I started my journey across Wales with a flight from NYC to Manchester, England. Arriving in the morning, I met my driver and guide, Judy Brough. It was a short drive (about two hours) via rental car to my first stop, the medieval market town of Ruthin.
A small North Wales market town, Ruthin is filled with charm and has a refreshing shortage of tourists. All roads lead uphill past small shops and tea houses to the 700-year-old St. Peter's Church. I walked uphill to Annie's Tea Pot for lunch, where Annie herself makes everything from scratch ("tarts," or quiches, and pancakes are two of her specialties), and the diners surrounding me were all conversing in Welsh.
Ruthin Goal (prison), on a site that dates back to 1654, provides a fascinating glimpse into history. Just down the road, the Ruthin Castle Hotel is a popular setting for weddings. Ruthin is a good base for exploring nearby Snowdonia and the North Wales Coast.
Amidst all this history I chose a modern and artistic hotel right in the center of town. The Manorhaus is itself in a protected historic building, yet with a renovation that bestows a modern warmth. Charming hosts Devon and Christophe, a former architect and a choreographer respectively, have created a hybrid hotel/gallery with an outstanding restaurant. Each room is an "Oriel," Welsh for gallery, inspired by the works of a different local artist. I stayed in the junior suite, one large room that had the feel of a friend's ultra-cool flat. Soaking in the freestanding tub at the window afforded me a view of the street where I could in turn soak up the atmosphere.
Outside my door, the hotel's library was stocked with DVDs, CDs, books and magazines. Downstairs, the lobby is a draw in itself, with displayed artworks rotated out regularly. Upstairs is a sauna/steamroom, available to guests with just an hour's notice.
At dinner in the atrium-style dining room, I had a hard time choosing from the creative and tempting menu. I finally started with a pan fried red mullet, presented beautifully on a dill risotto cake with aubergine puree and creamed spinach. The main course was truly adventurous, even for me: a baby fennel and dill stuffed squid with roast tomato and paprika sauce. It was delicious and tasted more like comfort food than you might imagine. Dessert, a tart citron with black pepper sorbet, was the perfect ending and left me looking forward to breakfast, which did not disappoint.
As you can probably tell, I dined my way through Wales. Come along for the next stop, to a "Restaurant with Rooms" in the Welsh countryside.