If you’ve ever driven on the M4 west of the Severn Bridge, you will have seen the Celtic Manor: a vast hotel that looms conspicuously over the Welsh hills just outside Newport. I always thought it was a peculiar location for a five-star country resort, frankly. However, it’s also a hilltop retreat that wins awards over and over again for its spa, leisure facilities and luxury accommodation. And so, the boyfriend and I decided to give the promise of luxe relaxation and spa pampering a thorough test.
On arrival? The Celtic Manor is big. Seriously. It’s not just the number of rooms – the resort has three golf courses, conference and events facilities, several cafes, bars and restaurants, and even a small shopping centre in its lobby. The result is constant bustle of people coming and going at virtually all hours. It doesn’t lend itself all that well to relaxation, but you can’t argue with the facilities on offer. My initial scepticism about the hotel was the out-of-town location, but clearly guests don’t use the Celtic Manor as a mere bed and breakfast – they practically live in it.
Our room itself was quite a contrast to the hectic public areas. Despite the proximity of the motorway, our space was very quiet and really designed for relaxation. The bathroom had bpth bath and shower, and was amply stocked with spa-style Elemis products. Charmingly, fresh Welsh cakes were left on our pillow at turndown.
Lovely though the cakes were, the real reason to visit Celtic Manor is the luxury spa, which has a string of awards to its name. The swimming pool is substantial and elegant, and there are single-sex saunas as well as a spacious communal one, plus the largest Jacuzzi I’ve seen in a hotel. I treated myself to an indulgent signature Forum massage: a seriously relaxing, full body treatment with gorgeous scented oils – it was classic Swedish, expertly executed and highly recommended. Afterwards, I headed to the Elemis Steam Temple for a quirkier treatment. The pretty, Arabian-inspired tiled steam temple accommodates up to four people at a time and you’re given a portion of mineral-rich mud to apply before a spell in steam temple itself. After 20 minutes, the mud was washed off by ‘rain’ from the ceiling.
While the spa was excellent, for me, the real star of our stay was dinner at the Newbridge-on-Usk restaurant, ten minutes drive away. In contrast to the vast Celtic Manor, Newbridge-on-Usk is a cosy spot on the bank of the river Usk. The décor is rural chic and the menu is correspondingly rustic, but beautifully executed. I started with a chicken rilette served with sourdough and figs, followed by their mouth-watering rump of Welsh lamb, while my partner enjoyed scallops with belly pork followed by local venison. I nearly died from envy when I sampled my partner’s chocolate fondant dessert; my coffee panna cotta paled in comparison. We washed it all down with a reasonably priced Cote du Rhone and an Armagnac (him) and Muscadet dessert wine (me).
Breakfast options at the Celtic Manor were plentiful: the buffet offered a range from full Welsh (everything you’d expect to see in a full English, and beautifully cooked) to healthier continental options. The breakfast a la carte menu also included options for specialist diets, such as carb-free egg white omelettes and even vegetable juice options.
We certainly achieved our goal of finding a relaxing retreat, and I can recommend the dining and spa unreservedly. Although I’m still not sold on Celtic Manor’s location, for a weekend break, there’s absolutely everything you need to take time out, enjoy some serious pampering and recharge those batteries.
Double rooms at Celtic Manor start at £130 per night. For more information, see celtic-manor.co.uk
IN THE AREA…
There are plenty of ancient sites for history lovers to visit; the Roman remains at Caerleon and accompanying museum are particularly impressive. The area also has lots of romantic castle ruins including Raglan and Chepstow. The best shopping in the area is Cardiff, although a trip to the pretty towns of Monmouth and Abergavenny offer plenty of opportunities for those in search of arts and crafts, and also gastronomic treats from local farm shops and markets. The nearby Glanusk Estate regularly hosts events such as outdoor theatre, sport tournaments and the Green Man music festival.