This refurbishment hotel on the St David's peninsula offers a combination of luxurious bedrooms with urban artwork. Rosalind Mullen pays a visit.
January saw the launch of St Davids' first art hotel when the newly rejuvenated Twr y Felin Hotel in the Pembrokshire Coast National Park opened its doors. The unusual project, which previously operated as an ecolodge and outdoor pursuits centre, has seen the restoration of a Grade II-listed windmill tower and the addition of a new-build wing.
Work began on transforming the property in 2013, but it wasn't plain sailing. During the two-year restoration the rotten earth and lime walls of part of the historic building gave way, which entailed the rebuilding of an attached
property, the Windmill Wing.
Twr y Felin, which is operated by the privately owned Retreats Group, joins its two siblings in the national park, Roch Castle and Penrhiw. The three projects are the brainchild of owner Keith Griffiths, the founder of
international design practice Aedas. He set up the Griffiths Roch Foundation in 2008 with a remit to buy and restore historic buildings in order to reinvigorate the local economy.
The overall investment was £5m, with a contribution from the Welsh Government Tourism Investment Scheme.
Griffiths' vision is driven by his business sense. Restrictions on new construction in the area have prevented the opening of new luxury hotels, despite demand from increasingly affluent tourists with higher expectations, so
he spotted a huge opportunity.
"There are few full-service hotels in the area and there are no four- or five-star hotels. Most hotel rooms are less than 250 sq ft with simple three-fixture bathrooms," explains Griffiths.
"By restoring old buildings, I could avoid the planning problems of new buildings, preserve the landscape and old buildings and provide unique, luxury hotels with a strong sense of history and place." That said, he only
considers buildings that can be practically converted into a hotel and can provide a sound rate of return on the construction costs.
Twr Y Felin met Griffiths' criteria of being a large, endangered and historically significant building that would generate an interesting ambience and provide fascinating spaces to attract guests. As with the other hotels, the
interiors and furnishings were designed by Griffiths' company, Aedas, and were prototyped and manufactured in China by craftsmen at the Channels furniture company, which handmakes bespoke furniture.
"All the hotels are fitted out in designed and manufactured furniture and fittings. I am a perfectionist, and I have had my hand on every piece of design of the fit-out and buildings," Griffiths says.
The colours throughout are neutral, in a palate of greys and crisp whites. "The design is elegant, modern and timeless, while also being luxurious and rich. It has a lot of Oriental elements fused to a modern European tradition and is a reflection of my tastes for simplicity and elegance," says Griffiths.
He also drew inspiration from the building's proximity to the sixth-century St David's Cathedral. "I was brought up in St David's and was architecturally inspired by the power of St David's Cathedral. It taught me that
architectural space could be moulded to influence the emotions," he adds.
That landscape has had a lasting effect on Griffiths: "The rapidly shifting light and endless ocean of the St David's peninsula taught me about natural beauty and the calmness of nature. Some 45 years later, I still seek these emotional qualities in my architecture. I seek to design architecture that exceeds functionality by its emotional response."
Griffiths makes good use of art throughout all his hotels to "embed them in a unique space and time and to help grow St David's into an important place of artistic value, as is St Ivesin Cornwall", but it is Twr y Felin that he is
marketing as an art hotel.
As a result, the walls are hung with more than 100 artworks by 20 British and international artists. Griffiths commissioned eight British urban artists, including Phil Ashcroft, Xenz, Remi Rough, Mr Jago, Pure Evil and
Harry Adams, to create work inspired by the St David's environment. These form the main body of the collection, along with 33 ceramic monoliths in the grounds by Adam Buick.
Most rooms are 400 sq ft with a separate bath and shower and views over the sea and the stunning Pembrokeshire landscape. The beds combine the highest-quality Sealy mattresses with luxuriant, hypo-allergenic Comforel toppers, pillows and duvets and 300-thread linen.
It may be rural outside, but the hotel is alert to the needs of the 21st-century guest. So, as well as a desk in each room, the technology includes a phone, internet radio and clock, cable satellite TV and DVD player, internet
access, WiFi and iPod dock.
The Tyddewi suite
One of the most dramatic rooms is in the Windmill Tower. This two-story suite has a spacious bedroom with a lounge and a spiral staircase leading to the original observatory on the highest floor of the hotel. From here, guests can have a spectacular 360-degree view of the St David's peninsula.
Each Philip Stark bathroom has a shower and bath. They are also provided with aromatherapy, hypoallergenic and natural toiletries and luxurious towels.
Restaurant, lounges and bar
The 32-seat Blas restaurant (blas means taste in Welsh) serves fine-dining dishes with a strong bias to local produce, such as Welsh lamb, rosemary and garlic Pembrokeshire potatoes and seasonal greens (£16.50) as
well as brunch and sandwiches - think Caws Cenarth Caerffili with chutney (£7.50). The Oriel and Lolfa lounges can cater for afternoon teas and small weddings, and the Cornel Bar is a pre-dinner art lovers' snug.
The wallpaper is linen, while the furniture is in a range of fabrics, including leather and velvets. The rugs in the Lolfa lounge, Cornel bar and the bedrooms are handmade leather, while the rug in the Oriel Lounge is handmade
wool. The flooring is Portuguese limestone or oak and the lighting offers different settings to vary the ambience throughout the day.
The hotel has already achieved 100% occupancy on a number of occasions. Griffiths says the hotel has gradually built up a solid foundation of visitors, with many locals dining on a regular basis. Word of mouth has proved to be the most successful form of advertising.
"The design of the hotel is key in terms of attracting visitors," says Griffiths. "Twr y Felin offers luxury accommodation with high standards of space, fit-out and service, unlike no other hotel in the St David's peninsula. The
artwork on display is also a key aspect, as well as the private collection of works specially commissioned for the hotel."
Recognition of what this cool, contemporary hotel is trying to achieve is coming in thick and fast. Since January, the hotel has been featured in The Times Cool Hotel Guide, Good Housekeeping's Hot List 2016 and is at number seven in Stylist magazine's list of Britain's most exciting new hotels, among others.
Contact and details
Twr y Felin Hotel, St David's, Pembrokeshire, SA62 6QT www.twryfelinhotel.com
Owner Keith Griffiths
Operator The Retreats Group
Sister properties in the group Roch Castle and Penrhiw Priory
Group general manager Paula Ellis
Number of bedrooms 21
Number of staff About 40 staff across the three properties
Starting rate £180 per room per night, including breakfast, parking, VAT and Wi-Fi