Country houses are few and far between now in north Wales – after the Second World War, many fell into disarray or were even demolished as social conditions dramatically changed. An exception to the “lost houses” phenomenon, however, is the baronial Palé Hall, which has been brought back to life and is once again one of Wales’s finest country homes.
In its heyday, Winston Churchill stayed when it was a shooting estate and even Queen Victoria spent an extended week here in 1899 after falling in love with it. The Grade II-listed building, complete with a spire and intricate stone work, was built in 1871 for Scottish industrialist Henry Robertson, who has been discreetly remembered by the Robertson Scottish tartan now sweeping up the huge staircase.
Inside are all the hallmarks of a Crawley family-worthy residence: a grand entrance hall, with floor-to-ceiling walnut wood and parquet flooring, and a huge roaring fireplace at its centre; an equally grand drawing room; a dining room; the breakfast room; and a library.
And owners Alan and Angie Harper – who bought Palé Hall a year ago, then spent the next 11 months sympathetically refurbishing the property – aren’t going it alone. Partnered with British chef, Michael Caines MBE, the hotel is as much about the food as it is the history and upper-class comfort.
Sitting just outside of the Snowdonia National Park, four miles from Bala, it’s pretty much essential to have a car here. Not just for the fantastic winding roads that climb the rolling hills, giving views of nothing but green fields for miles (and, naturally, thousands of sheep) – but because it is rather remote. The hotel can arrange transfers from Chester train station which is just over an hour away, or you can arrange car hire from there.
The hotel sits on the eastern edge of the park above the River Dee on its own estate. Today it’s surrounded by 14 acres, but once covered 32,000. You can walk around the estate’s wooded area and, in summer, have tea on the lawns. The location makes it an ideal base for walkers. Drive an hour west to the Ogwen Valley for fantastic scenery and rambling through the valley.
Each of the hotel’s 18 rooms is individually designed, with huge beds, luxury patterned wallpaper, and all with a view over the Dee Valley and Berwyn mountains. Across five categories, rooms range from classic to superior suites.
The rooms are free of unsightly mod-cons and feel very homely. TV screens are cleverly hidden in the huge mirrors and mini bars are absent – instead rooms have a decanter of Meridian wine and bottled water from the estate.
I stayed in Ruthin – which the owners have dubbed “the Princess and the Pea room”, named for its high bed, which has moveable steps leading up to it. Light pours in through the three large windows, with a chaise lounge in front to enjoy the sun setting over the Welsh hills outside. (Should there be any sun.) The bathroom has floor-to-ceiling tiles, a freestanding bath and a separate shower with rain head, and gorgeous Verbena L’Occitane toiletries you actually want to use.
The whole place feels more fantasy home than hotel, exactly as the owners intend. For example, instead of gaudy do-not-disturb signs, guests hang a coloured tassel on the door for the cleaners.
Breakfast – pastries, cereals and cooked breakfasts including a full Welsh fry-up – is served in the old kitchen, which still has the cast iron range. Morning tea and coffee – along with your paper of choice – can be delivered to your room beforehand.
As is the danger with anywhere so formally attired, the Henry Robertson dining room lacks atmosphere – instead, tables murmur in hushed tones. But the head chef, Gareth Stevenson, who trained under Michael Caines, offers creative, well-presented menus with seasonal and local ingredients, such as roast welsh lamb with smoked aubergine purée, boulangere potatoes, roast garlic and tapenade jus. You can choose between an eight-course tasting menu for £85, accompanied by an optional wine flight for an added £35, or an à la carte menu for £60. Try the Snowdonia gin, soon to be accompanied by the estate’s very own. Service is pleasant but slow – probably something that comes with trying to staff a luxury hotel in a remote area.
Overall, the hotel is beautiful and details have been cleverly thought through. But the bigger rooms come with a hefty price tag, when other similar-styled hotels offer the same or more, for less. No doubt, it’s relaxing and quiet, but hopefully a little more atmosphere will come with time.
Palé Hall & Restaurant, Palé Estate, Llandderfel, Bala, Gwynedd (palehall.co.uk).
Double rooms start from £190, B&B.
Pets: Dogs allowed
Access: Lift available
Value ***Reuse content