PHOTO: Llangoed Hall. (photo courtesy of Visit Wales)
Wales, the country with a fiery red dragon on its flag, has named 2017 as the “Year of Legends.” Wales has been a home of legends since ancient Celtic times, known for the myths and magic that permeates its landscape. The country that gave birth to Merlin, the magician and King Arthur’s sidekick, has been an inspiration behind stories like Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Alice in Wonderland, Dr. Who and the latest Arthurian epic, Guy Ritchie’s, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, coming out in May 2017.
Everywhere you go in Wales you'll hear stories being told. You can even stay in accommodations rich with lore and legend. Here are three great stays, each with their own story:
Llangoed Hall is one of the UK's most beloved and romantic country house venues. The hotel’s history dates back to 560 AD, when the current location was believed to be the site of the first parliament in Wales, also known as the White Palace.
Since then, the location has had a colorful history.
A mansion was built in the Jacobean era in 1632 and then redesigned in 1912 as a country house by Clough Williams Ellis, over 10 years before the British architect designed the famous Portmeirion in North Wales. Sir Bernard Ashley, husband of the iconic designer Laura Ashley, bought Llangoed Hall in 1987 and opened it as a hotel in 1990, luring stays by royals like Prince Charles and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, William and Kate - who continue to love and visit the property.
The elegant country house, which has been a filming location for Downton Abbey, is known for its world-class cuisine. It won a Condé Nast Johansens Award in 2014, taking home the title of “Best Restaurant in Britain and Ireland” - it also won their “Best for Green Practices” award in 2016. Not only can you dine on fine Welsh cooking at the hotel, the property’s wine cellar was listed on the AA Notable Wine List 2014-2015. (llangoedhall.co.uk/)
Ancient Celtic and early Christian history merge just offshore Tenby Harbour in Pembrokeshire at Caldey Island. A pleasant boat trip from Tenby takes you to this beautiful and fascinating destination.
Inhabited since the Stone Age, Caldey has been populated by various orders of monks since Celtic times. It is now owned by Cistercian monks whose picturesque monastery overlooks the village green and the local islanders’ cottages.
You can visit the island’s historic Old Priory and explore the medieval churches of St. David and St. Illtud. Drop in at the video centre to see a short film about life on the island and in the monastery. Visitors are also welcome to attend one of the short-chanted services in the Abbey Church, which forms part of the monks’ daily prayer life.
Stay with the current order of monks that inhabit St. Phenomena's Abbey for a night or more, sharing the contemplative orders' simple but filling fare and even meditating or participating in worship services.
In the village, you can buy the perfumes, chocolate and shortbread all made on the island by the monks themselves. The village post office is also a museum giving an interesting insight into Caldey's history. Postcards and special covers are stamped with the Caldey Island handstamp. (caldey-island.co.uk/accom.htm).
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Gwydir Castle lies at the edge of Snowdonia National Park in the Conwy Valley. Built in the 1400’s, Gwydir is considered to be one of the finest Tudor estates in Wales. It is the ancestral home of the powerful Wynn family, descended from the original Welsh Princes. It also has associations with Queen Elizabeth I and various plots against the famous monarch. Ghost lovers will be intrigued with its status as one of the most haunted homes in Wales.
The castle is still occupied and has been lovingly restored for the past 22 years by owners Peter Welford and Judy Corbett. The publishing magnate, William Randolph Hearst, the inspiration for Citizen Kane, once bought a full room - The Oak Room - and took it out of the castle. It's still being sought by Welford and Corbett.
The owners actually found hand-carved panels from the original dining room, which Hearst also purchased, in a storage room at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In 1998, the panels were brought home to Gwydir and restored at a ceremony attended by His Royal Highness Prince Charles of Wales. But the mysterious Oak Room continues to be hunted by the pair who are determined to find and return it to its rightful home.
In the meantime, the castle has two period furnished rooms, the King's Room and the Duke of Beaufort's Chamber, where travelers can stay in four-poster beds soaking up the rich history of this ancient treasure trove of tales. They may even see a ghost or two. (gwydircastle.co.uk)