bakery next door – do try one of their breakfast croissants if you get to stay!
I was impressed by the lunch menu and ended up sneaking in to taste the food on offer in the form of two starters from the menu. I really loved the leek, potato and horseradish soup – light and frothy with just a hint of tang from the horseradish, it paired well with the hot-smoked salmon crostini with pickled cucumber served on the side.
To follow, a dainty salad of wood pigeon, quail’s egg and crispy pancetta which, for me, was perfect lunch size. The pigeon breast was full of flavour and cooked to perfection with a deep sear on the outside and delicate pink flesh inside. And the quail eggs had runny yolks – something I can never quite manage to work.
The hotel had very kindly organised a couple of activities for us on our visit. First, we headed off to try our hand at wreath making with Amy and Simon who make up a local enterprise called The Gourmet Gardener.
They’ve restored a 2-acre Victorian walled garden just outside Abergavenny and run a plant nursery, productive kitchen garden and small shop from there. While the garden itself is in winter mode, they are focussing on workshops and activities using their own produce.
I have to say, I found it much harder to make a wreath based on a wire ring than my previous attempts where my efforts started with a pre-formed moss and foam ring. The final result wasn’t bad, though, in the end, the practicalities of trying to avoid poking out someone’s eye on the tube coming home meant I gifted mine to my friends who were driving.
Later that day we went off with local expert Kim Waters to search for leaping salmon, something that can only be seen in November each year.
Despite the near-perfect weather the salmon didn’t leap for us. But, the beautiful countryside more than made up for that and I genuinely regret not having more time to explore the area.
If you are keen on the outdoors, the hotel can help by providing detailed guides to walking routes in the area and trekking centres. Abergavenny is a town that you can reach by train and then get out into the countryside on foot – a walk up the ‘Sugar Loaf Mountain’ from the Hotel will take you a couple of hours for example.
There are also plenty of sights to explore, from Big Pit, which tells the story of the Welsh Coal Mining Industry, complete with underground tours of what used to be working mine, through to Tintern Abbey, stunning Gothic ruins painted by Turner. Thanks to the location of The Angel on the Welsh/English borders, there are more castles in this part of Wales than anywhere else in the country. The town itself is packed with heritage, including the ruins of the Norman Abergavenny Castle and Museum.
Part of the same group as The Angel Hotel, the Art Shop and the Chapel are a carefully restored 16th-century townhouse and a 19th-century chapel in the centre of town focussed on local arts and crafts. Sadly both were closed when we visited – though perhaps that just necessitates a return trip?
Whether you are focussed on local food and drink, on heritage or on the stunning countryside, The Angel in Abergavenny is a great base for a Welsh Marches break. Around two and a half hours from London by train, it’s the perfect weekend getaway.
15 Cross Street
Wales, NP7 5EN UK
I travelled to Wales from London Paddington with GWR (Great Western Railway), www.gwr.com.