Finding a Stairway to Heaven – a retreat that is Fit for a Queen
When you are looking for a sanctuary that will give you fresh mountain air and a fascinating history then you can’t do much better than Ynyshir Hall- after all it was once the retreat of Queen Victoria. With such an impeccable pedigree, I packed my vintage trunk and headed off to find out if Ynyshir Hall was still fit for a queen.
As I drove up the sweeping gravel drive the 16th Century Mansion looked every bit as spectacular as I imagined it might. On entering the hotel I was warmly welcomed by owner, Joan Reen and her bright eyed, friendly St. Bernard dog, Theo. After my drive I was glad to relax in the lounge with a nice pot of tea and as I sat enjoying the peace and tranquillity it struck me that whilst Ynyshir Hall has a truly fascinating history, it was no stuffy country house. Indeed its vibrant interior décor was a real breath of fresh air, but then with its very own artist in residence it was always going to be unique. Rob Reen is not only joint proprietor of the hotel, but he is a professional artist. Working mainly in oil on canvas his works are often inspired by the local landscape and are on display throughout the property. I was most taken with his exhibition entitled ‘Studies of Sheep’ which was on display throughout the hotel and was completely enchanting.
Throughout the ages Ynsyshir hall has been cherished by a series of eminent owners including Queen Victoria, who was responsible for planting many of the trees that still grace the gardens today. However, if the history royal ownership alone isn’t enough to impress you, then it is worth considering that the famous Welsh Poet RS Thomas was the vicar of the local church at Eglwysfach and then of course we must not forget that Led Zeppelin wrote Stairway to Heaven about the nearby Artists’ Valley.
In 1928 Ynyshir Hall was sold to William Hubert Mappin of the distinguished jewellers, Mappin and Webb. Mappin continued to develop the gardens, however, on his death in 1966, 1,000 acres of the estate were sold to the RSPB, to establish the bird reserve that still exists today and was the filming location of BBC’s Spring Watch.
You certainly don’t have to worry about being bored at this refined hotel for if you tire of the fourteen acre garden, you can take a walk on a wild beach, climb a mountain or simply recline in the bar with a good book. An easy circular walk from Ynyshir Hall will take you sufficiently high for a spectacular view of the Dyfi Estuary, while the more adventurous can explore the beauty of the Cambrian Mountains. The scenery is magnificent and more stunning than I ever anticipated.
I find vintage heels tend to favour a more relaxed way of seeing views and this can be achieved via the Vale of Rheidol Railway from Aberystwyth to the waterfalls at Devil’s Bridge, a favoured beauty spot since Victorian times. The steam locomotives and carriages date back to the 1920s and the hour-long journey in each direction passes through stunning scenery where red kites soar above the track.
Ynyshir Hall certainly has a lovely aura about it and to be honest I was quite happy to entertain myself with milling about the gardens and taking afternoon tea. Although after indulging in one of the most luxurious afternoon teas I have ever had the delight to partake in I was rather happy to just retreat to bedroom and take in the spectacular views overlooking the Cambrian Mountains. I stayed in the Chagall Garden Suite, set slightly apart from the hotel, this was a real retreat. With huge film-star bathroom, lounge, private balcony and a fireplace made from stone quarried from its own gardens. Then there was complimentary sherry, a huge antique bed and sumptuous décor; it is true to say that I really did feel like a queen for the entire stay.
A string of famous guests have graced this boutique hotel including Richard Gere, Denise Van Outen, Patricia Routledge, Rob Brydon, Carol Smillie, Alison Steadman and Jeffrey Archer. Whilst on the walls of reception there are personal tributes to the hotel owners from Eddie Izzard, Richard Gere and Julia Ormond. It truly is a unique place and it was nice to know that my visit was amongst a legacy of famous faces.
My stay was fast approaching its conclusion, but a lasting memory will always be dining in the Michelin starred restaurant. Whilst the art of the walls of the restaurant is inspirational, the food on the plates are pieces of art in their own right. Head chef, Gareth Ward, and his team have succeeded in creating innovative tasting menus that are designed to delight. Never before have I had a chef attend my table with a canister of liquid nitrogen and as my ice cream was duly frozen in front of my eyes, I can only conclude that it was very tasty food theatre. No wonder they have won awards.
Well I had to relinquish my throne and return home, but when I am in need of a retreat again and some regal treatment I shall head off to this charming hotel.
Ynyshir Hall, Eglwysfach, Machynlleth, Powys, SY20 8TA
Tel: 01654 781 209 Email: info@Ynyshirhall.co.uk