Courtney Maggs-Jones indulges with a rather lavish stay at Celtic Manor
As a proud (and reasonably discerning) Welshman, I was disappointed I’d never visited one of the jewels of Welsh tourism. Pre and post ‘Twenty Ten’ (when the Ryder Cup came to town), most conversations and all press coverage noted just how special Celtic Manor was to visit; even good enough for Obama to stay during the G8 summit in 2014, no less.
Once a manor house for the High Sheriff of Monmouthshire, the property has changed hands a few times – once to become a local hospital. Sir Terry Matthews was born at the location and, having become a ‘Welsh-Canadian Tech Magnate’, bought it in 1980 and invested heavily to transform it into the Celtic Manor hotel.
His vision was to turn hotel into resort, taking the very best from the world’s great destinations. Fast forward, and Celtic Manor Resort is a gargantuan destination. Some 400 bedrooms, three golf courses, a retail arcade, hair salon and, most importantly to us, 12 bars and restaurants.
We were shown to our brand new (and rather elegant) Signature suite room; great views across a Gwent valley, a plush bathroom and a great big, comfy bed. Amid the great number of eateries and bars is Epicure, a starred restaurant with gastronomy at its very core. But, with a few changes going on with their menu and kitchen, our mission was to try their other darling.
On the same sixth floor as our room came Steak on Six. One step onto the wooden floor in the restaurant and the charming maitre’d pops up to welcome you. A chatty atmosphere, the low-lit space is surrounded by glass for a great view over the surrounding green valley (and yes, a speck of the M4 if you’re going to let that bother you).
Rustic, rough-cut leather menus give a huntsman-like feel to the experience, quickly softened by some amazing gin cocktails on the pages on top of mouth-watering and indulgent dishes.
I chose the Iberico ham, amazingly carved from the whole leg tableside. Sure, a bit of a ‘loud’ choice but delicious. Also amazing were the scallops, cooked perfectly and as ever the perfect light starter for the hefty carnivorous dishes to follow.
Before I continue to the rest of the meal, let me go off on a tangent. As a proud Welshman, I understand our Celtic nature. Our very existence is founded through ‘hwyl’ – a passionate character, gusto and oomph manifested in song, rugby and reminding our English friends of our colourful nature… possibly with a few choice words. There’s a time and a place for ‘hwyl’. Of Delilah, cackling and pints of Brains. But I’m afraid a salubrious restaurant is not that place, Wales or not, to wolf whistle or heckle loudly. How disappointing for someone like myself and indeed many others I’m sure who have been so excited for so long to experience a resort known for sophistication.
So, taking that (and our main courses) with pinches of salt, the ever-amazing staff returned with a perfectly cooked medium sirloin, as well as their huge mixed grill (possibly explaining the size of the building needed to serve it) – including half a lobster, lamb, chicken and an amazing rare sirloin for good measure. Every morsel was mouth-watering. The sauces delicious, the sides adding that extra smattering of delight to what was a delicious meal. Our waitress suggested some wines to go with each main course, both of which made for amazing accompaniments. Eventually cheese followed, and after thanking the staff for amazing service, we headed for a drink around the piano on the ground floor, hoping to find a bit of that ‘hwyl’.
The next morning, breakfast was served at Steak on Six. A very well put together breakfast and, once again, attentive staff. I have huge admiration for anyone in the hospitality industry who can finish dinner service with an infectious smile, and start breakfast with one that’s even wider, and this set us up for a day in the spa and on the golf course.
In keeping with the grand honour of hosting the Ryder Cup in 2010, the golf experience is special. The ‘Roman Road’ and ‘Montgomerie’ courses are more accessible, but the most exclusive is the ‘Twenty Ten’ Course. It is pristine, perfect. From the locker rooms through to the halfway house. It’s a tough course to get around (although my humble brag of winning the par three challenge on the 16th is a proud moment), but amazingly you’re teeing off on the same as Rory and company did when they were victorious.
To reflect on Celtic Manor, it’s not just a hotel with restaurants, it’s a behemoth resort. It’s not a place you’d go to just stay or dine. Go as a family or group and experience everything a resort can offer. A total experience. All round, it’s brilliant at a lot of things all at once. Not individually perfect, but all round excellent. The staff are attentive, helpful, passionate and friendly. What we experienced of the food was amazing. The rooms are elegant and comfy. The price? It’s premium, but not intimidating.
The major fly in the ointment to me I feel comes from the number of offers and promotions available to all and sundry, eliminating any feeling of exclusivity. For this place to truly be a world-renowned destination of exclusivity, the ‘Vegas turnover’ approach needs to be forgotten, and the exclusive, uncompromising nature of Gleneagles, Penny Hill Park and indeed St. Andrews need considering if this is to be a resort for the ages. With it, Celtic Manor can really demonstrate the very best of ‘Celtic’. Then, I’m certain this resort will truly be one of the best in the world.
Find out more and make a booking here