It’s not every day you get to stay in an 800-year-old fort, particularly one as stylish as 12th Century Roch Castle. Like a chess piece rook, it stands on a rocky outcrop between coast and countryside. The golden sands of Newgale – a big draw for surfers – unfurl on one side, while the Preseli Hills ripple into the distance on the other. It’s a cracking location for a brisk hike along the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, a day trip over to the puffin-rich island of Skomer, or a drive into St David’s, home to the most impressive medieval cathedral in Wales.
We arrive midweek and practically have the castle to ourselves. Passing through wrought-iron gates, we follow a drive that sweeps up to the entrance. The warm welcome is indicative of the service here: attentive yet unobtrusive. Roch had fallen into disrepair until it was salvaged by much-lauded architect Keith Griffiths, who was born nearby in St Davids and still has a soft spot for the area. He worked his magic on it in 2012, with a multi-million-pound facelift that sent it winging into the 21st century. Bearing his trademark slickness, the understated interior plays up light and space and doubles as a gallery, with contemporary art and sculpture by Welsh and international artists.
Keith doesn’t do things by halves and here he has realised his vision for a castle that cleverly contrasts a historic exterior with pared-back modern design. He has raised it from near ruin to become one of Pembrokeshire’s chicest boutique hotels. The vibe is very intimate by virtue of the fact there are only six rooms. Rooms are sleek and minimalist in look and feel, with crisp white bedding, luxurious chocolate-velvet throws, taupe walls and circular leather rugs draping wooden floors. All rooms have some nice little touches like aromatherapy-infused toiletries, DVD players, iPod docks, robes and slippers. The honeymoon suite half way up has the added romance of surround views.
Roch Castle sets itself apart from most other luxury hotels however, with its air of discreet luxury and truly peaceful setting. This is best appreciated relaxing in the Court Room, where a coat of arms hangs above the fireplace, browsing books on local history in the library alcove, or sipping a drink from the honesty bar in the glass-clad Sun Room, which commands fabulous views of St Brides Bay. When the Welsh weather permits, there are 12 acres of gardens and woodland to explore. Massages in a room at the top of the castle can be arranged on request. While the castle itself does not have a restaurant, they are happy to book complimentary transfers to Blas Restaurant in the sister hotel of Twr y Felin, a 20-minute drive way.
Breakfast at Roch is a wonderfully leisurely affair. Over a delicious Welsh spread of cockles, bacon and laverbread on wholemeal toast, we get chatting with a knowledgeable member of staff about local places worth visiting. This stretch of the Pembrokeshire coast is rich in both history and glorious coastlines and you get a tantalizing taste of both at Roch Castle.
Roch Castle Hotel, Roch, Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, Wales, SA62 6AQ
Tel: +44 (0)1437 725 566
Take the A40 to Haverfordwest, then it is another four miles on the A487 to Roch (follow the signs for the castle). There is ample parking available. The nearest train station is Haverfordwest and the hotel offers a complimentary transfer from the station which can be pre-booked on request.
Type of Hotel: 5-Star Luxury Boutique Hotel
Number of Rooms: 6 rooms with complimentary Wi-Fi
Check the hotel’s website for a wide range of special deals and packages, which range from stay for three nights, pay for two, romantic retreats, and stay and dine packages. They also host events from intimate weddings to exclusive use stays and note that children must be aged 12 or over to stay at Roch Castle.
Price Band: Medium to High
Reviewer’s Rating: 9/10
Kerry Christiani is an award-winning freelance travel writer, author and MA-qualified translator
Photographs courtesy of Roch Castle