Having retired from a high profile big business role as chairman of Vodafone, Alan Harper and his teacher wife, Angela, were looking for a country home to move to when they stumbled on Palé Hall, an atmosphere-laden Victorian pile which, in its chequered history, has served as a hunting lodge, hosting such luminaries as Queen Victoria and Sir Winston Churchill; as a military hospital; as a home for wartime evacuees, and as a hostelry before eventually being left standing empty for 21 years.
Fortunately, the property generates its own electric heat and power via a powerful hydro turbo generator, Installed at great expense in the 1920s. With blessed foresight, some 18 electric fires were kept running during the long period of unoccupancy, helping preserve the fabric of the property, which the Parkers acquired and began to restore in 2015.
Replacing the original system involved seven miles of electric trucking, serving around 440 sockets. The original turbine has been preserved, as an impressive piece of industrial history while its modern successor helps create the comfort that is a Palé Hall byword.
Given the hotel’s idyllic location amid the woods above the tumbling waters of the River Dee and just seven miles from glorious Lake Bala, and with the delights of the Snowdonia National Park close by, it soon dawned on the Parkers that the property could be a lot more than just a comfortable private residence.
It took five years of renovation and refurbishments to make the property fit for purpose.
Highly reputed maître de Hotel Harry Shepherd was brought in to assemble a team of truly dedicated professionals to follow the tenets of the Parker’s vision.
With the honeyed stone-works of the neo-Jacobean hall, providing a welcoming palate, warmth and colour come from a tasteful and eclectic choice of fabrics and furnishings, along with the owners’ bounteous collection of artworks, antiques and glassware, which have been described as ‘flowing like a river from room to room’. The overall ambiance is subtle blend of high Victorian, art nouveaux and art deco with thoroughly modern amenities.
The lavish refurbishment hinged on painstaking attention to detail. Luxurious but never starchy or pretentious, Palé Hall is warm and welcoming – truly a home from home. Though billing itself as a bijoux hotel, the mood is relaxed country house-party, with hands-on owners playing host, rather than a faceless, bland but pricey commercial operation.
The house was as built in 1871 for prominent railway engineer and industrialist Henry Robertson, whose portrait is carved in stone above the front entrance.
Palé Hall is a house for all seasons, with woodland carpets of bluebells and daffodils bringing colour in spring, summer sunshine glistening on the nearby lake and winter’s hill-tops crowned with snow. It’s the stuff of picture postcards. Our visit was in autumn, with falling leaves turning into a carpet of spectacular fall colours. It’s proper postcard.
On brighter days there are colourful flowerbeds to explore, while the manicured lawn sweeps magnificently down to the river.
When there’s a chilly edge to the air it is all too tempting to choose a book and curl up in front of a roaring log fire.
The reception room’s floor to ceiling windows add a stylish sense of drama, using the mountains to provide a backdrop of movie set dimension. But the overall ambiance manages to be one of cosy homeliness that makes it easy to strike a conversation with your fellow guests and the ever-attentive staff.
If you can drag yourselves – and I write in the plural because Palé Hall suits couples and family groups alike and can even provide a baby-sitting service – the call of the wild beckons from beyond the sweeping drive.
This property was created with hunting, shooting and fishing in mind. Today it is hill walking, mountain biking and a wide selection of watersports that tempt guests into the great outdoors.
Kick-start your day with a traditional Welsh fry-up, not forgetting to include a portion of laverbread (shredded seaweed) in your order.
Wales has a well-deserved reputation for the richness of its larder, with locally raised lamb and beef, line caught river salmon, venison and game birds joined by locally produced speciality cheeses, plump sausages and amazing desserts.
Besides utilising the bountiful home-grown organic produce from the hotel’s own expansive vegetable garden, the head chef, Gareth Stevenson, and his talented crew are adept at foraging the hedgerows and hillsides for wild mushrooms, berries and herbs. The cuisine here is appropriately inventive, a mix of eclectic modern British and upgraded traditional and packages are available for guests to participate in such activities.
Back on home turf there are three dining spaces to choose from. Angela Harper herself renovated and decorated the library, using dramatic stencils, book-lined walls and an open fire to create a welcoming and intimate space for from two to 10 diners.
Seating up to 18 as a private dining space, the Venice room offers elegance and a theatrical Venetian theme but still features the massive cast iron cooking range from the room’s earlier role as the kitchen. Venetian mirrors, crystal chandeliers and antique copper create a magical ambiance.
Paying tribute to the venue’s creator, the largest restaurant at Palé Hall is called The Henry Robertson Dining Room, a gracious space, with a grand fireplace, ornate plaster ceilings and a carved buffet. Seating up to 40, buffet style, this is a magnificent room, designed to impress, and providing a wonderful backdrop for a wedding, corporate function or tour group.
18 sumptuous individually styled bedrooms provide the proverbial ‘good night’s sleep’ for overnighting guests.
It was in 1889 that Queen Victoria made her well-documented visit to Palé Hall and today an enchanting riverside walk traces her footsteps through the grounds.
If you are especially lucky, you will dream the proverbial night away in the majestic half-tester bed that the Queen occupied during her stay.
Palé Hall stages a run of enticing themed packages The Gin-venture is an exhilarating and memorable experience that combines a two-night stay – with fine dining in the luxury of Palé Hall with an introduction to Snowdonia’s own hand-crafted artisan gin from the Snowdonia Distillery, including two night’s luxury accommodation, an eight course taster menu a guided foraging expedition to the foothills of Mount Snowdon searching for rare botanicals, and a tour of the distillery itself, with gin tasting, pairing the spirit with pure Welsh drinking water.
Dedicated foraging and fishing packages are also available.
Membership of the prestigious Relais et Châteaux marketing group and AA Three Rosette status are well deserved accolade for a splendid property which is self proclaimed as the principality’s only five-star country house hotel. The Harpers can rightly be proud.
Palé Hall Hotel, Palé Estate, Llandderfel, Bala, Gwynedd, LL23 7PS, Wales.
Tel: +44 (0)1678 530 285
This historic Victorian mansion hotel is located in the tranquil Dee Valley on the doorstep of Snowdonia National Park and easily accessible by road via the M54 and A5. There is a regular train service from London Euston to Chester that takes just over 2 hours. Manchester Airport is an hour and half away.
Type of Hotel: AA Five Red Star Relais & Château Country House Hotel & AA Three Rosette Restaurant.
Number of Rooms: 18 luxurious, individually styled bedrooms and suites.
Price Band: Medium to High. Nightly rates start from £210 including breakfast.
Reviewer’s Rating: 9/10
Roger St. Pierre is a seasoned professional travel and motoring writer and editor with over 40 years in the industry and one of our regular contributors.
Photographs courtesy of Palé Hall a member of Relais & Châteaux