“De gustibus not disputandum est” is a Latin saying that many hotel reviewers would do well to take heed of. You may or may not feel partial towards the ox blood red and glossy black paint of The Cawdor’s façade as you drive past it on Llandeilo’s pretty high street. As Stacey, the girl in Reception informed me “There’s mixed opinion about it in the town!” in her lilting Welsh accent. It so transpired that when seeking to repaint the outside of the building, the owners of The Cawdor, who also own the sister hotel Morgans in Swansea, applied to the appropriate Cwmru heritage authorities for Listed Building redecoration consent. In Welsh chromatic exhuberance this was the chosen colour. You won’t miss it as you drive past, of that you may rest assured.
The Cawdor is so named because of the Cawdor family, of the Golden Grove estate nearby. It used to be called The Bear Inn, and it has been welcoming guests since 1796, although you will not really find evidence of period features and quaint architecture left in the building.
There can be no denying that Llandeilo, a peaceful rural town at the heart of the Tywi valley in Carmarthenshire has come on in leaps and bounds in the last few years. Home to no less than two Toast shops (one of which is their factory store), Peppercorns, the legendary cook shop next door and Barista, the lovely café across the road, it started attracting a new kind of visitor during its hey dey. Londoners with second homes in the area, tourists visiting the local National Trust houses and gardens, as well as walkers, artists and designers: this part of Wales became a mecca for affluent aesthetes coming to relax in beautiful countryside. Even the town cemetery is stunning.
Soon, more boutique shops opened: hairdressers, lingerie shops, vintage, homewares and antiques shops and now there is even a destination perfumery and toiletries shop, Seren Luxe. Its owner told me that the recession was biting into the tourist economy in the region, as it was anywhere else. Time will tell who is left standing, but everyone I spoke to in the town told me the same thing: prosperity arrived in Llandeilo when The Cawdor opened in 2004. If people have somewhere to stay the night, then they are more likely to spend money in the local shops and pubs.
I stayed one night at The Cawdor and many things struck me, but above all else the service is notable. Bright, friendly and cheery the staff here are extremely welcoming, and even verging on the funny. The building is absolutely enormous and its cavernous dining room is practically the size of a village hall. The rooms have all been recently decorated, and whether or not the modern style appeals to you, the cleanliness, comfort and attention to detail cannot be denied.
Whoever is in charge of Housekeeping at The Cawdor could have written the text book. I spied the team in action downstairs and not a stone was left unturned. I would hire this team in my home any day. Bathrooms, flagstone and wooden floors in particular are all gleaming. How rare is that?
The restaurant Menu offers eight starters and eight main courses, and the chosen ingredients will not allow you for one second to lose sight of where you are: Carmarthen ham, Welsh goats cheese, Celtic Pride rib-eye steak and local belly of pork feature prominently. The cooking is very simple, homely and unpretentious, and my lamb shank was extremely soft, moist, flavoursome and comforting. Thankfully, I was seated in the bistro section of the dining room, a cosier area to eat, looking out onto the high street.
At breakfast you make your own toast, there is a small selection of cereal and fruit and the cooked breakfasts are huge and well done. The waiting staff are excellent, they have done well to find them.
You are in the land of the very functional, practical and comfortable. The Cawdor is an inn and it delivers to travellers exactly what all inns should do: plain, simple, clean and organised accommodation with a well cooked meal at good value for money.
On my way out Stacey asked me where I was going. In the very best Welsh accent I could muster I replied that I wanted to visit Llanerchaeron. She looked at me quizzically. To assuage my embarrassment, and the fact that she probably did not have the faintest idea what I had just said, she replied “Well that does not sound too far, then.” As she helped carry the bags into the car outside, in the pelting rain, I thought how very diplomatic.