at Skenfrith, Monnow Valley, Wales
whom The Bell
tranquil Monnow Valley is
the setting for the beautifully-
restored The Bell, a 17th
century country inn with
oodles of chic but with a
very sympathetic down-to-
IT WAS WITH SOME TREPIDATION that on arrival at The Bell I cautiously opened
the curtains of our bedroom to view the famous castle ruins where scenes of
the last series of Dr. Who were filmed. Surely it would at least be sinister?
But no, instead I could swear that I could hear the faint clip-clop of
the three Billy Goats Gruff as they trotted across the old stone bridge directly
in front of our window. More a scene from a timeless fairy tale…
This quiet retreat has all the necessary ingredients to entice both walkers
and young families to spend a few days just chilling out or taking part in more
energetic country pursuits.
The very extensive makeover of this former ordinary local pub has worked superbly.
So often has the imposition of 21st century safety regulations and an unsympathetic
owner's ideas spoilt the integrity of such historic buildings, but here a light
touch has preserved the ambience and feel whilst celebrating the comforts needed
Flagstone floors, oak beams and comfy sofas in front of inglenook fireplaces
are not all that is on offer. The sophisticated bedrooms, with traditional welsh
blankets, are both modern and bright with free internet access and DVD/CD players.
Our double-height bedroom benefited from a splendid glass chandelier with a
black metal frame that tied in perfectly with the exposed roof beams.
Together with large stylish bathrooms stocked with lots and lots of fluffy towels,
the whole atmosphere is one of opulence and luxury. Truly a place where you
can indulge yourself to your heart's content.
We were welcomed with the most wonderful home-made shortbread, so good that
ours had to be replenished whilst we were downstairs. Surely a good indication
that dinner was going to be rather special.
Rupert Taylor is just one of several very talented chefs that are putting this
part of Wales on the map as one of the gastronomic clusters around Great Britain.
His ethos is to showcase the wonderful fresh and locally-sourced produce from
both local suppliers and The Bell's own organic kitchen garden.
The results are modern dishes influenced by Rupert's travels which surely must
include Morocco and his training with celebrated chefs such as the three Michelin-starred
Janet and William Hutchings, the owners, have also had the pleasure in exploring
wines from far and wide, and it is obvious that they source them from numerous
merchants rather than taking the easy options. There were many good value examples
on offer including other drinks from, literally, just up the road, one of which
happens to be a favourite of mine cider.
Refreshed by lavish baths and that wonderful shortbread, we ventured down to
the bar to join the walkers recovering from their bracing winter hikes by the
roaring fire. Actually, the sun had shone warmly in clear blue November skies
but the cosy atmosphere was nevertheless extremely welcoming.
Whilst we chose from the enticing menu we tried the local Ty Gwyn cider
a delicious, fizzy cider bursting with apple flavours made from the medieval
sounding Vilberie and Brown Snout apples. Both the canapés and cider were truly
The buzzy atmosphere of the dining room indicated that the restaurant was one
of the most popular around; the waiting staff were put to the test and we soon
discovered why. The pan-seared Cornish scallops with white chocolate were sweet,
soft and with a small hint of caramel. I often like to test a chef by choosing
scallops as they need close attention just a moment of too much heat
and they're lost. These were quite the most delicious slice of heaven conceivable
and we thought it could not get any better… but it did.
Welsh lamb is world-renowned but my slightly pink Talgarth lamb with Moroccan-influenced
spiced couscous could be cut with a fork. I cannot remember eating such delicious
lamb. Tim's deconstructed tiramisu was wonderful. Mascarpone and amaretto mousse
and jelly, espresso coffee ice cream with Tuile au grué de cacao
Ooh Ah! Rupert is truly innovative and talented and most definitely deserves
his many awards.
There was a price to pay; the appetites of the more energetic walkers amongst
us gauged the size of helpings and a misty early morning walk was the only remedy.
However, after a mile up hill all the way, that walk had additional rewards:
seeing a deer browsing not far in front of me; enough mistletoe to supply the
whole of China; and the opportunity to listen to the babbling brooks and birdsong.
If you prefer the finer things in life, you will certainly like this warm and
hospitable inn where you can relax and, perhaps, join the locals in the bar
for an easy chat on where to explore.
The walkers walked but we went castle hunting not much energy needed
as this area has the rare distinction of possessing the greatest density of
The Bell at Skenfrith definitely chimed for us. All-in-all a very pleasurable
experience in well thought-out rooms that, while modern, respect their history
along with exceptionally accomplished cooking and hearty portions; you'll always
leave the table satisfied and replete. Bonnie and Tim Stevens
The Bell, Skenfrith, Monmouthshire, NP7 8UH. Telephone: 01600 750235.
Full details at skenfrith.co.uk.