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Independent Minds: Neil Kedward, Grove of Narberth

Wonderfully rustic and wholesome in style, the Grove of Narberth began life in the 15th century as a traditional Welsh longhouse owned by the Bailiff of Tenby, and is now the first and only five-star hotel in South West Wales. Its sublime setting in the charming coastal county of Pembrokeshire is one of the many magical qualities that initially drew Welshman Neil Kedward and his wife Zoe to the once derelict country house, which has now been lovingly restored to become a food-led, pet-friendly hideaway in Wales’ most popular holiday destination.

Neil and Zoe Kedward, the husband and wife team behind the Grove of Narberth and renowned restaurants in Saundersfoot and Oxwich.

What does being ‘Independently Minded’ as an hotel owner mean to you?

Grove of Narberth is nestled in a quiet glade in the rolling Narberth Hills, deep in the Pembrokeshire countryside. I think it’s fair to say that Pembrokeshire draws people who share an entrepreneurial spirit and this burns strongly in our local communities. My wife Zoe and I feel completely at home here.

We stumbled across this derelict, unloved house and overgrown estate by mistake on a family outing to the nearby town of Tenby. Zoe and I love projects, and finding Grove was the inspiration we needed to escape London in search of a different lifestyle. We instantly knew this was the one – the house and its setting is magical.

We never held a burning desire to run a hotel and restaurant. But over the past 13 years, our passion project has gently morphed from a self-catering venue to a much-loved, small luxury hotel, with 25 guest rooms and intimate fine dining and casual restaurants.

We’ve always been fiercely independent in our approach and embraced change and the locality at every turn, from changing styles of service, to interior design, to the evolution of digital marketing. Naturally choosing our own way is a freedom owner-operators of small luxury hotels have, and we love being able to respond proactively to evolving trends and quickly make a tangible difference to the guest experience.

Our guests see and feel the passion we have for Grove in the careful thought we put into every detail. Returning guests will see the constant evolution and investment aimed at enhancing their experience – we don’t hang around. The excitement we create in pushing for new highs in quality and service creates a special atmosphere where all the team are progressing together. That feeling is so important if we are to achieve all our personal – and professional – goals.

What was the inspiration behind the hotel, and where do you continue to find sources of inspiration?

I think it’s fair to say that our inspiration has been our guests, staff and the different communities that have embraced us. We take time to get to know our guests and they really appreciate our efforts in return. With that comes a true sense of responsibility to make sure our offering gets better for them on each return visit.

For Zoe and I, our staff are our family here in Pembrokeshire. We continually look to do the right thing by them on their journey to realise their own potential. That’s almost impossible unless you strive for the highest possible standards, and so we do exactly that. Every aspect of what we do is constantly evolving and our team love that feeling – it’s a huge motivator for all of us. There’s never a dull moment at the Grove as our world is all about change.

A warm Welsh welcome greets every guest upon entering the Grove’s eclectically cosy Main Lounge.

The local community and the hospitality sector as a whole have embraced the Grove, which has provided a continual source of strength to us. We take great pride in having returned the goodwill shown to us by operating in a way that makes a huge contribution to the local and regional economy. Grove is one of only five, 5-star hotels in Wales, and that feels good.

Like many fellow hoteliers, we love being inspired by our peers who so graciously welcome us into their venues, both at home and abroad. It’s such a diverse and extraordinarily passionate sector. As passionate travellers too, we find inspiration everywhere we go, and this has gifted us a really long list of things we’d love to do!

How do you think your hotel stands apart from other boutique hotels?

Grove really does have a certain magical feel, with a touch of eccentricity and bonhomie too. Lots of things come together to make sure our guests leave with a warm glow.

Our meandering driveway is framed by towering ancient beeches and the stunning mountain vistas, which add to the charm as the main house façade appears into view. The house is set in a glade, nicely proportioned with handsome features and an eclectic mix of Jacobean and Victorian arts and crafts architectures. The entrance is as welcoming as every member of the team, who effortlessly create a homely environment with a light-hearted and unbuttoned feel. The hotel has always been food-led and so the quality of our menus is sensational.

Showcasing local craftsmanship and period features at every turn, expect Welsh lovespoons delicately hanging from the walls, antique blankets thrown over impossibly comfortable sofas, and agricultural tools adorning the bathrooms – all curated by Martin Hulbert Design.

Our interiors are lovingly restored and full of atmosphere, with a blend of hand-crafted contemporary furniture and Welsh antiques, arts and crafts. Every aspect has been thoughtfully designed with a delicate eye for modern luxury, while never losing our unique sense of individuality.

If you only had 24 hours to get a taste for your hotel experience, what would you recommend a guest must do?

Stay in one of our cottage suites and enjoy gazing out at the beautifully scenic Preseli mountains. Many of the cottages have wood burning stoves to warm your soul, and some even have glass box rooms which bring the outside right into your living space. Spend some time exploring the grounds and discover our kitchen gardens, or venture a little further to the world-famous Pembrokeshire Coastal National Park, which is on our doorstep. People come from all over the world to enjoy the unrivalled coastal walking, soft golden sandy beaches, quaint harbours, and history from across the ages.

The picture-postcard Tenby Bay, one of the many picturesque spots within easy reach of the Grove of Narberth.

A visit to the Grove wouldn’t be complete without experiencing the food. The hotel has two restaurant offerings including our fine dining Fernery Restaurant and a more relaxed and informal restaurant called the Artisan Rooms. Our Executive Head Chef, Douglas Balish, has created a faultless tasting menu, inspired by the Narberth hills and the extraordinary Pembrokeshire larder of produce. Food miles are limited with local oysters, lobster, crab, line-caught seabass, alongside delicate Pembrokeshire lamb, beef, artisan cheese and foraged herbs from our surrounding hedgerows. Expect the unexpected framed with exceptional cooking and balance of flavours from our wonderfully talented chef.

The fine dining Fernery Restaurant is perfectly complemented by the more relaxed Artisan Rooms offering, both showcasing the very best Pembrokeshire produce.

Grove is all about intimate luxury for those who love their food and want to enjoy an authentic and memorable experience in the most stunning part of Wales.

How would you describe your own perfect luxury experience?

Zoe and I like hotels that have depth of personality and a certain joy in the atmosphere that’s created between guests, staff and the building. Warm, sincere greetings and smiles, quiet sophistication and gentle unforced luxury is where we feel most comfortable. Great food is clearly a prerequisite for us, alongside warm generous service with a sense of fun. It also helps if the hotel has wonderful countryside or plenty of historical places of interest for us to explore in our walking boots. We also love dog friendly venues as Bronwen our mischievous labradoodle likes to join us on our trips whenever that’s possible.

Zoe and the “mischievous” labradoodle Bronwen.

We find venues that try to do everything and tick every box slightly off-putting. We believe trying too hard can overwhelm a guest and so achieving ‘just right’ is the true art of hospitality. We’re not huge fans of over the top directional signage either and flying flags are not our thing.

Do you have a vision for the future of the hotel?

The Grove will always be a food-led hotel focused on warm hospitality with a true sense of place, and that will remain our simple goal. Our vision is to help the team continue to raise the bar in everything we do.

We’ve created something special but we remain on our toes and are looking to create an exciting future filled with possibilities. Well-developed plans are in place for a spa with lovely views across the Narberth Hills to the Preseli Mountains, and some additional woodland rooms will help make that a reality. We’d likely move our casual dining restaurant into the spa to enhance the guest dining experience with exceptional views. It’s an exciting journey and we hope that this hotel is here for guests and our local community for generations to come.