Why do we travel? To see the world, obviously, but often it’s so much more than that. To experience different ways of living, to relax, to gain a fresh perspective. When I embarked on the five-hour drive to the far west of Wales to Twr y Felin, it was for a very specific reason. I wanted a little time and a lot of nature to give me the opportunity for a re-set, to understand what my priorities were for the next phase of my life. And in my mind the best way to do this was to go west; heading as far as I could to Britain’s smallest city, St Davids.
A rare find
Finding interesting, well-run hotels in small town or in rural Britain via the medium of Google Maps can be a bit of a gamble, but plumping for Twr y Felin Hotel, a winner of both AA and Visit Wales awards, seemed like a safe bet. I travelled through mist-filled valleys and, arriving after dark, the hotel, formerly a windmill, seemed like something from a fairy tale, lit up against the clear night sky.
Twr y Felin is an unexpected experience; it’s far from what you might imagine in a small hotel in the smallest city to be. There are no country florals, no shabby chic, and no muted colours that characterise the stylish hotels of the Cotswolds, for example. No, Twr y Felin is much bolder than this. Twr y Felin is about being different and Twr y Felin is about art. And lots of it.
Art for art’s sake
Décor is modern and almost moody; dark wood and pewter grey fabrics abound, acting as a foil to the artwork. I was intrigued at how such a remote hotel was packed with such a diverse collection of contemporary art. It transpires that Keith Griffiths, the owner of Twr y Felin Hotel, is an art collector and also passionate about the Pembrokeshire landscape. He wanted to create a unique experience, featuring works that evoked the landscape in a new way. Initially he invited six urban artists to stay at sister property Penrhiw Priory and they spent a week exploring the peninsula with him.
The work that now graces Twr y Felin is full of variety; brave choices have been made, and some of it could be characterised as edgy. The spray painted works of Pure Evil, portraits of Welsh icons, have an almost sinister feel, while the artistic partnership called Harry Adams has produced mysterious landscapes with monolithic constructions that invite interpretation. There’s a huge range of styles and artists for a relatively small hotel, some figurative, some abstract. The over-arching effect is impressive, every room has something to intrigue and engage.
The Twr y Felin vibe
But of course, what makes a hotel work is not merely the interior style, the setting and staff make all the difference. St Davids is a magical little place. I ventured out on my first evening – the High Street is a short stroll. The little streets have lovely varied architecture; the smell of wood-smoke and the presence of couples or small groups off out to eat and drink walking in the middle of the road – there’s precious little traffic – gave the place a kind of nostalgic charm. There’s a good choice of restaurants and pubs and I ate well in a hip and busy pizza joint, Grain.
While the little city with its impressive cathedral are a draw, I imagine most people visit this part of Wales for the coast and walks. There’s a huge range of routes to take fanning out from St Davids, through fields, along lanes and paths and edging the coast. This part of Wales has the wildness that I sought; steep cliffs, dark rocks and wide beaches. I made my way to St Non’s, down to the slick sand of the beach and marvelled at a small group of hardy types, jumping in the winter waves. This kind of landscape is such a tonic; I was ‘nature bathing’, using all my senses to appreciate the stunning setting and my two hour walk, with rain, hail and sunshine, left me invigorated and alert.
That evening I ate at Twr y Felin and I’m so glad I did. There was a pleasant hum to Blas restaurant, a mix of locals and guests. The menu makes good use of local produce and dishes are contemporary. My starter was Solva crab with a sort of sweetcorn foam and chorizo oil, the crab was packed with flavour, the foam a perfect mild, sweet contrast. I often think you can judge a restaurant by the simplest things and here the ale and honey bread, served with local salted butter was perfection; crisp of crust and soft of centre.
My main was Welsh lamb from Carmarthenshire, the next county along heading back east from Pembrokeshire. I wondered if its slightly salty tang came from being near the sea. It was so tender, my knife slipped through the little rounds on my plate. Accompanied with confit carrots, black olives and garnished with carrot tops it was an elegant, delicious dish. A plate of local cheeses ended my dinner; a selection of five local varieties, from a pungent blue Perl Las to a mild brie-like Perl Wen, with caramelised onion chutney and crackers with the right balance of crisp and crumble.
My suite with a view
Twr y Felin’s past as a windmill, with its promontory location to catch the Welsh breeze, means many interesting rooms and fabulous views. I was upgraded to the Tyddewi Windmill Tower Suite. It was so wonderful when I arrived, first seeing the impressive bedroom area and modern bathroom, but then realising that I was in the body of the windmill and seeing how my suite went up and up, to a circular sitting room and then again via a narrow stepladder to an observatory! I was staying solo, but this was most definitely a suite to bring a loved one to. When, if you don’t feel like braving the Welsh weather, hunker down and nest in fine style, watching the elements do their worst from your little turret.
A genuine escape
The team at Twr y Felin are capable, confident and friendly. They seem justifiably proud of where they work and despite the coolness of the art, the atmosphere is warm. Hindsight made me realise I wish I’d had another night or two there. This is a place that has so much to offer and explore.
While a winter break to Wales might seem an unusual choice, I left refreshed, delighted that I’d made the journey, wishing I could return. Yes, St Davids and Twr y Felin are a long way for most, but they give you something that other hotels and closer locations perhaps don’t. You truly feel you have escaped and been immersed into their little world. Rugged yet cosy, sophisticated yet charming. Would I go back? Absolutely, in a heartbeat.
To discover more, visit: twryfelinhotel.com
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All imagery courtesy of Twr y Felin.