Short Break - Plas Maenan Country House, Maenan, Conwy Valley
PUBLISHED: 00:00 25 June 2013 | UPDATED: 16:13 26 April 2016
Plas Maenan Country House benefits from a stunning location in the Conwy valley.
REVIEW BY RAY KING
It’s difficult to imagine a more tranquil panorama than the Vale of Conwy, laid out before us as we sip our pre-dinner gin and tonics on the sunlit Edwardian terrace of Plas Maenan Country House.
The ‘Manor on the Rock’, enjoys a fantastic elevated location on a sandstone bluff 300ft above the river as it meanders through verdant countryside. And it is the perfect base from which to explore the delights of the valley from the river’s estuary by King Edward I’s imposing 13th Century Conwy Castle, to the bustling mountain resort of Betws-y-Coed, gateway village to Snowdonia, 17 miles to the south.
The house that is now Plas Maenan was owned and extended in the 1920s by Henry Joseph Jack, a key figure in the management of the recently closed Dolgarrog aluminium works in the valley, and the company supplying hydro-electricity to power it. Two dams failed and the torrent swept 16 people to their deaths.
Jack is said to have fled Wales, leaving the house that had become known as ‘Plas Jack’ to stand empty for years. During the Second World War it served as a school for evacuee children but was converted into a hotel in the 1950s. The early 21st Century, however, saw Plas Maenan in a sorry state. Enter James and Caroline Burt, he a retired royal retainer who worked in the Queen’s wine cellars for 16 years, she an enthusiast for growing exotic orchids. They visited North Wales in 2004 to explore buying a retirement property; when they returned home to Suffolk and announced that they had bought a ‘ramshackle hotel’ with 14 bedrooms, the family thought they were insane.
The Burts spent almost a year ‘camping out with builders’ and reopened Plas Maenan in 2005 with just three suites, the dining room and a lounge ready for business; restoration has been ongoing ever since and to rewarding effect. Recent tourism awards include five stars for guest accommodation from both the AA and Visit Wales, Certificate of Excellence from Tripadvisor, Visit Wales’ Gold Award, and the AA’s Wales Guest Accommodation of the Year and two AA Rosettes for dining.
It is an elegant boutique hotel that exudes charm from every nook and cranny and every cherished artefact decorating lounges and bedrooms. Our room, with free standing furnishings painted delightful duck egg blue, boasted lovely period detail yet offered all modern attributes, a well appointed bathroom and lo! – something of a rarity these days – a dressing table with a mirror by the window. Mrs K was thrilled.
As the sun sank lower over the wooded hillside opposite, Plas Maenan’s protected colony of lesser horseshoe bats began taking to the air from their nesting places in passages in the rock below the hotel and we were shown to our dinner table in the conservatory among Mrs Burt’s exquisite orchids. Her lectures on cultivating the blooms over afternoon tea at Plas Maenan are popular events.
Cooking is traditional and accomplished, relying on fine locally sourced ingredients delightfully presented. Starter courses brought a generous cocktail of plump prawns and Marie Rose for Mrs K and queenie scallops and flaked cod in a delicious white wine and cream sauce for me, just right for dunking crusty fresh bread. Our mains were excellent too: pan-fried duck breast with bacon and red wine sauce; magnificent Welsh beef fillet with hand-cut chips and the best onion rings ever, barely leaving room to share one pudding. The creamy lemon posset, spiked with Welsh whiskey, was a joy.
An evening of conviviality with other guests followed in the relaxing lounge and next morning, breakfast – again with that stunning view from the conservatory – made for a splendid start to the day.