If you are looking for that picture perfect scenic lakeside break, where is the first place you think of? How about Lake Garda in Italy? That looks lovely doesn’t it. Or, what about Lake Louise in Western Canada? Perfection. Well, I have been in search of that idyllic lakeside location for a little while now. Tenaya Lake in Yosemite National Park, Lake Tahoe in California, Lake Gosau in Austria and Lago di Braies in the Dolomites area of Italy have all rated highly on my list of impressive lakes. Quick plug – click on the links to see some photos of these magnificent settings. But, here’s the thing. You really don’t need to travel so far away, especially if you happen to live in the UK, or more specifically, in Wales.
We know the UK does good lakes. We have a whole Lake District in the north of England. Scotland is full of beautiful Loch’s. I urge you, however, to get to Mid Wales and check out Lake Vyrnwy for a little bit of magic right on the doorstep.
I’ve planned to visit Lake Vyrnwy, and in particular, the Lake Vyrnwy Hotel & Spa for quite a while now. Having seen a photo (most likely on Instagram, knowing me) of the scenery and the view from this hotel, I knew I had to visit one day. Having had conversations about the history of the lake (actually a reservoir) with my father a couple of years ago before he passed away, it always stuck in my mind. ‘Oh yes, that’s the place where they flooded a village to create a reservoir that supplies Liverpool with drinking water‘. He shrugged in his usual way when I showed him the stunning photo, said it looked alright, but no doubt couldn’t understand why this lake located an hour and a half away from home in Conwy, North Wales had any more charm than any of the more local lakes!
The last Christmas before he passed away, we were given some money as a gift and I put it to one side with the intention of spending it on a stay at this location. And that’s what we did a year and a half later.
The journey to the hotel from any direction leads you through the beautiful Welsh countryside with rolling hills and pine forests, until you arrive at the lakeside, where a long driveway leads upwards towards the hotel.
Perfectly positioned on the hillside overlooking the lake and the surrounding hills, the Lake Vyrnwy Hotel & Spa has arguably one of the most picturesque locations and views in the country.
The large stone country house, dating back 125 years, is imposing and grand. From the main entrance lobby through to the public areas packed with sumptuous leather furniture, antiques, log fires, wood panelling and ornate details, the hotel has a comfortable country house feel as soon as you have stepped through the doors.
Many of the rooms have lake views, as you would expect. We opted for a Premier Lake View Room, with a balcony providing a panoramic view of the lake. The room was traditionally decorated, along with a modern bathroom with bath and a separate rainforest shower. I liked the small touches, such as a cafetiere in the room – makes such a difference to your morning coffee out on the balcony.
The Tower Restaurant is located at the front of the hotel, and has amazing views from most tables. We were lucky enough to have a table at the window both evenings that we were there, although be warned that on a warm day the large windows create something of a greenhouse environment. But who cares when you are looking out at this.
Breakfast and dinner at the Tower Restaurant were both great experiences. The restaurant holds an AA Rosette, and offers a seasonal three course menu using a lot of local produce. It’s not a stuffy fine dining experience, instead fairly relaxed but the flavours, presentation and service are all impeccable. It far exceeded my expectations.
As well as the Tower Restaurant, the hotel also offers the Tavern Brasserie for a more relaxed dining environment and The Last Grouse, a local pub which is located on the grounds. For some relaxation time, the Elemis Spa offers a range of treatments as well as the Thermal Suite which is something of an introduction to the spa experience with a whirlpool, sauna, steam room and experience showers available to hotel guests at a reduced fee.
Throughout our stay, the service that we experienced from all the staff was fantastic – they go above and beyond to create the perfect guest experience. From the reception, restaurant and bar, housekeeping and spa, the service was professional but remained relaxed and friendly.
Let be honest here for a second though, we are mainly here for the view. That beautiful view. Positioned towards the eastern end of the lake, the hotel has a panoramic view west across the whole 5 mile length of the lake with the perfect backdrop of the surrounding hills.
As if that’s not good enough, the lake features it’s own Victorian Fairytale Tower. To destroy the glamour and romance a little, it’s actually the reservoir’s straining tower, but it wouldn’t look out of place on the banks of the Rhine with it’s Gothic architecture and pointed copper roof.
The good thing about facing west is that you are at the perfect vantage point to witness the highlight of any clear day – the sunset. As many of us Brits will know, the risk of taking a staycation is that we just can’t rely on the weather. The day before we arrived at Lake Vyrnwy it was overcast with some heavy rain. We awoke the following morning to a dreary and drizzly day, however Carol who does the weather on BBC Breakfast had promised us great weather and I pretty much trust everything she says. Sure enough, the weather brightened up as we were heading through the hills and we were lucky enough to spend a couple of days with a mini heatwave and generally clear skies.
In mid May, in case you are wondering, the sunset occurs at the exact time that you will be having your dinner in a fancy restaurant. Of course it does! Thankfully, given our window location at dinner we could watch the whole thing unfold and (as this was a one-off occasion and location) I managed to sneak out onto the terrace between courses to get some shots as it unfolded. This is not really fancy-dining etiquette, I know, but forgive me this once.
I wasn’t the only person distracted from their dinner although I’m not sure if anyone else left their tables, but watching the sun set behind the horizon with the sky turning a burning orange colour was spectacular.
Once dinner was done and followed by a couple of night caps it was time to marvel at the clear night skies. Being in a very remote location, with the village of Llanwddyn located behind the hotel, the location is perfect for some stargazing. Apart from whatever lay beyond the horizon there was barely any light pollution across the lake apart from some lighting on the Fairytale Tower, added for Fairytale Effect I’m sure. It was lovely to stare up at the millions of stars, listening to the occasional hoot of an owl and the muffled laughter and music coming from the brasserie bar somewhere below.
This is definitely one of those hotel stays that despite the sun rising at 5am, you leave your curtains open so as not to miss any time looking outside. Waking up to another glorious clear morning, the sun cast it’s light from a different direction giving the landscape a whole new feel.
The lake had a glassy stillness in the mornings during our stay – crystal clear reflections in the water only disturbed by the occasional fish catching flies or a landing duck. You could barely distinguish what was land and what was lake (apart from the fact that some of it was upside down).
I could have stayed on the balcony and stared out for hours, but I didn’t have time to do that. There was walking to be done…
Lake Vyrnwy is a man made reservoir that was created in the late 1800’s. A small village called Llanwddyn, home to some 400 people was rebuilt downstream of a new dam, with the original village being demolished before the valley was submerged.
Nowadays, the lake and the pretty village of Llanwddyn are a perfect location for people wanting an escape to the countryside to do a spot of walking, cycling or bird watching. A short walk down the hotel driveway, or through the adjacent (steep) woodland brings you out onto the main road that travels the circumference of the lake. Heading to the left will bring you to the impressive dam that was built to create the reservoir. At 144 feet high, 128 feet thick at the base and made of Welsh granite, it’s quite impressive.
The road crosses the dam into the village made up of a small collection of houses, a church, car parking, a couple of lovely cafes and an RSPB visitor centre. There is a sculpture park located just below the dam, which is really nice for a stroll to get some different views.
The RSPB, who have had a nature reserve at Lake Vyrnwy since 1977, has a number of bird hides located around the lake, one of which is located within the village right next to Artisan’s Cafe. Considering the amount of noise generated in the cafe car park with cars, motorbikes and people in general there are a staggering amount of birds that come to feed at the rear of this hide. We even saw a Great Spotted Woodpecker while we were there.
The road around the lake is 11 miles long and thankfully fairly flat. We walked about 6 miles in total, so didn’t even make it halfway around, but it’s such a lovely setting to stroll with some open meadow areas with picnic tables to stop and take a break. The forest is quite dense in some sections, and there are many trails and footpaths which head into the woods but we stayed on the main road, which wasn’t too busy.
The main thing that struck me while we were walking, was the beauty of the area and the amazing pine trees. I’ve travelled through the national parks of North America in search of scenes like these. I genuinely had no idea that you could find it nestled in the heart of Wales.
In summary, if you want to get away for a relaxing break I can think of nowhere better. Pack your walking shoes, your bicycle and your camera and head into the hills of Wales.
Lake Vyrnwy Hotel & Spa