Cancel the flights, forget the ferries. If you were thinking of France this year, you can have the same experience between Wales’ Gower coast and the Brecon Beacons. From the ivy-clad walls to the wine cellar to the Italianate gardens, Marchywel Manor is a French fantasy for 18 in the making. Just add croissants.
Let’s begin in le jardin. It’s a grand Renaissance affair touched by magic, as befits a place connected with Arthurian legend. Find the pond and the domed folly, wander the woodlands, discover the secret walled garden, and enjoy the silence and the inky black skies that come with the neighbouring 100 acres of countryside.
Behind the classical stucco façade and symmetrical pavilions lurks a gourmet kitchen, sunken baths and a magical oak-panelled library with secret doorway to a private collection of Welsh-themed books. Stream the Plusnet wi-fi, bring your passwords for the 55” TV, breakfast on croissants on the Juliet balcony. Vive la French fairytale.
In front of the mythical mountain of Mynydd Marchywel, where the red kites wheel and the buzzards hover, sits a splendid Italianate garden with domed folly and secret walled garden with lily pond. Here, the trout-rich River Clydach gushes its way towards the gorgeous Gower coast.
Let the kids loose among century-old trees and the grey wagtails that follow the winding river, to plunder the ponds for newts, frogs and tadpoles. Or just invade the tennis court in front of the orangery, where cows and sheep in the neighbouring field pass judgement on dubious service actions.
At night, with little light pollution to spoil the view among 100 acres of uninterrupted countryside, you’ll want to gather everyone on the front lawn and watch the Milky Way cross the ink-black sky on a moonless night.
The ten-metre indoor swimming pool’s as photogenic as it’s fun. Heated to 29 degrees entirely by green energy, it’s perfect for all-year-round amusement that comes with exposed 15th-century stone walls and views of the pond garden, the folly and the neoclassical statues. Dive in, chill out, face off at water polo.
Elsewhere, there’s a certain magic about the internal spaces here. Could that be linked to the dynastic owners of bygone eras who claimed descent from a Welsh King of the Dark Ages and prominent figure in Arthurian legend? That may be so but there’s nothing ancient-mythology about the superfast Wi-Fi and Netflix-ready flatscreen TVs.
If you’re box-set bingeing, you’ll want accompanying tipples. Keep your Bordeaux and Burgundies in the 15th-century wine cellar. The stone floor and exposed-stone walls provide the perfect atmosphere for optimum storage. And take your after-dinner drinks in the orangery’s spacious lounge bar with views of the tennis court.
The living room and drawing room sit either side of the entrance hall with its vaulted ceiling. Join the throng or duck out as the mood takes. And for pure escapism, the oak-panelled library comes with a secret doorway through to a private collection of centuries-old volumes belonging to previous Lords of the Manor.
Albert Roux himself would be proud of the French-farmhouse gourmet kitchen with its bespoke, extensive cabinetry, reclaimed stone inglenook and four-oven oil Aga. You’ll be further aided and abetted by the two portable plug-in hotplates, dual electric hob and American-style fridge/freezer.
Prefer to work on your breaststroke or backhand? Call up our pro chefs for anything from a hog roast to a Hogmanay feast. They’ll even load up the dishwasher afterwards. Stock up on fresh local produce from Pontardawe Farmers’ Market, Frosty’s greengrocers and Ponty butchers. Croissants? That’ll be Jenkins’ Bakery.
There’s room for just the 20 around the baronial dining table and even more outside beneath the red kites around the coal barbie. Wrap up your meal with a latte from the Nespresso. Takeaways? Try a classic British menu from Rhos Meadow Fish Bar, an Indian from one of three in Pontardawe or Chinese from one of four.
Wood-fired pizzas are the best and Riverbank Restaurant in Clydach offers the finest around. Try the Grape and Olive in Swansea for a modern menu based on regional ingredients served with spectacular views of Swansea Bay, the city and Mumbles. Or taste a Michelin star at Beach House Restaurant on the golden sands of Oxwich Bay.
In the shadow of Mynydd Marchywel, amid century-old trees by the River Clydach, you’ll sleep log-like here. Choose from nine bedrooms sleeping 18. Need more space? Ask us about the cottage in the grounds.
Each room is named after individuals who lived in the property in centuries gone by. On the first floor, Louisa is a superkingsize, while Gertrude offers a double, with both sharing a family bathroom.
Frances is a superking with an en-suite shower room and Herbert and Lloyd are en-suite superkings that zip-and-link into twins. Lloyd is also a rather lovely master suite. Take your breakfast on the Juliet balcony that overlooks the garden with views of the ornamental pond and folly, then tog up in the walk-in wardrobe and dressing room.
On the second floor, Unity, Norah are doubles that share the family bathroom, while Nina & Ada are also superkings with Ada having its own en-suite featuring bath and walk-in shower.
If your kids always fancied France, give them a taste of la belle vie in South Wales. They’ll run as free as the chickens that live in the old rusty Citroens you always find in French farmyards. Let them loose to explore the wine cellar, the Italianate gardens and the river that runs off to the Gower sea.
There’s plenty to explore in the gardens and grounds. Maybe set them a treasure hunt? Who’ll be first to find the domed folly and the secret walled garden? Bring their nets for the ponds, rich in newts, frogs and toads, and don’t forget the tennis rackets, for a game on the all-weather court umpired by nosy sheep and cattle.
Inside, the ten-metre heated pool’s the showstopper here. Get some lengths in, or just split yourselves into water-polo teams. Towel off and gather for a family movie on the 55-inch TV in the living room. Don’t forget your Netflix password and tune in care of superfast Plusnet broadband.
At night, the skies dye themselves a deep, inky black here and, surrounded by 100 acres of countryside, the stars reveal themselves, constellation by constellation. Gather on the lawn with blankets for the best view.