We spotted this hotel, nestled up on the hill overlooking the spectacular Lake Vyrnwy in North Wales when we visited back in the summer and I made a pledge to myself that we'd stay there. This October half term, after a week in a self catering cottage, and days of glorious autumn sunshine trekking about the beautiful Snowdonia countryside, we finished our week with a nights stay at the Lake Vyrnwy Hotel and Spa.
The lake itself is in quite an isolated location, and although there are several ways to access it (it's actually pretty close to the English border so easy to visit from Shropshire and The Midlands) I'd thoroughly recommend driving the mountain pass route from Dinas Mawddwy. Its such a spectacular drive across the heather covered mountains, looking back down the valleys dotted with waterfalls. In the summer sheep graze on the wild bilberries amongst the purple heather, and in the autumn and winter there's a bleak, barren beauty to the landscape, untouched by human life. You drive for miles without a glimpse of the modern day, with the exception of the road you're travelling on. It really could be a scene from any point in history.
Arriving at the lake, the magnitude of the expanse of water opens out before you as you take the picturesque lakeside road around the perimeter. Autumn time is just stunning with the gold, copper and russet reds of the trees, a plethora of pheasants ducking out of the way of your car and outdoor lovers cycling the path or sailing on the blue waters.
The fairy-tale tower dominates the view of the lake, giving a Bavarian feel to the scene. It's actually rather inelegantly used as a straining tower for the reservoir, but we preferred to tell tales of maidens and princesses!
Like many of the large reservoirs, there is a sad story of how the original village here was flooded so the people of Liverpool, some 70 miles away could benefit from clean drinking water. It is said that in high summer, when water levels are low, you can still see remnants of the old village beneath the 5 mile long stretch of water.
The area now has an RSPB reserve and is teeming with wildlife. I have never seen so many birds as I saw on the feeders here. It's well worth popping in to speak to the amazing staff in the RSPB shop who offered all kinds of tips and advice (special shout-out to Jan and Sioned who were fabulous).
As you approach the driveway to the hotel, you're struck by the Victorian country-house grandeur of the building.
Passing the walking sticks and green Wellingtons in the boot rack at the porch, you step onto the beautiful parquet flooring of the reception hallway with its imposing, sweeping oak staircase, traditional carpet and brass stair rods.
We arrived earlier than the 4pm check in but the staff were happy to take our bag and we took full advantage of lunch on the verandah overlooking the lake. There were couples enjoying a quiet drink, some partaking of a delicious looking afternoon tea, some sat in the leather armchairs by the cosy log fires in the drawing room style bar, and others just sitting enjoying the birdsong and the spectacular view.
We took the secret path from the hotel car park down to the lake to explore, and walked across the magnificent arched dam which has stood here since the 1880s, the first large-scale stone built dam in Britain.
Returning to check in, I was keen to see the view from our bedroom before the sun set. I was not disappointed.
Opening the door, I literally caught my breath, the architrave of the window framing the lake view like a water colour painting.
So often you book 'sea-view' or similar rooms in hotels and you have to crane your neck, lean out of the window and stand on one leg to catch a glimpse of what you've paid extra to see. Not here. When they say 'lake view' they really mean it.
The vista here, surrounded by thick forest and the Berwyn mountains doesn't just change season by season, it changes minute by minute as you watch the changing colour of the sky and the movement of the clouds reflected on the inky black mirrored water. It's hard to tear your eyes away from it.
We had booked a family room in the Victorian part of the hotel. There are executive rooms with balconies in the newer extension, but we wanted a real feel of the traditional building. Our room was furnished with solid, dark oak antiques such as the huge double wardrobe and substantial chest of drawers. We had a deluxe king sized bed made up with Egyptian cotton white sheets and a put-you-up child's bed at the end. It wasn't a huge room, but there was ample space for us and the en-suite was very spacious (again with views of the lake from the window).
My daughter loved the quirky take on the 'do not disturb' signs - a small cuddly toy which you leave outside your door. Aptly ours was a Welsh dragon.
We were supplied with all the mod-cons we needed - a hair dryer, TV, tea and coffee making facilities (with proper Welsh tea and real filter coffee) and free wifi, although we struggled to get any connection anywhere other than in the downstairs lobby, and even then it was rather intermittent. Like large swathes of North Wales, there's limited 3G here (and you can forget 4G!) so it's worth bearing in mind if a connection is important to you.
Dining at the hotel is a rather formal affair, with guests expected to dress for dinner. After a week romping up mountains we pretty much only had our walking gear with us so we decided to give it a miss - plus it was Halloween and Ruby had other ideas! I must say though, the aroma wafting up the stairs from the restaurant suggested we were missing a treat.
Due to it's location, there's not a lot of dining options nearby, although there is the more relaxed sister bar and eatery The Tavern Bistro next door. But we were lucky to have found a local event going on in the village celebrating Halloween and had a brilliant evening at their fireworks display, complete with BBQ, huge bonfire and pumpkin and fancy dress contest.
Returning to the hotel that evening, the hotel windows were giving a cosy glow of the warmth inside. There was the smell of wood smoke and the distant unmistakable aroma of fireworks in the distance. Inside, fires were roaring and guests were enjoying drinks in the bar settled in front of the log fires.
We retired to our room and I was insistent on sleeping with the curtains thrown wide back and the window open so I could awake to that beautiful view again. As ever, getting Ruby to sleep in a shared hotel room was a bit of a nightmare, so we resigned ourself to a night of TV and room service.
When she eventually crashed out, we feasted on a local meat and cheese platter and freshly made sandwiches before lights out and peaceful sleep enveloped us all.
The next morning as I sat up in bed, the sight from the window was somewhat disorienting. Where had my beautiful fairy-tale tower gone? Where were the trees? Someone had stolen it in the night and replaced it with a thick white blanket.
I had been warned that in the mornings the lake is covered by dense mist which slowly swirls Harry Potter style and eventually lifts leaving just a few wisps in its wake.
We fell out of bed, pulled on our clothes and walking boots and sneaked out of the hotel while most were still sleeping. The Old Man was in search of a clandestine early morning swim and I was just happy to be breathing the lung-burning crisp autumn air and crunching through the leaves with nobody but the pheasants. It was the perfect way to build up an appetite for breakfast.
A quick shower and a change of clothes and we were seated for breakfast. The tables are laid in the restaurant to take full advantage of the morning views and it is the most amazing memory sitting quietly, sipping coffee watching the mist slowly dissipate and the tower emerge. In the hour that we sat for breakfast, the sight just kept on changing and getting more and more beautiful.
Breakfast itself was delicious, if fairly slow and even then our order wasn't quite right. But really, it didn't matter, I was very content to while away my time there.
Checking out at 10:30am, we still had a while to explore before the day-trippers started to arrive on what turned out to be the hottest November day in generations.
Our stay in this piece of paradise certainly lived up to my expectations. If you're moved by beautiful scenery then this hotel should definitely be on your list. I truly believe it has the best views in the whole of the British Isles. Perhaps it's a hotel for a romantic retreat rather than one for young children though. The staff did everything they could to make us welcome, but some of the other guests gave the impression that they'd prefer it to be child-free, which was a shame, or perhaps I'm being over-sensitive? Maybe I'll go back just with the Old Man, and perhaps try out some of the spa treatments next time.