Finding a great getaway, something to suit a whole family or a group of friends, can be a tricky challenge but Bluestone, nestled in the middle of Pembrokeshire National Park aspires to be just that – the perfect short break for everyone.
What is Bluestone?
Bluestone is a modern and yet very natural take on the holiday village concept of old. Built in two isolated valleys, surrounding a picturesque lake, are around 180 individual self-catering timber lodges.
With a very ethical feel to it – all the meat is locally produced, they burn locally produced wood to heat the pool and the energy efficient lighting is supplemented by solar panels on all the south facing roofs – Bluestone really is the modern and natural choice for a family getaway or a romantic weekend break in the heart of the Welsh countryside.
A relaxing, romantic weekend for couples…
What we were looking for last weekend was a relaxing, romantic break as a couple. So, with all it’s family fun, does Bluestone work as a romantic getaway?
Yes it does – amazingly well.
After we arrived on Friday afternoon, and after a little trip to check out the Blue Lagoon we retired to our lodge for a bath a bottle of fiz and a quiet night to ourselves… on Saturday morning we woke to a day of relaxation and indulgence.
In the village, in the middle of the park is The Well; the health spa. Like all of Bluestone this is brand spanking new – having opened in July ’08 or thereabouts. A tour of the facilities with one of the therapists took in the hot spa pool in a little courtyard in the centre, two steam rooms, two saunas, and ice room, salt room and a tea room come restaurant to keep you going for your stay.
For the ladies there’s a great range of all the usual treatments – the brochure for the spa’s right here – and there’s a good choice of treatments for the chaps too.
I went for an Aromatherapy Sports & Fitness Massage – £60 for 1hr 10mins – which was just what I needed. Starting from the feet and working up to shoulders which, I’m sure like many men, don’t enjoy being hunched at a desk all day the treatment left feeling genuinely revived.
Emily – feeling equally relaxed after her girlie version of much the same massage, an Espa Aromatherapy Massage Destresser – and I retired to the hot spa to wile away the rest of the morning dipping in and out of the steam rooms, saunas, monsoon showers and pool.
Fine dining, pub grub and the bare essentials…
In the middle of the park, amongst the lodges, is ‘the village’. A traditional enough looking collection of one of each of the essential establishments; an information centre with a remarkably helpful, knowledgeable and approachable lady who gave us some Sunday walking advice and a few maps, a few middle-of-the-road family restaurants, a ‘pub’, a fine dining restaurant and some shops; a boutique, a gift shop with the ubiquitous seaside basket of hoops and beach balls outside, a bakery and the village store. The latter being remarkably well stocked but I have to say a little pricey for the bare essentials that you forgot to bring like, in our case, everything; butter, milk, coffee et cetera.
We ate three meals during our stay and they were all, in their own way, almost perfect.
Breakfast in The Yard
Full Welsh breakfast is a think of joy if done properly and since this was the meal and restaurant I was expecting to be the least polished of the three I was exceedingly pleasantly surprised.
Bluestone have made a commendable effort to source locally (all but the bacon from within 10 miles) and it really shows.
However close to my expectations of how to cook a fry up it was or wasn’t the food was all very fresh and tasty… for the price too we both had far more than either of us felt we could manage and you can tell it’s good food by the lingering sense of satisfaction without ever getting that bloated feeling that you can sometimes get with a more greasy fry-up.
Lunch in The Tafarn (that’s Tavern to us English!)
On the Saturday, having turned prune in the hot spa, we wobbled over to the ‘local’ in the village for a spot of lunch. Again, like the breakfast, my expectations weren’t that high but again what a surprise. Normal pub-grub; burgers, chili, fish and chips and steak and ale pie for me incidentally – with mmmm mustard mash. Fresh, simple and well cooked – just what pub food should be.
An evening out; Carag Las…
There’s a funny thing about expectations that if they’re high going in you can’t help feeling let down. So while the food and the wine in Carag Las, Bluestone’s fine-dining restaurant, was excellent it wasn’t perhaps quite as good as we had hoped.
For me the patÇ¶¦ was lovely but a little bland, a rare steak on the other hand was tender, succulent and utterly delicious. For Em the haddock roe were fresh and tasty but the pork belly was tough and a little overcooked.
I would most definitely recommend that, early on in your stay, you go for a meal in Carag Las and try it for yourself because there are some things they obviously do exquisitely but the pragmatic man in me says stick to the simple dishes because straight forward, fresh local food is where Bluestone really excels.
Keeping the kids entertained…
I think if I could be a kid again I would honestly love this place! On the other side of the hill from our lodge, within Bluestone itself, is a great little adventure pool, the Blue Lagoon, with flumes, rubber-ring-river, rapids and a genuinely quite impressive wave machine!
We arrived on Friday night and, still being a bit of kid at heart, I managed to persuade Em that we should go and check it out. Friday and Saturday nights it seems are ‘party night’ at the Blue Lagoon and although it was quiet when we arrived by the time we left DJ Neptune – I’m made that name up – was getting the party started and the kids were loving it. Not just music either… special big rubber rings for the open-top flume that runs round outside the building and they turn the dial on the wave machine up to 11.
I’m not sure what the pool would be like in peak season although the lady we chatted to matroning the changing room said both that numbers were capped and that the residence of the park take priority over the locals so I would guess it’s not a problem.
The entertainment doesn’t stop there. Forget not that this whole place is in the middle of a National Reserve. Bikes are available to hire on site to help you get around and for those of you with smaller kids there are little kiddie-trailers for the little ones… if your legs are strong enough for two.
Oh – and did I forget to mention this? Oakwood Theme Park, with all it’s roler-coaster fun is just next door for if and when the kids do get bored of everything there is to do already.
So Bluestone Wales for our next mini-break?
Very possibly yes… I wouldn’t have a single reservation in going back. We had a great time, great fun, great food and a really resuscitating weekend of luxury and indulgence in a beautiful natural setting.
Bluestone is easy very easy to get to. A few hours past the M5, along the M4 and then some in the bottom left-hand corner of Wales. A three night stay, self-catering, for two and two kids in May will only set you back a little over £300 so if you ask me it’s incredibly good value for what you get.
It comes thoroughly recommended and here are just a few of my top-fives to leave you with.
5 reasons why Bluestone is a hit:
A beautiful location within a really stunning part of Wales that you could explore for ever.
Food & Atmosphere
Great food, friendly, chatty staff and a lovely warm atmosphere.
Something for everyone (no, really!); spa for the girls, roller-coasters for the boys, long walks for the olds and shooting, archery and golf for the men!
The feel-good, conscientious approach; the nature-reserve lake, the solar powered lodges, the wood-fired aqua-splash and the use of local produce and suppliers.
The next time…
Far more to do than you can fit in to your break… so if we’re anything to go by you’ll be planning your next visit as you leave!
5 things we didn’t do:
We didn’t use, or even visit, the sports facilities; gym, dance classes, table tennis, badminton, snooker & pool etc. etc.
It’s March and Wales! we rather stayed indoors… so we didn’t try any of the things like Archery or Golf, the former of which may not have been running off-season.
Pembrokeshire National Park
We did have a look around a bit, visiting Tenby and the south coast but there’s a great deal more to explore – the whole of Milford Haven for one – which we just didn’t get round to.
Again it was March and wet so rather than hire bikes we hired a golf buggy – £45 for the weekend – in which to whizz about the park. However bike hire would seem the normal thing to do and, with the park being quite hilly, I hope the bikes are in good nick. To be fair, judging by the rest of Bluestone the bikes are probably either brand new or at least very well cared for.
Visit at peak season
I would imagine that the park was at about 20-30% occupancy when we visited. Peak season may not be quite as perfect for the quiet romantic getaway but it’s a big place so I may be wrong. If it’s just the two of you though I couldn’t suggest many things more ideal than a peaceful weekend off-peak. For the families amongst you though busy Summer weeks at Bluestone with lots of other families about will be something for the kids to enjoy and to cherish while you escape to the spa!
2 things to fix ( I genuinely can’t come up with 5 )
Maybe I’m a little too sensitive here as websites is my day-job but I’m not really impressed. Beautiful photography aside – the location page shot is what first attracted me to Bluestone – the site is difficult to navigate, the booking engine is slow and clunky and I don’t really feel there’s all the information on there I would like to find. Making the site cleaner, clearer and more tuned to the average impatient potential customer would probably do Bluestone a few favours.
Ok so I’m struggling to find 5 things! The lodge was lovely, comfortable, well appointed with not a thing forgotten… but if you’re a couple wanting to relax together in the bath you’re going to be sadly disappointed because although the baths are big and the tap’s on the wall in the middle there’s a big overflow nubbin at one end so you can’t both sit comfortably facing each other. I wouldn’t even mention this except for the fact someone has obviously gone to the trouble of putting the tap out of the way.
5 good surprises
Right next door ( I hope not so close as to be noisy in the summer ) is one of the countries few good theme parks… keep this a secret from the kids if you can – I only noticed it as I whizzed down a flume in the water park!
This really is a stunning part of the world, even on a cold wet March weekend. Even if you think you’re not really into country walking I assure you that you won’t regret getting the family out of the park and exploring some of what the Pembrokeshire coast has to offer.
I really wasn’t expecting a proper health spa in what I thought was a family place. The Well is a great place to escape, the staff are polite and professional and chaps, your WAGs will love a little surprise treatment here so book up early!
The food is really great… something about the fact that the meat has come from fields within walking distance makes it all taste fresh and lovely. Stick to the simple stuff and you won’t be disappointed.
Finally I have to say a thank you to the staff who, without knowing that I was going to come back home and publicise how they acted were without exception polite, well mannered and pro-actively chatty and conversational. It makes such a difference to your experience of a place if the people make you feel that your enjoyment and comfort really matters to them.
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