You’ve visited those historic country houses that abound in Britain; peered at the mysterious faces in ancient oil paintings, admired delicate ornaments and furnishings, and reluctantly left at the end of the day. But did you ever imagine you could stay in one? More and more old houses are being adapted into hotels for discerning guests, and Bodysgallen Hall, a member of the Welsh Rarebits Collection in the heart of the North Wales countryside, is a perfect example. A stay at Bodysgallen Hall is like a step back to a gentler time. From arrival, as you sweep up the private driveway through undulating grounds, the stone house arises in front of you. Perched alone on the side of a Welsh mountain, Bodysgallen makes quite a first impression. There is no signage outside the hotel front door, so you really feel like you’re arriving at a private home for the weekend. I pushed open the heavy, creaking door and was greeted with the warm, smoky aroma of an open fire. I was in a cosy lounge decorated in traditional country-house style. A couple were quietly reading by the snapping fire, other than that there was peace. I had arrived early so I took tea in the lounge. I picked a secluded alcove where the sun was shining through the window onto a plump sofa. On the coffee table was a discreet note requesting mobile phones and computers not to be used in this area, and I almost panicked at the thought, but quickly saw the benefit. I relaxed into the idea of simply sitting and unwinding. There were coffee-table books or the Saturday papers to flick through, the only sounds the crackling fire and an ancient grandfather clock ticking in the corner. It really could have been 100 years ago for all I knew. A few cups of refreshing, loose-leaf English tea later and I was ready to explore the famous grounds of Bodysgallen. The sky was crisp winter blue and the sun was beaming, showing off the distant snow-brushed mountains of Snowdonia, from where a strong icy wind was blustering in. The Bodysgallen estate covers quite some ground and the hotel provides a leaflet with a map for walks you can follow. One leads through woodland and up a country lane to reach a lookout point topped with a stone obelisk. Here the wind nearly blew me over as I spun 360 degrees to take in the views. Conwy Castle was visible over the estuary, with those snowy mountains beyond. The other direction stretched out to sea and it glimmered navy blue under the bright sky. However, if a gentle stroll is more for you, then you don't have to venture far, with the gardens that Bodysgallen is rightly proud of begging to be explored. Even in the bleak mid-winter I could appreciate that these are magnificent gardens. A robin hopped along with me as I explored heather-adorned rock gardens, crossed tinkling streams, and wound my way round fountains. Reaching the edges of the more formal gardens, woodland takes over, and here enticing paths led me into a wonderland of snowdrops, secret grottoes and lookout points. At this time of year the joy is coming indoors from a bracing walk and hunkering down in a squashy sofa by the fire, heart-warming tipple in-hand. And at Bodysgallen I was spoilt for choice as to where to get cosy. A lounge, library, drawing room and even a cute nook on the first floor landing were all tempting spots to curl up with a good book or simply sit and take in the lovely surroundings. Not forgetting the bedrooms. If you're making this a special trip, splash out on one of the suites and you won't be disappointed. Bigger and better furnished than most places I've lived, they are perfect examples of what British country houses achieve – that blend of refinement and sophistication yet comfort and homeliness. Dinnertime arrived and we were led into the elegant candle-lit dining room. I started with the tian of Aberdaron crab with brown crab puree, and then was recommended to take the special of the day - fresh grilled cod, both of which melted in the mouth. Dessert was a feather-light blueberry soufflé with lemon ice cream. It’s no wonder the restaurant has many awards. Replete, I retired back to that fire for a nightcap, with warming thoughts of a delicious night’s sleep ahead in this big old country house.
How to do it
• Trains run directly (approx. 3hrs) from London Euston to Llandudno Junction rail station, from where it’s a 10min taxi ride to the hotel. • Bodysgallen Hall is well situated to see the highlights of North Wales: Conwy Castle, Snowdonia, Anglesey, Portmeirion and more. • Welsh Rarebits celebrates 30 years in 2015 and is a handpicked collection of 46 of the best places to stay in Wales. Individual and personally run by people passionate about what they do, the highest standards of hospitality, surroundings, service and food are on offer. Members are included in the annual listing and guide by invitation only and member establishments include country house hotels, boutique bolt holes, trendy townhouses, historic inns and restaurants with rooms.