A cluster of boutique holiday cottages set in a magical landscape in the heart of rural Wales is capturing the hearts of guests looking for a true retreat.
Never has a place been so aptly named as Cambrian Escapes near Llandovery. While many accommodation providers claim to offer an escape from the hustle and bustle of daily life, few do so as well as Tanya and Duncan Jordan, who are celebrating the success of their first full season.
With plans for further expansion in the months ahead, the creative pair have an eye for the intricate and a flair for luxury that have guests in relaxation mode right from hello.
Cambrian Escapes is on the outskirts of Cilycwm, a picturesque village in uppermost Carmarthenshire at the foot of the Cambrian Mountains. This beautifully bleak mountain range, long overlooked in favour of the neighbouring Brecon Beacons, is at last coming into its own, with a campaign for the creation of a national park and following official recognition of the long-distance Cambrian Way.
While the full 291 miles from Cardiff to Conwy might prove something of a stretch for most visitors, a few days at this beautiful bolthole offers a chance to explore one of the prettiest sections of the route – or simply ‘stop’ and do nothing but enjoy the sound of silence.
I stayed in the Reading Room, a converted hayloft above a 19th-century stable block. Penstacan was previously owned by Sally Forde, the first English woman to farm in this very Welsh-speaking area.
The Reading Room’s ‘bedroom’ is built into a charming alcove, with a stained glass window overlooking the now disused stable below. Sally installed the bed and window in order to keep an eye on her mare when she was foaling, and it’s a lovely feature that Tanya and Duncan have carefully woven into their restoration.
The couple’s taste in fixtures and fittings is elegant and timeless, with modern furnishings sitting easily alongside antique pieces. The result is a luxurious yet homely finish, with deep armchairs piled with cushions and blankets, a beautiful country kitchen cleverly hiding modern appliances and even an original 1920s’ gramophone with a collection of vintage 78s.
Guests can take their chilled wine out onto the balcony and soak up the views until dusk settles when the solar fairy lights sparkle into life and it’s time to fire up the outdoor log burner.
The huge bathroom, frankly, wouldn’t be out of place in Cardiff’s fairytale Castell Coch. Highly polished Art Deco tiles frame the bath, while a mahogany sink cabinet pairs with a Victorian loo that is almost too nice to sit on.
Renowned Myddfai soap and hand lotion, made by a local social enterprise, is stored in refillable bottles to help reduce waste, while bath salts and candles are refreshingly homely touches.
The Reading Room – also known as the Artist’s Retreat – is self-catering, but can be booked during the summer months as a ‘DIY B&B,’ with a delicious homemade breakfast prepared ahead of guests’ arrival.
Vegan and vegetarian options are available and in the fridge I find hearty Glamorgan sausages which prove meltingly creamy and satisfying (handwritten cooking instructions are propped up on the work surface). There’s also organic muesli, spelt bread with homemade four-fruit jam and organic duck eggs, plus milk, tea and coffee.
Groups of four can also stay in Glan yr Afon, a riverside cottage housing a similarly eclectic mix of antique, modern and vintage decor. Once a woollen factory where tweed suits and blankets were made using a water wheel, this 18th-century cottage has an open plan layout perfectly suited to friends’ gatherings and family games.
With a gorgeous claw foot bath, mountain views and underfloor heating, the cottage also has a secluded, mature garden with a crystal clear stream meandering through it. Guests can make the most of being in a Dark Skies area by nestling around the firepit or in the wood-fired hot tub – filled with pure Welsh spring water – under the stars.
Also currently being converted is the former coach house, which will again be open plan with a gallery bedroom, and then there’s the eco campsite, with an exclusive handful of sprawling pitches in their own tucked-away corners of land.
Set in 75 acres, Penstacan has many footpaths and bridleways for guests to explore, with a sharp hill climb rewarded by far-reaching views across the Brecon Beacons. Pen y Fan and Corn Du are visible in the distance, while the nearer ridge is the Carmarthen Fans, running above Llyn y Fan Fach.
With cobalt waters home to the legendary ‘lady in the lake’ and often voted one of Wales’ must-see spots, this is an essential route for visiting hikers, while easier rambles from the doorstep include a stroll up to Sally’s bench, where guests can sit and watch the gentle folds of Mynydd Mallaen stretching away.
DIY B&B at the Reading Room costs from £95 per night between July and September, while a self-catering break costs £180 for a minimum two-night stay or from £400 for a week. Coming in the autumn of 2019 is a wood-fired hot tub, which will be available for stays of three nights or more on the basis of water sustainability.
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