Barometer: Bodysgallen Hall, North Wales
Everyone knows about Spain’s Paradors, the chain of state-backed hotels in converted castles, convents and historic palaces dotted across the country. Many have visited Portugal’s equivalent, the Pousadas de Portugal. But who knew Britain had its own, albeit much smaller, version – a group of hotels run not for profit, but to conserve the nation’s heritage?
There are three members of the Historic House Hotels group – Middlethorpe Hall in York, Hartwell House in Buckinghamshire and, oldest of all, Bodysgallen Hall, close to Llandudno in north Wales. Since 2008 the group has been owned by the National Trust, something immediately obvious as we turn off the busy A470 and cross the cattle grid into the long drive. The discreet oak-leaf logos, the restrained paint tones and the traditional wrought-iron fences are all reassuringly familiar from innumerable childhood trips to the Trust’s stately homes.
The feeling continues inside. The front door (opened with a colossal brass handle) creaks back to reveal a dark-wood panelled room, with mullioned windows and centuries-old portraits in heavy frames.
It’s as grand and historic as most National Trust houses but there are no prickly attendants telling you not to touch, no velvet ropes, no prescribed route from room to room. Here you can wander at will, take your pick of the antique chairs, then sit down and order a cocktail.
The oldest part of the building dates from the 13th century but stand outside and you can see the dates of subsequent extensions inscribed in the stones and iron downpipes: 1620, 1752, 1894 and 1905. The bedrooms, though, belong more to the 1980s. Ours has chintzy floral curtains which match the valance and the little jacket for the box of tissues that sits on the dressing table. Beside the bed is an ancient Roberts radio and a card gives the frequencies of suggested stations: Classic FM and Radios 2 to 4 (no need for Radio 1 here).
There are blankets not duvets; the tea comes with a strainer and an extra pot of hot water. I can’t help imagining I’m visiting my late grandmother (which is a rather comforting experience).
Some might mock the slightly hectoring signage (“swimming costumes must never be dried on radiators in bedrooms”) but I suspect many guests will find themselves nodding in agreement.
Dinner is excellent: loin and neck of Welsh lamb, followed by rhubarb mousse, thyme macaroon and nutmeg ice cream. In the morning we wander among the dreamy gardens. There are ponds, rockeries and follies, a walled garden full of box hedges and herbs, and another bursting with apple, pear and fig trees and swathes of flowers.
A croquet lawn borders a woodland glade where sheep are grazing. Beyond, the views stretch past the towers of Conwy Castle to the blue-grey peaks of Snowdonia.
The spell is slightly broken by road noise but, even so, Bodysgallen should be on the to-do list of anyone interested in British history, ancient and more recent. It is the absolute opposite of the “hip hotel”, and rather wonderful for it.
The Royal Welsh Way, Llandudno, North Wales, LL30 1RS 01492 584466; www.bodysgallen.com. Doubles from £179
The hotel is two miles south of Llandudno, and a mile from Llandudno Junction station. Direct trains from Euston take three hours
Hot holidays Icy adventures
If a quick spin on a seasonal city-centre ice rink has you yearning for more space and better scenery, consider a skating holiday in Sweden. Iceguide runs day trips from Stockholm out on the coastal sea ice. From £132 with all equipment. Three-day weekend trips are also available, with sister company Swedish Skating Adventure. iceguide.se; swedishskatingadventure.se
In January and February, visitors to Canada’s capital can go sightseeing on ice. The Rideau Canal goes through the heart of the city, passing close by the Parliament buildings, and when it freezes over a 7.8km stretch is turned into a natural ice rink. There are heated chalets where you can hire skates and change, and food and drink stalls on the ice. ncc-ccn.gc.ca
Sitting almost 1,000m above sea level in the mountains of southern Austria, the Weissensee is usually frozen hard from December to March. The “icemaster” and his team set out and tend a 25km long skating route around the lake. There are also ice-hockey pitches and a speed-skating track. Several hotels offer cosy accommodation on the edge of the ice. weissensee.com