As an autograph-hunting lass growing up in Cardiff, the go-to hotel for catching the signatures of some of the world’s top celebrities was the city centre’s Angel Hotel. A rugby ball’s throw from Cardiff Arms Park, it was home to everyone from film stars such as Gregory Peck and Marlene Dietrich performing at the New Theatre to the numerous bands and artists playing at the Capitol cinema – among them The Beatles.
Nowadays, similarly stratospheric stars – the likes of Lady Gaga, Rihanna and Kylie Minogue – head to an area their 20th century counterparts would have been carefully shielded from. Tiger Bay was once a run-down, poverty-stricken area surrounding the docklands. Rebranded as Cardiff Bay in the ’90s, the area is now home to some of the best attractions and restaurants in the city, plus Cardiff’s only five-star hotel. I’m spending a night in one of its brightest rooms. Luckily, I brought sunglasses.
From the outside, the St David’s Hotel & Spa perches on the water’s edge like a cubist seagull, seven storeys radiating out from a central spine topped by two arched wings. Its waterfront setting means all 142 rooms have views of the bay, and mine features two walls of floor-to-ceiling windows, flooding the already bright and cheerful room with light. It’s fittingly futuristic for an establishment just a couple of hundred metres from the Dr Who Experience.
St David’s glories in its modernity from the minute you step into its minimalist lobby. Two smallish desks, the check-in and concierge, face each other, and beyond them are two small colourful groups of sofas. To one side, a discreet door leads to the dining room and bar. And that’s it. Nothing else clutters the space, so your eye is drawn up to the seven tiers of balconies in the atrium. The effect is contemporary and chic, but above all calm, relaxed and wonderfully peaceful.
The rooms are a physical continuation of this contemporary, stylish charm. The toiletries and spacious bathrooms are all top-notch, and electric blinds efficiently keep out the sun’s heat and bright white light as dawn breaks over the water. Complimentary Welsh cakes are an unexpected treat that bring back lots of memories of Cardiff’s beautiful indoor market – still there, and still housing stalls that make hundreds of these little squashed scones every day.
It’s not all perfect; the lack of a fridge means I have to call room service for ice and milk, free wifi is limited, parking is £10–£15 per day, and even with those efficient blinds, the room heats up quickly in the sunlight. That’s when I decide to don a bathrobe and slippers and pop into the secret lift to the spa, which includes a 15 metre indoor pool, sauna, hydrotherapy spa pools and gym, as well as a wide range of spa treatment rooms and a bright relaxation lounge serving juices, drinks and snacks.
At breakfast the next day, joining the families bound for the Techniquest science centre, culture vultures attending performing arts at the Millennium Centre or exploring the city’s Victorian buildings and arcades, and even two Gavin & Stacey fans preparing to board ‘Dave’s Coach’ for the ‘Gavin & Stacey Tour’, I’m surprised to see that the hotel is very busy; the sense of calm and peace had successfully fooled me into thinking the opposite.
Eating & Drinking: Breakfast was served at the hotel’s restaurant and bar, Tempus at Tides, a sleek and refined space featuring a beautiful terrace. We took our time eating all our favourite things, including dinky boxes of Bran Flakes and perfectly poached eggs. The modern European dinner menu includes a wide range of Welsh produce, including Breconshire venison steaks, Welsh lamb cutlets, Pembrokeshire beef steaks and Pant-Ysgawn goat’s cheese. A short walk away from the hotel, the Mermaid Quay spans the global cuisine with Latin American, European and Asian food and drink.
Hotel address: The St. David’s Hotel & Spa, Havannah Street, Cardiff, CF10 5SD, Wales. Tel +44 (0) 2920 454 045, www.thestdavidshotel.com. Rates start from £99.
Radio Times Travel rating 9/10. A fittingly futuristic and sparkling spot for Whovians and visitors to Cardiff Bay. General visitors to the city might prefer to be in the heart of it.