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The Rhondda Valley was once one of the world’s most important coal mining region. 53 collieries dotted the blackened industrial landscape of the Rhondda valleys but post-war decline ensued and the last Rhondda coal mine, Maerdy colliery, closed in 1990.
As we drive through these green valleys on a sunny July afternoon, it seems an eternity since those heavy industrial days although occasionally you get a glimpse of a rusty old pithead building through the trees. One of these old mines, the Lewis Merthyr colliery has been preserved and turned into the Rhondda Heritage Park, acting as a testament to the coal mining history of the Rhondda Valleys.
Taking the name from its neighbour, we stayed at the Heritage Park Hotel. The recently refurbished hotel is only a couple of minutes walk from the Rhondda Heritage Park and less than a 20-minute drive from the M4 motorway.
Arrival & Check-In
If you are arriving by car there is plenty of free onsite parking. As we pulled into the car park at the back of the hotel, despite the commemorative old coal mining wheel, the hotel’s appearance didn’t seem that inspiring. However, when we entered the hotel we were greeted with a contemporary yet welcoming reception space with a similarly stylish public lounge and bar area.
Even though the lounge was modern, they still retained a link to the areas past with old photos of miners who worked in the Lewis Merthyr colliery.
The check-in was quick and easy and it was good to be welcomed by the local staff. If you are not from the UK, you will love the valleys accents. Talking of locals, singer Tom Jones was born just 3 miles down the road.
The hotel’s bedrooms are either on the ground or first floor. The actual corridors leading to the rooms are nondescript, especially compared to the stylish reception and bar areas. However, when we actually entered our room (ground floor – room 113) we were met with a surprisingly large stylish space with contemporary furnishings and a hint of classic fifties modernism.
Our room could really be described as a suite as it was double the size of a standard room. It had a separate lounge and TV area, a work section with a desk and dressing table and another table which could be used for in-room dining.
As expected there was tea, coffee and bottled water in the room, as well as tasty biscuits (which you don’t always get these days).
The large bedroom area had another TV and essentially for a bedroom, a big bed. There were also a decent set of blackout curtains which was good because at the moment and rather unusually, we are experiencing some actual sunshine!
One of the best features of the room was the bathroom. It had a set of double sinks a large double ended bath and a large double shower cubicle. There was good lighting around the mirror or not so good if you didn’t want to see your wrinkles. The only minor issue, there wasn’t a shelf or anywhere to put the shampoo etc. in the shower, but there again, it was big enough for two so your partner could just hold them.
The hotel also features Pulse, a leisure and fitness club and is open from 7 am to 10 pm, 7 days a week. Instead of using the fitness centre we opted to exercise our palates and headed for the bar and restaurant.
Dinner In The Loft Restaurant
The Loft restaurant featured an intimate beamed design and although the hotel is a relatively new building the decor uses timber from an old warehouse from Cardiff docks, in keeping with the industrial heritage theme of this area of South Wales.
To start, I was pleasantly surprised to find onion bhaji on the menu, one of my favourite dishes. It came drizzled with chilli sauce, the batter was light, not soggy and the yoghurt raita added some nice coolness.
Mel had the mussels and enjoyed the change of a cider sauce instead of a white wine sauce.
Mel enjoyed the prawn linguine which had really big juicy prawns, maybe it could have done with slightly more garlic and chilli. I had the chicken in a local Caerphilly cheese and leek sauce on crushed potatoes, being in Wales we’ve got to have some leeks. This was tasty and the cheese sauce didn’t overpower the dish.
The desserts were good too, I don’t usually go for dessert but as it was part of the 3-course menu I chose the lemon cake which needed a bit of cream. Mel went for the coconut and ginger cheesecake which came with a raspberry sauce which added a nice tartness. Mel was very impressed with the cheesecake and thought it was excellent.
We arrived for breakfast just after a large group of German hikers who must have been stocking up for the day and as a result, there was a lack of bread and croissants. The buffet part of the breakfast was simple, bread, croissants, cereals, pieces of fruit, watermelon slices and yoghurt.
The main hot breakfast was all cooked to order with options including a full Welsh breakfast, a vegetarian breakfast and a classic bacon butty.
I had the Eggs Benedict with my requested ‘crispy’ bacon which was good but Mel’s pancakes were a bit tasteless. Maybe the traditional Welsh breakfast would have been a better option.
Visiting The South Wales Valleys
The Heritage Park Hotel is in a perfect location if you want to explore the South Wales valleys or as a stopover on the way to the Brecon Beacons National Park. Although this is a three-star hotel, the recent refurbishment has elevated the hotel to the top of its game. The room was exceptional for the class of hotel and the food in the restaurant was very good too. As mentioned, many of the other guests were hikers touring the beautiful countryside. Also, the hotel is only 25-minutes from Cardiff city centre so is convenient if you want to visit the Welsh capital.
So, next time you are visiting the UK don’t forget to take a trip down the M4 and discover Wales.