You can’t miss it as you drive along the M4: a shining citadel on the hill, dominating the motorway junction beneath. Like all good citadels it looks faintly forbidding from down below. Not the kind of place you’d take the kids, perhaps.
But when you pull up to door of Celtic Manor Resort, it all changes. It’s a self-contained universe of hotels, spas and neatly manicured golf courses, with a panorama of the Usk Valley that goes on for miles. Even the M4, when viewed from up here – ideally you’d be standing at terrace bar, with a glass of something cold – looks charmingly toytown-twinkly.
It turns out that it’s the perfect place to take the kids for the weekend, and plenty of locals do. It’s like having a bit of Las Vegas-ish opulence on your doorstep. For visitors from elsewhere, it’s also a good base from which to explore the wider attractions of South Wales: Cardiff, the Wye Valley, the castles that pepper the borderlands, and the industrial heritage of the South Wales Valleys.
Celtic Manor is the brainchild of Sir Terry Matthews: telecoms tycoon, the first Welsh billionaire, and notorious perfectionist. He’s also a touch sentimental: Sir Terry was born in the original 19th-century Manor House, which was then a maternity hospital. He bought the Manor in 1980 and spent £100m turning it into a luxury hotel. Then he added an adjoining 400-bedroom Resort Hotel. He built three championship golf courses. He bought the Hilton across the road, and revamped it as Coldra Court. In 2019 he opens the 5,000-capacity International Convention Centre Wales.
But Celtic Manor, while being Sir Terry’s baby in every detail, is far from being a rich man’s folly. As he’s pointed out, he’s a businessman. The place actually works – and works superbly. It hosted the 2014 NATO summit and 2010 Ryder Cup. Golf remains a massive draw, but Celtic Manor is doing everything in its considerable power to attract everyone – and that includes families.
This means it’s invested heavily in family-friendly activities and services. There’s a programme of kids’ adventures, including themed events during school holidays. There’s indoor Laser Combat, right next to a superb games room. The main pool has regular family swim sessions, while the resort’s two other pools are family-friendly all day. Outside, there’s a playground, and 18-hole Adventure Golf inspired by the world’s signature holes. There’s Forest Jump, a treetop forest adventure which has both high- and low-ropes courses. They run pitch & putt and footgolf at nearby Caerleon Golf Club.
Six of the resort’s seven restaurants have children’s menus, or offer half-size, half-price versions of adult meals. There’s a nannying service for parents who want to escape to the spa, bar, golf courses, or the resort’s seventh restaurant – Steak on Six – an adult-only bling-fest where you can order extra lobster with everything.
There are hundreds of beds in the various hotels, but families can also opt for a self-contained luxury Hunters Lodge, Farmhouse or Barn in the grounds of the resort.
The citadel on the hill turns out to be not so scary after all. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: friendly, family-focused and – yes – great fun.