I know what you’re thinking. It has been cold and snowy for all eternity. The children have been snotty since records began. What you need is to escape. Somewhere exotic. Somewhere like… Wales. To a hotel perched right on top of the M4.
Squatting, grey and forbidding on a wind-blasted hill just the other side of the Severn Bridge, The Celtic Manor looks like the kind of place with which to threaten my children as a ghastly punishment. But in fact, the resort – one of the biggest in Wales – is a place of unabashed, glitzy contradiction. The main Resort Hotel had a multi-million-pound refurbishment last year. Walk through its revolving doors and you emerge – blinking – into a six-storey atrium that’s all sparkling glass and blinding white balconies, like a giant cruise ship.
The place is so cavernous there are interactive screens dotted about to guide you to its constituent parts: three separate hotels, two spas and gyms, seven restaurants, three floors of conference spaces, hair salon, beauty bar, shopping mall… Otherwise you might ride the lifts for years, lost within Newport’s version of Hotel California.
The grounds are so vast that a fleet of black minivans glide constantly around, disgorging guests at the two swimming pools, three championship golf courses (Celtic Manor hosted the Ryder Cup in 2010), two clubhouses and a dizzying array of outdoor adventure sports. It is like Disneyland for golfers and children. Our two were so excited, their voices were almost as loud as our companion’s trousers.
The seven-year-old swung through a high ropes adventure course in the trees, did an archery session, then adventure golf, oblivious to the horizontal rain slicing through the fog enveloping us. We could spend days in the grounds, I realised with mounting panic, and dragged him off before he could suggest the treasure hunt.
Inside, laser combat had been cancelled to make room for a wedding fair (families shooting each other in challenges named “Domination” and “Elimination” might not have struck the best tone). Crestfallen, the seven-year-old headed to Dylan’s Den, a kids’ club with a soft-play maze for his four-year-old sister, a Nintendo Wii for him and daily craft activities.
Finally (and feeling a little frazzled), we made it to dinner at Rafters, the platonic ideal of a golf club restaurant. Hand sanitiser dispensers stand sentry at the dining room entrance, a no-trainers policy is strictly observed and on the night we ate, two wonderful women were alternating between sips of beer and champagne.
It was not the perfect atmosphere for small children. So on the second night we were shuttled to the resort’s Newbridge on Usk, a lovely gastropub with scuffed antique rugs, weathered floorboards and whitewashed walls. It has a great kids’ menu and a wider one packed with local produce and veg grown in their own garden.
And that is the point of The Celtic Manor: its scale means it can absorb myriad aesthetics and ages. The sixth floor of the Resort Hotel is exclusively for adults, and has its own blessedly peaceful restaurant, lounge and check-in. I loved this. It is wonderful when hotels welcome your children’s eccentricities, but it is better still when you know that other guests (who may, quite reasonably, feel otherwise) have plenty of other places to which they can escape. And for us to escape them. We were allocated one of the 10 self-contained Hunter Lodges in the grounds and on the fringes of the Twenty Ten golf course. “Lodge” is a little misleading. Ours was vastly bigger than our own home. The kids ran gleefully from room to room, their voices echoing. Another plus: out on the golf course, no one can hear your children scream.
The interior design is a little Newport-does-Texan ranch. Cavernous pine-clad sitting rooms come complete with wood burner but, curiously, sofas and seats pointing away from the TV. The shiny purple kitchen has spotlights running along its skirting, while the four bedrooms boast purple leather headboards.
But there are Elemis products in the bathrooms, fluffy gowns, a private indoor sauna and a hot tub on your deck. Concierge buttons on all phones mean you can order a free shuttle and be ferried immediately to your gargantuan buffet breakfast at the Resort Hotel, or the pool, or the pub.
On the second morning we woke to the miracle of sunshine and realised how beautiful it was. One wall of each lodge is made almost entirely from glass, with views over the golf lakes and the Usk Valley. You could be 100 miles from the M4 and, as they say here in Wales, it was absolutely b—– marvellous.