Llandovery was not somewhere we were convinced would best play host to a Smith hotel. Mind you, this place does look like a tea-shop fetishist’s dream. Once we’d arrived at the New White Lion itself though, the honesty bar of this grade II-listed ex-pub gave us the first clue as to how our weekend might progress. Owners Sylvia and Gerald Pritchard requested we make ourselves ‘completely at home’. Rather than just politely nodding, we obey. I mean really obey. Falling into the deep sofa, we open a bottle of wine, contemplate a game of chess by the fire, and let our weekend unfold.
The passion and style infused into the renovation of the New White Lion has created a little piece of five-star sophistication in the heart of Carmarthenshire. Beautiful antique furniture and curious objects are offset by decor graced with a contemporary touch, thanks to the wits of an interior-design-minded daughter. The place is stuffed with rich pickings related to the heritage of the area; old books, miners’ boots and local maps blend into a domain where every modern comfort is catered for. Feeling very much at home, we retired to bed, glasses in hand. Each of the six rooms has a different theme, based on local Welsh characters and folklore. We are in the Physicians of Myddfai, a sleek monochromatic space named after the three sons of Llyn y Fan Fach – the lady of the lake. The lads were said to possess the power of healing, given to them by their mercurial mother, and their therapeutic skills still seem pretty evident as we collapse into the huge bed, feeling more relaxed than ever.
A traditional full Welsh breakfast cooked by Sylvia the next morning immerses us further in the local ways. We even road-test the laverbread cakes, a local dish of seaweed rolled in oats, then fried. Suitably fuelled up, and ready to explore the Welsh countryside, we set off to follow our hosts’ suggestions, scrawled handily on the back of a map.
Llandovery used to be an important stop-off point for drovers taking their cattle up to London’s Spitalfields Market. Back then, it boasted a beer-swilling abundance of 50 pubs for its population of 2,000 (one inn to every 40 residents must have been jolly), so obviously our hotel has its feet firmly in public-house history. But these days Llandovery is a much more sedate affair; just a handful of taverns and tea houses remain in this town flanked by stunningly gorgeous valleys and imposing peaks.
Within minutes of leaving, we were spoilt for spectacular views until a hailstorm pushed us into – what else? – a little pub. We waited out the deluge, with help from some Tippling Philosopher ale, until we were free to point our wellies in the direction of Gwenffrwd-Dinas RSPB Nature Reserve – a walk suitable for urbanites like ourselves. The landscape was far from pedestrian though, as we weaved our way between tracts of countless bluebells and caught sight of red kites. Later that afternoon, we navigated winding roads through breathtaking valleys towards the smallest town in Britain. Eddie Izzard once joked about having nightmares where he had to play Scrabble in Welsh, a feeling echoed when we pulled into tiny Llanwrtyd Wells. Here, Mr Smith contracted a virulent spell of hiccups in a friendly pub, which lasted well into the evening.
Back at the New White Lion, Sylvia pointed Mr Smith into the well-appointed library to consult a leather-bound volume containing the accumulated wisdom of one of the physicians of Myddfai. The Celtic medic’s text specified remedies for swelling and gout; and there, at the back, was ‘hiccoughs’. We were in the right spot. ‘Make a poultice of seaweed and pepperminthe leaves and apply under the tongue,’ advised the doctor of yore. Or, on the other hand, ‘Quickly drink down a pint of water. Holde thye breathe.’ Conservatively, Mr Smith just opted for the latter.
Supper, we decided, would be a lazy affair in the comfort of the hotel. Mr Smith’s face was a picture of ecstasy over beef braised in red wine, while the rhubarb crumble and ice cream had me at ‘Would you like the dessert menu?’ Taking our coffee through to the sitting room, we lolled on sofas for an evening, pretending that this was our real, though slightly more glamorous, home.
The Pritchards opened the New White Lion to introduce guests to the rural splendour they love so passionately, creating a luxurious base from which country-lovers can explore Carmarthenshire. And they’re definitely onto something: even bonny Prince Charles has bought a farmhouse down the road in Llwynywormwood. It’s an infectious attitude, and our stay in Llandovery leaves us enthused by the magnificent landscape. And, thanks to New White Lion’s hospitality, we return home thoroughly revitalised and – thankfully – hiccough-free.