|By Mary Ellen Botter, The Dallas Morning
NewsMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
May 2, 2008 - LLANDUDNO, Wales -- What must this tree have seen in its 200 or so years?
A broad pillar of scaly bark with an umbrella of leafy branches, the stone pine towering beside Bodysgallen Hall would have been here through times of brilliant parties, genteel country weekends and grand living. Today, it watches weekenders, the well-heeled and romantics take a break from urban life.
Considered Wales' finest country house hotel, the much-awarded Bodysgallen Hall (say bodice- GATH-un) is a bastion of hospitality and tranquility a mile and a half from the Victorian resort town of Llandudno. In its earliest recorded history, it was, simply, a bastion: a watchtower built in the 13th century to protect Conwy Castle two miles to the southwest.
That five-story tower stands today at the heart of Bodysgallen Hall, newer buildings from the 17th century onward cupping it like hands around a candle. As did the watchmen of old, guests can climb the tower's steps and look out on luxuriant Welsh countryside, mountains of Snowdonia and the castle in the distance.
"Guests come here for the peace and quiet more than anything," says receptionist Karen Ross.
They find it in the peaceful landscapes and deep comfort of the accommodations.
Of the 15 rooms in the main hall (four of them suites) and 16 cottages offering greater privacy, I draw Gingerbread Cottage, a three-level charmer with its own small, walled garden. The lowest level, which opens onto that little green haven, is set with thick-cushioned easy chairs, television and small desk. Mid-level contains a roomy bathroom with soaking tub and a small kitchen area with coffee and tea fixings. The roomy loft with bed, desk and tables overlooks the cottage's garden. No noise from other cottages invades the cozy space.
Paths wind through Bodysgallen's 200 acres of woodland and meadows, and a map available at registration lays out three easy walks.
Protected from the wind by stone walls, Bodysgallen's gardens are lush and productive. Flowers are irresistible to visitors strolling the grounds. They stop, marvel at the rainbow-to-pastel colors and inhale the blooms' fragrances. Espaliered trees provide fruit in season to the hotel's kitchen. Herbs grown here flavor the meals.
Roses pruned to topiary trees decorate one sunken garden reached by steps from the pink-limestone main buildings. A rockery with a waterfall beckons in another, and decorative small buildings set like gems in a necklace transport you to past times. But it's the mazelike, 17th-century parterre that combines art with botany. Carefully trimmed box hedges enclose scented herbs, all linked by narrow walkways creating a geometric pattern.
Reached via the garden is the original farm, its stone building converted to a spa with a large pool, fitness equipment and treatments using Anne Semonin products from France.
Each of the two levels of Bodysgallen's public areas has a drawing room with fine old furnishings, and each offers ells and alcoves where quiet conversations or reading are possible and tea or light meals can be served. Frothy white onion soup the color of antique lace and a panini arrived promptly and hot in the Crocodile Alcove. Soft light through stone-mullioned windows of the 17th-century house seemed to add flavor to tea sipped in the peach-colored corner.
The hotel's restaurant is noted for its afternoon tea, though breakfast, lunch and dinner also are available. Dishes emphasize local produce and may include cod fillet, Welsh black beef or pork raised locally.
Bodysgallen Hall is away from the world but not isolated. Short drives reach five castles: Conwy, Beaumaris, Harlech, Penrhyn and the huge Caernarfon, considered one of Europe's most beautiful. The peaks and glacial valleys of Snowdonia National Park are to the south. Five miles away is the Bodnant Garden. Museums and relics of Wales' slate-mining history are at hand. Serene villages are a day-tripper's delight. And lovely Anglesey Island offers an opportunity to visit the town behind the trivia question: Britain's longest place name? Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (a.k.a. Llanfairpwllgwyngyll).
WHEN YOU GO
Bodysgallen Hall is 85 miles from Manchester and 227 miles from London. Regular train service from London reaches Llandudno Junction in 3 1/2 hours. The hotel can arrange a taxi for the short ride from the station.
Rates -- Standard room in the main hall, about $350 per night; suites, about $790.
-- Double cottage, about $370; Gingerbread Cottage, $450.
-- Continental breakfast is included in the room rate; cooked breakfast, add about $14.
-- Afternoon tea, $28 per person.
-- Three-course, fixed-price dinner, about $85; lunch, $54.
-- Tours guided by the head gardener, about $57.
-- Online specials may be available.
Bodysgallen Hall, 1-800-260-8338 or 011-44-1492-584466; www.bodysgallen.com.
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