Hotel Review: The Bell at Skenfrith, Monmouthshire in South Wales
There are times when you just need to get away from it all – to leave the hustle and bustle of city life and escape to wooded hills, river-wrapped valleys and historic country hotels. If that sounds tempting, The Bell at Skenfrith might be for you. This award-winning boutique hotel, perched on the banks of the River Monnow in South Wales, has been a coaching inn for over 300 years, but these days it’s the ideal blend of rural respite, absorbing history and, of course, country luxury. Here’s how The Bell measures up.
If you’re looking for peace and quiet, it’s hard to find a more idyllic location. Just over the Welsh border, The Bell at Skenfrith is easily driveable from London, and just 35 minutes from Bristol. Other than the hotel and pub, a Norman castle and medieval church, there’s little else in this charming hamlet… but you don’t come here for shops, bars and activities; you come for quiet, solitude and bucolic beauty… and these Skenfrith has in spades.
Its riverside location, just over an old stone bridge and in front of hills dotted with sheep, is instantly welcoming. As soon as you pull into the car park you feel more peaceful, and once inside, the sense of tranquility doesn’t ebate. From every window you’re greeted with pastoral views, either of wooded hills, the gently streaming river, or the hotel’s picturesque garden.
Style & Character
A former 17th century coaching inn, The Bell’s history pervades nearly every corner of the hotel: polished flagstone floors lie beneath solid oak beams, and a huge wood-burning fireplace in the sitting room sits ready and waiting for those colder days and nights. The decor is packed with classic country character, but manages to straddle the ideal balance of contemporary and cosy; it’s never twee or quaint, unlike other upscale country hotels I’ve visited.
The atmosphere is relaxed, with comfy chairs and sofas in the sitting area, and a bar behind; on the other side of the stone wall is another, more casual bar, The Dog & Boot, which welcomes walkers and locals (and their dogs) throughout the day. In winter, the main sitting room would be the perfect place to curl up in front of the fire; in summer, the stone terrace the ideal spot for early evening drinks, looking out on the gently rising hills beyond.
Upstairs there are 11 individually designed bedrooms, all named after fishing flies (e.g. Heckham Peckham, Whickham’s Fancy) which was a sweetly unique touch. Rooms at the front look out onto the river, and at the back you’ll enjoy views of the gardens and surrounding hills – but all rooms are large, elegant and brimming with light. There are spacious and modern ensuites adjoining, where you’ll find fluffy towels and aromatic Noble Isle toiletries.
I stayed in the Tups Indispensable room, which has an enormous four-poster bed with luxury bedding (including warm Welsh blankets), a claw-foot bath, antique wooden furnishings, and all the mod-cons you need, including a kettle and snacks, and a large TV at the end of the bed. Looking out onto the garden, it all felt wonderfully harmonious, and at a night, the hush of country silence was most welcome.
Food & Drink
The Bell has won many awards for its food, and since owners Richard and Sarah took over in 2014 the reputation for delicious, seasonal food has gone from strength to strength. Head Chef Joseph Colman changes the menus regularly, but produce is always locally sourced, with many ingredients coming from the kitchen gardens. The Bell’s stellar culinary reputation is a reason many visit, and popular mains on the menu include pan-fried salmon fillet with baby potatoes, samphire, caper and prawn dressing.
But, as a travelling vegan, I’ve learnt you don’t always get much choice in the countryside. While dedicated vegan menus are now the norm in cities, the country isn’t the same, but, luckily, at The Bell I was truly spoiled. I enjoyed roasted purple beetroot with Wye Valley asparagus, creamy wild mushroom and tarragon penne pasta, sunflower mince stuffed peppers with tomato and balsamic dressing, and grilled pineapple with brown sugar syrup and lime salsa. Just let the hotel know any dietary requirements the day before you arrive and they’ll go out of their way to oblige.
Service & Facilities
From the moment we pulled up in the car park and were greeted by the huge hotel cat, Freddy, service was flawless. A special mention must go to Michael, the young waiter, who was consistently warm and attentive. Sitting down to play Scrabble one evening, I realised we needed to keep score, but even as I glanced up Michael was already bringing me a pen and notepad. Now that’s good service! Every detail was thought of: I was even asked if I wanted soya milk brought up to my room for tea – something that rarely happens in the ritziest of city hotels.
In terms of facilities, there aren’t much – but you don’t come to The Bell for a spa weekend. Aside from the Dog & Boot bar, there’s also a large Wine Room with a residents’ lounge, and the hotel is also a popular wedding venue, with a marquee for 200 people. There are six circular walks that begin and end at The Bell, all winding through beautiful countryside – among bluebell woods, along rivers, and past ancient castles. Just ask at reception for one of the clearly described pamphlets. For walkers with dogs, there’s also a garden ‘Pooch Parlour’ complete with a bath, hot water tap and towels, and a drying room for wellies and wet coats.
With an unrivalled rural location, elegant rooms and outstanding service, The Bell is an unpretentious, cosy, yet luxurious country hotel. A must for foodies and walkers (and cat lovers).