Evening Standard review


'The outside pool was the principal attraction…'

Louise Jury visits the St Brides Spa Hotel, which has been transformed from the original old-fashioned hotel into a 34-room destination spa, and Fairyhill, an ivy-covered country-house hotel in the middle of the majestic Gower Peninsula.

Think of an infinity pool and you probably imagine the Caribbean, not Carmarthen. But the icing on the cake of a visit to the St Brides Spa Hotel in Saundersfoot, Pembrokeshire, is the surprise pleasure of the warm waters of an infinity pool with a view over the quaint little harbour, dog walkers on the beach, and Camarthen Bay beyond.

It is not large but it is magical. For me, a spa novice, the outside pool was the principal attraction. Even when summer rain bounced merrily off the surface, the weather could easily be forgotten by a press of the button which turned the rain-splashed water into a bubbling hot tub. Every guest receives a free 90-minute session in the pool, sauna, steam rooms and jungle and mountain mist-themed showers.

And I would be very happy to indulge at St Brides, which has been transformed from the original old-fashioned hotel by local owners Andrew and Lindsey Evans into a 34-room destination spa. It was named AA hotel of the year in 2012 on the back of it.

Driftwood, photographs of shells and pebbles and small tin cans of razor shells may not be a novel theme for a venue perched on a clifftop overlooking a small seaside town but provide a restful decor. After the best part of a five-hour drive from London, it was a mild disappointment to find our room overlooked the car park in a hotel that boasts it was “designed around the view”.

But with the exception of rather basic — for the setting — toiletries (and no shampoo), there was little else to fault. There was real milk in the fridge for tea, an ironing board and iron and the staff could not have been more helpful in booking a time for the spa.

The bed offered a mattress so high it seemed designed for the princess with the pea and the television was enormous. I’m sure the DVDs available for loan from reception would have looked splendid on the big screen had we not spent the time exploring Saundersfoot beach and the unspoiled charms of neighbouring Tenby instead.

On our return, we read papers at the tables in the bar before taking a window seat for dinner in the Cliff restaurant, where main courses were around £20 and starters £7 or £8. I enjoyed plump scallops — Scottish, not Welsh — with lentils, then a beautifully prepared monkfish tail with rosti and leeks, my partner had in-season asparagus with a just-right hollandaise sauce, then sole.

It was a disappointment to have to leave the hotel as we headed off to Laugharne on the banks of the Taf River, inspiration for Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood and visited the Boat House, where he and wife Caitlin lived for several years. It was the ideal place to escape the rain — which cleared for our arrival at Fairyhill, an ivy-covered country-house hotel of cosy Georgian grandeur in the middle of the majestic Gower Peninsula.

Built in 1720 and with just eight bedrooms, it felt more akin to staying with very posh friends. Our enormous bedroom, complete with sofa, looked across the manicured lawn. There were toiletries and candles in the bathroom and, my personal expert advised me, a good selection of whiskies in the bar. But it was the restaurant that proved the true treat. An imaginative menu really well-executed offered delights such as tiny but exquisite Bloody Mary sorbet balls with Devon crab for starters and Welsh pork belly with lobster from the nearby Caldey Island for mains. Desserts seemed even more inventive, with green tea and hibiscus panna cotta or gooseberry cake, elderflower and honey granola and an excellent board of five Welsh cheeses. Having recently fallen for Sicilian wine, we were even able to indulge our new-found passion, though Welsh-grown varieties were on offer had we been adventurous. Some breaks include dinner but if not, it is £35 for two courses and £45 for three.

The hotel is 15 minutes’ drive from Rhossili Bay, voted one of the best beaches in the world earlier this year, and the spectacular Worm’s Head, if you fancy trying to counteract the calories with a walk along a three-mile stretch. The alternative is a gentler stroll through the grounds to the lake followed by a visit to the ducks of the walled garden, where vegetables are grown for use in the kitchens. Again, we longed to be staying longer. Both hotels are part of Welsh Rarebits, a group of more than 40 “hotels of distinction” promising high standards, hands-on hosts who care and good food. I’d try another Rarebit like a shot.

St Brides Spa Hotel Saundersfoot, Pembrokeshire, has doubles from £150 B&B; Fairyhill, Reynoldston, Gower, has double rooms from £180 B&B, rarebits.co.uk

Source: Evening Standard, 7 August 2013


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