Treated like kings in castle retreat

NESTLED away in the historic city of Hereford on the outskirts of the Welsh border is a little piece of paradise.

Castle House Hotel is a reflection of an England slowly disappearing into memory, when you could count on impeccable service, luxury bespoke furnishings and locally-sourced food of the highest quality. It is the dichotomy of the chain hotels and restaurants which have encroached upon our traditions in recent years, and offers the sort of individuality and character which elsewhere is forgotten.

After an exhausting drive from Hertfordshire which came at the end of a long and draining week at work, my fianc�e and I were relieved to virtually sink into the opulence and comfort offered at Castle House, a welcome break from the trials and tribulations of everyday life, and a chance to really spoil ourselves.

Entering the Georgian splendour of the hotel, we were greeted with a warm welcome at reception, just as you always hope for, and shown to our sublime suite with its own sitting room and decadent four poster-bed.

Opulent, yet modern, it combined ageless style with contemporary touches like two flatscreen TVs, a stereo, a hot towel rail and a fridge with real milk - none of those little cartons here thank you very much! In fact, it was the attention to detail and the little touches which makes Castle House Hotel stand out from the crowd.

Stacks of recent magazines, a decanter of cherry brandy, selections of bottled water and thick, fluffy towels and robes are all part of the experience, and they act as signposts heralding a better standard of hostelry than that found elsewhere.

The tardiness of our arrival meant we had to head down for dinner shortly after arriving, but there was no sense of us being hurried in the superb three-rosette restaurant, and the attentive staff let us take our time as we mused over the extensive a la carte menu and wine list.

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For starters, I opted for an interesting sweetcorn, courgette and chilli soup, which had a nice kick that didn’t dominate the distinctive flavours of the vegetables. My other half had a spectacular array of braised boneless chicken wings, seared scallops, spring vegetables and toasted hazlenuts. Mouthwateringly good, and washed down with a decent glass of white wine.

For her main course, my partner had grilled haddock and crab cake, served with cucumber and carrots, sweet potato puree and coriander sauce, an exciting blend of fishy flavours which was polished off with aplomb.

I selected a rib eye of Herefordshire beef with home cut chips, cherry tomatoes, a flat mushroom and herb butter. The meat were served perfectly pink, and complemented wonderfully by the sweetness of the tomatoes and the fluffy potato of the chips. I’m not much of a mushroom fan, so I brushed it to the side of my plate and tucked into the juicy beef, which comes from nearby Ballingham Hall Farm.

We rounded off our meal by sharing a dessert of jasmine cr�me brulee served with strawberry ice and strawberry sherbet, a light and tasty coda to a damn fine meal.

After the excesses of our meal, and the stresses of our drive, we decided to round off our evening with a couple of drinks in the warm and accommodating bar, before heading back up to our suite to make the most of the facilities before bed.

However, shortly after slipping into the soft decadence of the four-poster came an all-encompassing need for sleep, and we reluctantly brought our evening to an end.

An unexpected burst of sunshine greeted the following day, and after setting ourselves up for the next few hours with a couple of full English breakfasts, we enjoyed a tour around the hotel in the company of the deputy manager.

It was the ideal morning to wander along garden terrace overlooking the moat of Hereford Castle, and we also had the opportunity to discover the individuality and character of the hotel’s 16 bedrooms, an exceptional choice of accommodation and renowned for drawing back guests for repeat stays.

Our guide explained some of the history of the hotel, which stands on what was once a busy crossroads in the old Saxon city of Hereford some eight to nine hundred years ago, a far cry from the quiet and secluded road which St Ethelbert Street is today.

The nearby Hereford Castle held a strong strategic position in the 12th and 13th century but once the Edwardian conquest of Wales took place between 1272 and 1284, it lost its strategic position and fell into ruin. The castle was demolished completely after the Civil War and the area landscaped for use by local residents. The Castle Green now forms the heart of the city, and the old Castle Moat is overlooked by the hotel garden.

In the early 18th century, a local entrepreneur built a pair of fine Georgian villas in what was then the middle of the road facing along Castle Street. The rear of the building was added in the second half of the 19th century when owner Frederick Boulton obtained permission to join the two houses together. From the 1920s Castle House was a boarding house before becoming a genteel hotel in the 1940s. Castle House is still privately-owned by local farmer David Watkins, whose produce features extensively on the hotel menu.

So it was very reluctantly that we made our departure from Castle House Hotel and set off for our chosen destination – the bibliophile’s mecca that is Hay-on-Wye, about 30 miles from our accommodation. We would have loved to have the time to explore the picturesque market town that is Hereford, but time was pressing, and we wanted to make the most out of our time in Hay.

We both love browsing through second hand bookshops in search of bargains, and eagerly took to the challenge of trawling through the 30 or so sellers in this small market town, including the one located within the ruins of the 12th century castle.

Quite what impact the likes of Amazon and ABE Books have had on Hay are hard to determine, but the town was certainly busy enough with tourists making their way from shop to shop in search of elusive titles.

Despite a rigorous hunt along the myriad shelves and through endless boxes of books neither of us came away with the haul of treasured titles we had hoped for, but nonetheless enjoyed an unconventional day immersed in the literary world.

The added bonus of the glorious weather made sure our weekend in Herefordshire was one we will not forget in a hurry, and it was only regrettable that we had a prior engagement elsewhere, thus preventing us from spending any more time in this beautiful, yet somewhat neglected region of England. However, you can rest assured that we have been suitably tempted by the prospect of a repeat visit, and are already looking forward to exploring Herefordshire further.

Fact box:

Castle House Hotel, Castle Street, Hereford, HR1 2NW

01432 356321,

All rooms have private bathroom, fridge, in-room safe, direct dial telephone and broadband, and tariffs include full English breakfast.