Joan Reen, who with her husband created one of the UK’s leading country house hotels – the four-red-AA-star Ynyshir Hall in Powys, mid-Wales – has died from cancer. She was 67.
The Reens are renowned for having bought back the hotel in 2012, after selling the property in 2006 to Von Essen, which later went into administration in 2011.
Joan Reen remained general manager of the hotel during the Von Essen ownership, while Rob concentrated on his career as an artist. However, the couple resumed their joint involvement in the property as they worked hard to return the hotel to its former glory following five years of under-investment. This they achieved with the addition of two garden suites, taking the hotel up to 10 bedrooms, and a treatment and therapy centre offering holistic treatments.
The Reens’ hard work was rewarded. Ynyshir Hall, which holds a Michelin star under head chef Gareth Ward, was named AA Welsh Hotel of the Year in 2014 and soon after Joan was named Relais & Chateaux Woman of the Year. Last year the hotel became the only place in Wales to be awarded four AA rosettes, having held three AA rosettes for 20 years.
Typical of her unassuming manner, Joan reacted to the award from Relais & Chateaux by saying: “Being based at a tiny hotel in Wales, I didn’t think anyone knew who I was. But the lovely thing about Relais & Chateaux is that people really do care and anyone who has been following my story over the past few years will know how tough it has been.”
Joan, a former geography teacher, and Rob, who previously taught art, originally bought the 16th century Ynyshir Hall, set in 14 acres of grounds, in 1989, as they set about a career change. She said that it had taken several years to find the property, which overlooks the Cambrian mountains, but knew the instant she saw it that “it was the one”.
Joan was renowned throughout the industry for her warmth and energy as she greeted every guest like a member of her own family. Ynyshir hotel, a former childhood retreat of Queen Victoria, is regarded as being more like visiting someone’s much-loved home than a hotel.
The hotel has also become a foodie destination under a succession of chefs, including Adam Simmonds, Shane Hughes, Les Rennie, Paul Croasdale and now Gareth Ward.
Harry Murray, chairman of Lucknam Park, which like Ynyshir Hall is also a member of Relais & Chateaux, said: “The hospitality industry has lost a truly remarkable woman and a consummate and successful hotelier.
“Joan was a great inspiration and example to us all at Relais & Chateaux and we have lost a well loved and popular member of our family who will be sadly missed. Our thoughts and deepest sympathy go out to her husband Rob and family and the team at Ynyshir Hall at this sad and difficult time.”
Andrew Thomason, managing director of Gravetye Manor, who worked for Von Essen as general manager at Lower Slaughter Manor, said he was “devastated” to hear of Joan’s passing. “We were great friends for over 10 years weathering the Von Essen storm together. In fact my wife and I were staying at Ynyshir when the news broke that her hotel was forced into administration.
“She was a true hotelier, always on the door to welcome her guests and make sure their stay was the best it could possibly be. I will remember her zest for life and the lovely cheeky smile and the sparkle in her eye. My thoughts are with Rob and the Ynyshir family”.
Local chef-restaurateur Gareth Johns added: “Joan and Rob were helpful and supportive to us from the early days. She was always ready with advice and support. Her passing is a great loss to hospitality and a great loss to Wales.”
In May 2015, Fiona Duncan, hotel critic of the Telegraph, awarded Ynyshir Hall a rating of 9/10, saying its history under the Reens would “make a good book, even a film.”
Ynyshir won the Hotel of the Year – Independent Catey in 2002.
Joan leaves her husband Rob and two children, Kirsty and Chris.