Welsh Countryside Brims With Alternative Lodging

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NEW YORK -- Wales is an ideal place for clients seeking an alternative to a large, impersonal, cookie-cutter hotel.

Along the country's coasts, tucked into its sprawling woodlands and in the center of its cities, visitors will discover a seemingly endless choice of intimate country houses, inns, farm stays and bed and breakfasts.

Welsh InnsThe only problem an agent might encounter is finding the right property to meet a client's needs. A good place for retailers to begin their search is in the Welsh Rarebits and Great Little Places guides.

The Welsh Rarebits collection was the brainchild of Emyr Griffith 15 years ago while he was director of marketing for the Wales Tourist Board. "I would go to workshops and explain what the accommodations were like in Wales and was always recommending properties to agents," he said.

Ultimately, he made a list of the properties he would recommend, and Welsh Rarebits was born. The group has grown from 20 to 43 members, who join by invitation only, Griffith said.

Criteria for membership includes having a maximum of 40 rooms, a welcoming attitude on the part of the hosts and a good restaurant, he added. Nightly rates range from about $40 to $140 per person, including breakfast, depending on the property and time of year. Short break packages are available.

The success of Welsh Rarebits and the increased demand for affordable, quality accommodations led to the creation six years ago of Great Little Places.

These 51 properties also are hand-picked by Griffith and travel writer Roger Thomas.

Participating properties must have fewer than 10 rooms and emphasize hospitality, he said. "These aren't just a listing of farmhouses or guest houses," he said.

Many start at $30 per person, per night, including breakfast. Special Breaks rates include two nights' accommodation, dinner and breakfast for $100 per person.

Griffith would like to have 100 properties under both umbrellas, but "the quality must be there."

Griffith said he only includes establishments that are privately owned because the "people who run a property are as important as the property itself."

For example, Sir Bernard Ashley, who is cofounder of the Laura Ashley company, has restored a ruined building into a luxury property called Llangoed Hall.

Two of the hoteliers in the Rarebits are well-known artists, Rob Reen of Ynyshir Hall and Peter Kindred of Tyddyn Llan.

Dai Davies, of Glanrannell Park, breeds Welsh mountain ponies and has won many championships.

Included in the Great Little Places collection, Peter and Diana Andrews of Llanerch Vineyard produced a white wine that was crowned one of the best made in Britain and, at Penyclawdd Court, Julia Evans cooks authentic Tudor delicacies on an open fire.

The properties in both collections are an eclectic mix of old coaching inns, farmhouses, country-house hotels, a former rectory and even a lighthouse.

Members of both groups offer 10% commission, which agents subtract from the rate at the time of booking, he said.

Griffith said his target market is seasoned travelers who have been to Britain at least once.

Agents interested in putting an itinerary together combining several properties can contact him directly.

To book, fax (800) 873-7140.

The 1998 Great Little Places and Welsh Rarebits brochures feature color pictures and descriptions of each property. To obtain the brochures and maps, contact: British Tourist Authority, Phone: (800) GO 2 BRITAIN, Ext. 4

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