I confess to not being a golf enthusiast. Whilst I know that it is a hugely popular sport, for me it has never captured my interest that some sports have. However, I respect the fact that as with many sports, golf being no exception, there is tremendous heritage and splendour behind them in their history. That heritage transcends over boundaries, even to destinations that play host to sporting events. We only need to look at the Olympic parks around the world to see what an impact they had on media and public perception. Sport creates destinations.
A brief 2-hour drive down the M4 from London brings you to Wales, specifically Newport where we were invited to stay at The Celtic Manor Resort. Since 1980, the resort has developed from a derelict Manor House dating back to 1860, to a prestigious resort that has played host to the Ryder Cup and won countless awards. We were certainly excited to relax here for a few days, away from the Big Smoke. Upon approach the 330 room hotel dominates the hilltop on which it sits. Certainly every local will know its name because it’s so prominent on the landscape.
The drive to the reception leads you past the original manor house, a picturesque building that sits in the shadows of its big brother. Today they are both part of the overall resort and you can choose to stay in either the Manor House or the Resort Hotel. Our stay was within the Signature Collection of the Resort, the luxury rooms that are located on their own floor of the hotel. They feature added in-room luxuries and services as well as access to the exclusive Signature Lounge.
Our arrival went smoothly on a beautiful summers Sunday, checking in at the designated desk on the 6th floor. The entrance to the hotel is through a huge atrium that leaves you under no uncertain terms that this is a big hotel. With the golf courses visible from the driveway and seeing two major sporting celebrities in the reception, it’s clear that sport is the order of the day at The Celtic Manor. However entering our rooms, a sense of relaxation definitely overcame us. The Signature Rooms are beautiful with a balcony bathed in sunlight overlooking the front lawn, completely removing the sense that we were within a huge complex. The décor is luxurious yet not ostentatious. As we understand the Signature Rooms have been recently renovated, bringing the 80’s hotel bang up to date with a contemporary country twist. Subtle golds are mixed with wood and creams that create a cosy atmosphere. So much so that we were quite content to spend some time in the room before dinner. After some sun lounging, a glass of champagne and a shower it was indeed time for an evening meal.
We were checked in to CEN the Chinese restaurant established by Larkin Cen at The Celtic Manor. If the name sounds familiar to you, it is most likely from Larkin Cen’s relative fame from MasterChef where he reached the final in 2013. With this and the fact that Chinese is one of my favourite cuisines we were excited to taste the food and were told that is had an excellent reputation. To again give you a sense of the size of the resort, it is possible to get a shuttle bus to the restaurant, if navigating the maze of corridors is a step too far. We decided to meander through the corridors to find our way to CEN, poking our nosy heads into the many ballrooms and conference halls along the way. There is something quite Vegas-esque about the scale of the place. We shortly arrived at CEN and by this point were eager to tuck in.
Opting to taste the starters we ordered a selection of courses. Handmade spring rolls, duck wraps and tiger prawn toast arrived on the table and first impressions were wow. Each plate looked fantastic, particularly the prawn toast, that was a country mile away from those very odd triangular shaped, sesame coated bites that your local takeaway will offer you. Instead these were whole king prawns coated in almonds and black sesame seeds on an artwork of sweet and sour dressing. The starters were delicious made all the better with a favourite of mine, an Old Fashioned. Cen is a large and spacious restaurant that is dark in its décor that creates a sense of the Orient. It is also a space that is well lit naturally so sitting there whilst the sun sets, creates a delightful ambience for which to enjoy with your partner. Moving on to our mains, we opted for a rib-eye steak and a chicken green Thai curry. The delicious thick steak was served medium with wasabi Dijon, thick cut chips and a black bean jus. The wasabi Dijon was incredibly more-ish, pairing excellently with the chips and succulent beef. As for Emily’s chicken Thai green curry, I confess that I had to have a taste or two.It was full of delicate flavour and subtle spice as a green curry should be. The sauce was satisfyingly thick and the vegetables had a good crunch to them.
Desert was certainly an excuse for the chef to have some fun as we were served salted caramel ice cream sliders. Not only were these a treat for the eyes but were delicious and a fitting end to a magnificent meal that I could not find fault with. The flavours were brilliantly put together and the presentation left you wanting to see what else was on the menu.
To finish our experience we ordered a bottle of sparkling Sake, a unique find on the wine list. Akashi Tai Junmai Ginjo is an innovative drink where no alcohol is added after fermentation. The sake is made traditionally and similarly to champagne methods creating a very light, refreshing drink to close out the evening and indeed the night.
The next morning we awoke after a completely undisturbed nights sleep. The signature beds and recently refurbished rooms certainly doing their job of relaxation. We walked the short distance to the breakfast buffet that is also hosted on the 6th floor and was included in our signature package. We had a busy day ahead of us with activities on site including a high ropes course in the trees. So a hearty breakfast was in order. The buffet offers guests a full cooked breakfast or a continental option if you wish. Fortunately, as is often the case with buffets, there was no cold or dehydrated food that had been left out too long. Clearly the breakfast is a popular option or the staff are attentive at changing out and serving fresh food throughout the buffet’s hours.
The first activity was at the high ropes course. I was a little apprehensive but the stewards quickly walk you through the process and tell you how to use the harnesses and clips that will allow you to navigate the course. It’s certainly a long course, so long in fact that we were shocked when we realised that the course takes two hours to complete. The stewards are on hand to help and you spend the first few minutes of the experience going through a few training obstacles nearer the ground to give you a feel of how to ‘hook on and off’ on to each obstacle. Be warned, this isn’t one for those that have a fear of heights, but if it’s something that you can overcome then no-doubt you will enjoy the feeling of king of the swingers. We had all good intentions of making this a couples adventurous morning but as soon as Emily approached the ropes fear set in so I had to go it alone.
Over 2 hours later I climbed out of the trees and met Emily in the Signature Lounge where a much needed club sandwich was in order. Climbing trees really does work up an appetite. Cleverly planned, we had booked into the spa in the afternoon which was just what I needed to settle my treetop nerves- this was also much more up Emily’s street. We had booked a Signature couples candle ritual massage, 50 minutes of sheer bliss. So much so that by the end I was very nearly asleep. I’m not one for the minor details of aromatics and health products however the candle made of beeswax, soybean and coconut oil with Oskia Rose De Mai oil certainly did the job. The melted candle is poured over the body leaving you with silky smooth skin. Following the massage you can continue your spa experience in the steam room, sauna or pool. Be careful, you’ll find it difficult to leave this place.
That evening we dined at the Signature restaurant Steak On Six that overlooks Coldra Woods and is a showcase of succulent steaks from around the British Isles. Yes, I enjoyed a steak the evening before at Cen, however it would be rude to come to a restaurant like this and not order the steak. However for a starter, it had to be the smoked salmon. A simple dish cooked excellently, served with a sweet lemon. The Irish beef fillet however has to be the main showpiece and boy oh boy was it good. The meat was very tender and juicy and I probably could have eaten two. Before the steak arrived, our waitress displayed a leather and wooden box to us, full of beautiful mismatched steak knives to choose from- I thought this was a lovely touch. Emily is not a red meat eater but the menu catered to her fussy palette with a spatchcock chicken dish. Top top off an evening of luxury, the knowledgeable sommelier paired delicate wines with each dish. Finally, desert was an impressive flaming creme brûlée, lit at your table to ensure maximum crisp sugary goodness and an added flamboyant display. The decor in the restaurant is rather chic, with cowhides, leather menus and cow horns adorning the space. Then the panoramic glass windows that wrap around the restaurant frame a view over the woods where I was earlier climbing through the trees and the evening sunset completes a stunning evening.
The following morning was indeed our last and we caught a quick game of both laser clay shooting and adventure golf, before our return to London. Laser clay is a fun game that is similar to clay pigeon in everyway except your shotguns aren’t firing shot. They’re shooting lasers at the reflective clays, so it’s perfect for the kids too. You compete against one another on a variety of games such as fastest shot. I was a little hesitant at the sound of it all at first, but was quickly one over by the competitive nature. I think I may have discovered a hidden talent- I will have to explore this further. Emily started off terribly- the gun was too big for her and her reaction time was a little slow but as the games progressed she was giving me a run for my money.
Adventure golf is also situated on the front lawn and it is a great way to spend a few hours in the morning outside playing a game against one another- it did help that the sun was shining. There are two courses to play on and both feature 9 holes and an impressive variety of obstacles, including the dreaded water obstacles. Competitive couples be aware – this gets full on.
The Celtic Manor is by no means a resort only for golf enthusiasts, whilst of course it does excel at that. There is a large amount of activities that you can get involved with, or if you simply want to have a wellness experience then the spa offers excellent opportunities to do so. With Newport, Cardiff and Bristol all short drives away also, it’s excellently positioned for full days out. So if your a couple that likes to be active, get outside and enjoy country life then book the Signature Couples experience and spend a few days completely away from it all- you will not be disappointed.
The Celtic Manor Resort
The Usk Valley
T: +44 (0) 1633 413 000