Wales. I never knew. I never new how hauntingly beautiful, how magnificent, how rugged this amazing landscape is. Rivers, lakes, streams, falls are everywhere. And thousands, yes thousands of sheep, dot the hills and mountains of southeast England and central/north Wales. From The Cotswolds to the little bar with a hotel ,Cross Foxes, the scenery and vibe of this area of the United Kingdom is one KODAK moment after another.
This leg of our UK road trip would take us away from the picturesque, tourist laden area of The Cotswolds to the countryside of England and into the southern Snowdonia area of Wales. I have always found that the "real" culture of a country or place is found in the places less frequented. We certainly found this to be true of the United Kingdom. From the small, intimate hotels and restaurants, to the people and places off the beaten path, we simply saw places and enjoyed sights and sounds you can only experience when you get off the main road. There is nothing like an unexpected side trip where you can discover things that are not on the tour map.
A note here about road trips. It's very important that you are traveling with people that share the same spirit of adventure as you. All of us, including my wife and daughter usually willingly go along with the occasional turn down the rutted road or the stop at the castle ruin that no one appears to have visited in a while. Our motto has always been -No buzz kill allowed!!! It cost too much money and life is too short not to enjoy every minute of vacation.
After the drive, we arrived at the country inn, Cross Foxes, as happy hour was beginning. The young lady who met us appeared to be overwhelmed due to the multitude of duties she was charged with performing. Her activities appeared to include checking in new hotel guests, seating people in the restaurant, arranging for coffee and cookies to be taken to the six rooms in the hotel and generally running the place. Later, we found other duties included managing the restaurant, taking orders and bringing our dessert. After watching this multi-tasker perform her duties with style and grace, we were amazed at how well this little place in southern Snowdonia was run.
According to various accounts, this small hotel was rescued from the ignominy of desecration after a major fire in 2008. It's designers have managed to create a unique blend of clean, uncluttered design within the framework of an ancient building. Of course, the real test for any hotel to make the Great Architecture for Sleeping List, is the room. We had already decided that the setting, the building exterior and the place itself had lived up to expectations. It's what architects refer to as "good bones". Our Room - The Idris (aka The Chair), upon first inspection, was what The Nomad Architect is always looking for in a hotel room. My first thought was - How can a hotel this elegant, this urbane and this well designed and detailed exist in the middle of the countryside of Wales?
To begin with, our room was large and well appointed. Designated a "family room", it contained a king bed, a double bed for the third person, a modern, comfortable couch, chairs and a large work desk. With amazingly high quality cotton sheets and high end platform mattresses, the "aqua" beds were heaven!! In addition, the bathroom was comparable to any five star hotel in Manhattan, Rome or Paris. A large soaking tub along with a separate rain shower combined with wall jets made bathing relaxing and rejuvenating. The bathroom also contained an operable skylight/window which opened to views and the clear mountain air of the amazing countryside, making the experience just that much better.
After settling in, we went down to the restaurant for dinner. We had made reservations prior to arrival. The food was outstanding and the service was impeccable. The design of the restaurant maintained the same level of quality detailing, finishes and furnishings as the room and lobby areas of the hotel. We experienced the great food again the next morning with a stout Welsh breakfast of free range eggs, organic bacon and ham, breads and coffee - all included in the price of the room. Again, the service was prompt and the staff was professional in every way. As an architect, it is always a pleasure to find a hotel where they get it right. A place that makes basic human activities such as sleeping, bathing and eating rise above the daily norm. Kudos to the designers, staff and management of Cross Foxes for creating an oasis that allows road weary travelers to truly enjoy this beautiful area of Snowdonia.
In addition to the design and crisp detailing, the comfortable beds and the five star bathroom, the views from our room of the surrounding Snowdonia countryside made the experience truly one to remember. My daughter, who is quickly becoming a pretty good photographer and videographer, captured the scene of newly born lambs playing in a pasture while their mother nonchalantly grazed on the greenest grass I have ever seen. The video below, complete with unedited oohs and aahs between the two most important women in my life, confirms that my daughter will never be able to eat lamb again!! We shall see.
As we prepared to head north for The Lakes District National Park through the remainder of Snowdonia, I felt comfortable in the knowledge that we had found another keeper for Nomads who long for those special places to sleep, eat and enjoy life on the road through this incredible ancient country. In the next post, we will see more of Snowdonia National Park and the beauty of The Lakes District and the very cool little village of Keswick. We will also talk about the best restaurant in the United Kingdom.
Travel Quote of The Day
“When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money”. - Unknown (Editor's Note - This is particularly true if you are going to England.)
DLS - The Nomad Architect
This week's video artist is a great duet of veteran singer/song writer/slide guitarist Bonnie Raitt and the fresh voice of jazz and country rock Norah Jones. These two are must haves in your road music library.