A luxurious and charming country house just waiting to be discovered, Gliffaes Country House Hotel is one of the best luxury hotels in South Wales.
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Gliffaes Country House Hotel is a luxurious four star hotel that sits in woodland overlooking the River Usk on the edge of the Brecon Beacons in South Wales.
The Brabner family have owned this stunning Italianate house for over 70 years. And in many ways, a stay at Gliffaes feels very much like you are going to stay at a friend’s beloved family home.
I was invited to stay at Gliffaes just before Christmas. The impressive attention to every detail of my visit made it truly memorable.
From the high quality furnishings to the delicious food served at every meal, and from the stunning grounds to the exceptional standard of service, Gliffaes certainly deserves its reputation as one of the finest hotels in Wales.
The History of Gliffaes
Gliffaes is a corruption of Gwlydd Faes, the dewy field, and this name comes from the hotel’s location between the River Usk and the Myarth hill.
The name dates back to the 12th century, but records are vague until the 18th century. It appears that Gliffaes was originally a tenant farm, and it isn’t until the early 19th century that William Henry West took control of the Gliffaes estate.
Mr West was a retired Ironmaster who moved to live on the estate. But it was his son, the Rev. West, who had the idea to build the house which is now Gliffaes Country House and Hotel. He was a keen traveller, and his visits to Italy may have lead to the Italianate design of the house.
The house then passed through several hands, opening to guests for the first time in the first half of the 20th century. In 1948, ownership of Gliffaes passed to the Glazebrooke and Brabner families. In the 1970s, the Brabners took full ownership of the hotel and the house has been in the Brabner family for over 70 years.
Nick and Peta Brabner moved into Gliffaes in 1972. And it is now their daughter Susie and her husband James Suter who run this beautiful hotel.
The Telegraph rated Gliffaes Country House Hotel at an impressive 9/10 by the Telegraph and The Times listed it as one of the 50 best summer hotels in the UK. Visit Wales awarded Gliffaes a Gold Award, which makes it one of the best four-star hotels in Wales.
How to get to Gliffaes
Reaching Gliffaes Country House Hotel by car is very simple. If you are travelling from the direction of London, the hotel is a 45 minute drive from Junction 24 of the M4. And if you’re heading to South Wales from the North or Midlands, then you take the M5 and M50, before driving on A roads for the final 45 minutes of your journey.
If you’re travelling to Gliffaes by train, the nearest station is Abergavenny. You’ll need to take a taxi for the 8 mile journey to Gliffaes, and the hotel can recommend a local firm.
My own journey took me on a beautiful drive through the Shropshire hills, then down through the Brecon Beacons with a short diversion for lunch in Hay-on-Wye.
The hotel was easy to find using my sat nav, and as I drove up the long steep driveway through the wooded grounds of the estate, I knew that I was in for a very special visit.
Dusk was beginning to fall on a chilly December afternoon when I arrived at Gliffaes. The house was decorated for Christmas, and the friendly reception staff greeted me on arrival. I added my name and details to the huge hotel ledger, which is now more of a tradition rather than necessity.
And after a brief tour of the hotel, I headed up to my room.
An Elegant Bedroom
Gliffaes Country House Hotel has 23 bedrooms ranging from a petite classic room to an opulent four poster bedroom.
Each of the rooms has its own individual decor, with beautiful furniture and high quality soft furnishings. They all have WiFi, a TV, hairdryer and DAB radio.
I was staying in a Classic Double room which had an incredibly comfortable king sized bed. Most of the Classic Double rooms have either king or queen sized beds, and some can be configured as twin rooms at your request.
The high thread count bed linen , fluffy pillows and soft but supportive mattress meant that I slept wonderfully during my stay at Gliffaes.
My room had gorgeous artwork on the walls, and this is a theme which continues throughout the hotel. I particularly loved seeing some of the original artwork from the first Gliffaes hotel brochure.
All of the rooms at Gliffaes have gorgeous views, whether they look out over the garden, the courtyard or over the River Usk.
My room looked out over the courtyard, and in summer the wisteria by the window must be spectacular!
The room also had a writing desk that doubles as a dressing table, and an antique chest of drawers. There’s a small closet in the corner of the room, as well as the gorgeous armchair above.
And heavy drapes at the window ensured that the bedroom felt cosy after dark.
Every room at Gliffaes Country House Hotel has tea and coffee making facilities, and there was a delicious selection of goods on my hospitality tray.
As well as a selection of teas and instant coffee, the tray also included hot chocolate and in-cup filter coffee. There were also some really delicious nutty cookies.
And because Gliffaes has its own spring, the tap water in the bedrooms is fresh and perfectly safe to drink. I can confirm that it was deliciously refreshing!
My room had a small ensuite bathroom, which was also tastefully decorated and made great use of the space available.
The room has a classic design with elegant white bathroom furniture and a fresh green design on the tiles.
Fluffy white towels warm on the heated towel rail, and all rooms apart from Petite rooms are supplied with bath robes.
My room had a shower over the bath to make the best use of the space available. This is the layout in most of the ensuite bathrooms at Gliffaes.
Some of the Petite rooms have an ensuite shower room, while the luxurious River View room 6 has a freestanding tub for a truly relaxing soak.
The level of comfort and luxurious finishing in my room made it feel wonderfully cosy and relaxing.
A look around the Hotel
After settling into my room. I went to take a proper look around the hotel.
Gliffaes is decorated throughout in keeping with the historic nature of the building. There are period features throughout the house, and the decor adds to the hotel’s elegant luxury.
There are three reception rooms, each of which has a slightly different atmosphere. And all of them are perfect for relaxing in.
The Drawing Room
This room is one of my favourite parts of Gliffaes. The walls are a rich red colour with contrasting white pillars and cornices.
The drawing room has several comfortable sofas and chairs to relax in, and wood panelling on the walls adds to the opulence of the room. A writing desk sits in one corner, and there are a number of beautiful antique chests around the room.
Piles of books and magazines are dotted around the room if you need something to read while you relax.
The focal point of this elegant room is the beautiful fireplace. The fire was lit at breakfast time during my visit, adding atmosphere to the room as well as warmth. You could happily rest here and warm up after spending the day exploring the beautiful Gliffaes grounds.
Two small tables either side of the fireplace have large comfortable armchairs arranged around them, perfect for a cosy chat.
There is also a large bay window with more sofas, and soft squashy leather armchairs. The shutters and curtains are closed at dusk to give the room a more cosy feeling through the evening.
This room is perfect for relaxing with a cup of coffee after dinner, or for chatting late into the night.
From here you can move through to the sitting room, which has a lighter, more airy feeling.
The Sitting Room
There are plenty of sofas and armchairs in here as well, covered in rich fabric in hues of red and purple.
A light, floral wallpaper featuring ferns, flowers and birds covers the walls of the sitting room. The pattern leads your eye up to the cornice on the high ceiling, which is a feature throughout this stunning building.
Again, a dramatic fireplace is the focal point of the room, and the period furniture completes this elegant room.
In the morning, sunlight fills the room, and it is a beautiful place to sit and relax over afternoon tea at the end of the day.
Alternatively, you could sit in Gliffaes’ conservatory, which is accessed from the sitting room.
It leads out onto the terrace at the back of the hotel, and is drenched with sunlight in the morning.
Even on a grey day, the conservatory feels light and airy, and the wicker furniture adds to this impression.
It’s a beautiful place to sit and look out over the dramatic scenery that surrounds this hotel.
Dining at Gliffaes Country House Hotel
Gliffaes Country House Hotel is famous for its excellent fine dining, and I was looking forward to trying out the food here.
The kitchen team use local seasonal produce to create an exciting menu, and the ingredients are of the highest quality.
During my stay, I was fortunate enough to try out dinner, breakfast and Gliffaes’ sumptuous afternoon tea. The hotel also serves lunch, and they are able to provide a packed lunch for guests to take out with them for the day.
Dinner at Gliffaes starts in the hotel’s cosy bar, which has an extensive range of drinks.
I was asked to go to the bar around 30 minutes before my table was booked, so that I could choose from the menu in comfort. Alternatively, you can take your drinks through to the sitting room to decide. Either way, you will be informed when your food is ready so that you can move to your table.
The restaurant has an excellent wine list, with several wines available by the glass. There was also a cocktail menu which looked very appealing!
I looked through the menu while nibbling at a pre-dinner appetiser of juicy olives and wasabi peas which had a real kick to them.
Every item on the menu looked delicious, and making a decision wasn’t easy. And I was impressed that the chef was happy to make alterations to the menu to accommodate a fellow guest’s dietary requirements.
It’s clear that every guest at Gliffaes gets the VIP treatment.
After making my choice, I sat back and soaked up the convivial atmosphere in the bar. And after a short wait, I was taken through to the dining room and shown to my table.
The dining room leads off the drawing room, and has a similar style with a rich red colour on the walls, and the dark wood of the fireplace, panelling and beams.
The shutters and curtains were closed and the fire lit when I dined at Gliffaes, which gave the room a very intimate atmosphere.
My starter soon arrived, along with a small loaf of fresh, warm bread and some butter.
For my first course, I had chosen the Crab and Welsh Ale tartlet, topped with Welsh Rarebit and Breconshire rocket.
I loved the contrast between the sweet crabmeat, salty cheese of the Rarebit and the fresh, peppery flavour of the local rocket.
Other options for the first course included Scorched Cod with a seaweed and cockle quinoa, which looked amazing, and a Crispy Egg served with polenta soldiers and a pea velouté.
Choosing my main course proved tricky. I changed my mind several times before finally settling on the fillet of local Welsh beef.
Other options which tempted me were the Llanarth Pheasant with a potato galette, and the Fillet of Sea Bream which was served with lobster ravioli, vegetable linguini and crushed butterbeans.
But when my main course arrived, I was sure I’d made a good decision.
The fillet steak was seared beautifully and cooked perfectly medium-rare as I had requested. The silky smooth truffle mash had just the right level of flavour so that it didn’t become overpowering.
The vegetables were fresh, sweet and flavoursome, and the rich thyme and red wine jus complemented every part of the dish. And presentation was just so beautiful!
The rich flavours of the first two courses had left me feeling pleasantly full. But I was sure I could manage to squeeze in a pudding…
And I was so glad that I did, because this chocolate fondant was sublime.
It was rich, chocolatey, and perfectly cooked. The molten, gooey centre combined divinely with the soft vanilla ice cream, and the boozy cherries added an extra kick of flavour.
This is definitely the kind of pudding that leaves you purring with pleasure, and I devoured every morsel!
I rounded off my meal with a cafetiere of strong coffee and some petit fours.
My meal was complimentary as part of my stay, but the bill would have come to around £47 for three courses and coffee. I think that price is a fair reflection of the excellent standard of both the food and the service at Gliffaes.
Back in my room, I sank into that supremely comfortable bed. It felt like you would imagine sleeping on a cloud to be like, and I slept soundly all night.
When I headed down for breakfast, I found that the dining room has a different atmosphere in the morning.
With the curtains and shutters open, the room has a bright and airy feeling while the large windows flood the room with early morning sunlight.
And the breakfast buffet laid out in the dining room was very impressive indeed.
There were six different bowls of cereal to choose from, alongside yoghurt with fruit, pastries, fruit juices and beautiful little jars of chopped fruit.
If you don’t want to have a cooked breakfast, you could easily fill up on this selection. Or alternatively you could just sample a little while you wait for your hot food to arrive.
I had already decided that I wanted to try a cooked breakfast. So I just took a glass of orange juice to my table, and enjoyed a cafetiere of hot, strong coffee while I perused the menu,
There were several tempting options including kipper and egg or a bowl of porridge. But I decided to try out the Gliffaes Full Welsh Breakfast.
It was a very satisfying breakfast, with the delicious salty bacon and meaty local sausage a particular highlight.
The tomato ketchup I asked for arrived in a little dish of its own, and there was soft butter for my toast. Jams and marmalade are available on the buffet table, while each table has its own jar of thick local honey.
I did overhear another guest asking if some Marmite could be brought out for their toast. It appeared just a couple of minutes later, the service at Gliffaes is impeccable.
I ate my breakfast looking out over the hotel’s beautiful gardens. It seemed like the perfect way to begin the day.
At Gliffaes Country House Hotell, afternoon tea is really something quite special.
It is available to guests and non-residents alike between 4-5.30pm. If you are staying at the hotel, you simply need to let Reception know that you’re taking tea, and it will be added to your bill. If you’re planning to visit Gliffaes specifically for afternoon tea, it’s best to call ahead to book a table.
The cost is £20, and you can even buy gift vouchers to treat someone to afternoon tea at Gliffaes.
Afternoon tea is served buffet style, so that you can help yourself to whatever takes your fancy. And you’re welcome to top up your plate as often as you like.
And with dainty sandwiches, scrumptious homemade scones and exquisite cakes, there’s bound to be plenty that appeals.
When I visited Gliffaes, they were serving Christmas afternoon tea. This included festive goodies like Yule log and Christmas cake, as well as spiced cranberry Christmas scones.
Tea, coffee and hot chocolate were on offer, along with a special spiced Christmas tea. That was proving very popular with guests on the day that I visited!
On a sunny day, you could take your afternoon tea into the conservatory or out onto the terrace.
But on a chilly December day, there’s nothing lovelier than settling down in front of a roaring log fire with a warming drink and a plate of delicious morsels.
Exploring the Grounds
Gliffaes Country House Hotel has 33 acres of grounds for you to explore, and even in winter they look absolutely stunning.
It’s certainly worth taking some time to look around the grounds during your stay. Reception can provide a map for a ‘tree walk’, pointing out some of the notable trees along the way.
And there are a lot of mature specimens in the grounds. My (rather dusty) car in the photograph above gives you an idea of the scale of some of them!
The house originally had a typical Victorian garden with small lawns, herbaceous borders, topiary and gravel paths.
As you can imagine, this intricate style of garden takes a lot of upkeep. So when the Brabner family arrived at Gliffaes after World War II, much of the garden was in a state of neglect.
Luckily, Jane Brabner’s father, CH Taudevin, was a landscape gardener. And he had the idea to open up the garden and add interesting flowering shrubs in the planting design.
Several trees were also planted on the northern boundary of the grounds to mark the turn of the Millennium, including more than 40 different specimen trees.
James and Susie Brabner have continued enhancing the grounds, as well as the ongoing conservation of the river bank.
Things to Do at Gliffaes
You could easily spend your entire break at Gliffaes enjoying the beautiful house and stunning gardens. But if you do feel you need something else to do, there are plenty of options available.
When you’re visitingGliffaes, fishing is a popular pastime, and fly fishing courses are available for beginners and improvers. If you’re already a confident fisher, you can fish on the rivers Usk and Wye.
You’ll need to bring your own tackle, but you can purchase flies at Reception. They will be able to recommend local guides (ghillies) as well.
The hotel’s location also makes it ideal for walking and cycling holidays. You can borrow a tandem or an electric bike from the hotel to explore the grounds.
There is also a tennis court and a croquet lawn to help keep you entertained.
Things to Do in the Local Area
If you’d like to venture away from the hotel grounds, there’s a lot to do within a short distance of Gliffaes.
The hotel is just a few miles from the village of Crickhowell. This has a ruined castle, a lovely High Street and lots of windy side roads full of pretty cottages.
The village also lays claim to having the longest stone bridge in Wales, at 128m long. Crickhowell Bridge was built in the 18th century and is a Grade 1 listed structure.
A few miles in the opposite direction lies the hamlet of Tretower. Here you’ll find the medieval fortified mansion of Tretower Court, as well as the ruined Tretower Castle, a Grade 1 listed building.
The town of Brecon is about a 20 minute drive away, and has a number of interesting museums to explore. If you would like to visit the ‘book town’ of Hay-on-Wye, that is a 35 minute drive from Gliffaes.
And if like me, you love exploring historical ruins, then you won’t want to miss the opportunity to visit Tintern Abbey. It takes about an hour to get there from Gliffaes, but it’s well worth the drive!
Gliffaes Country House Hotel: The Verdict
I can’t think of many hotels that manage to combine luxury with comfort better than Gliffaes Country House Hotel does. Every detail has been considered, and there wasn’t a single aspect of my stay that disappointed me.
The food was absolutely delicious, my room was supremely comfortable, and spending time in such a beautiful period house was a sheer delight.
But possibly the most remarkable aspect was the standard of the service at the hotel, which impressed me over and over again.
Gliffaes feels like the kind of hotel that you want to come back to, year after year. I know that I’m already planning to return as soon as I can!
Gliffaes Country House Hotel
Crickhowell, Powys, NP8 1RH
Tel: 01874 730371