Many award-winning hotels provide spas, swimming pools and butler service... but few can offer their guests a guided tour of cellars that are home to 500 bats.
James and Caroline Burt’s Plas Maenan Country House has been named the best guest house in Wales and given two AA rosettes, despite a colony of pipistrelle bats living in the medieval cellars beneath the Edwardian house.
The retired couple took responsibility for their subterranean guests when they bought the North Wales house after moving from London, where Mr Burt had been in charge of the Queen’s wine as deputy yeoman of the Royal Cellars, and his wife had published the Duke of Edinburgh’s books, including works on planes, cars, ships and wildlife.
Mr Burt, 75, revealed the protected mammals had lived a life of luxury since the couple moved into the hotel in 2004, as they are required by law to keep the bats warm.
“I don’t know if they are grateful,” he said. “They fly in and plant themselves in the cellars. And they hang there upside down. You can see them quite well, flying along the passageway.
“You can see them fluttering around when it is dark.
“We knew they were here (when we took on the place) because we had to sign a contract with the environment people to say we would protect them.”
The couple themselves live within the grounds, in the aptly named Bat House.
The Conwy hotel deeds go back to 1911 but it is unclear exactly when the tunnels were built.
“Certainly the tunnels are quite old,” said Mrs Burt, a mother of one and grandmother of three.
“The bats reside in the tunnels and come out by the lower terrace through a ruined folly.
“They are very much part of the family. Lots of people come and have a guided tour of the bats – if they are not too scared!”
Nervous guests are assured the creatures do not come into the hotel. Outside, they tend to flutter near the ground, where they feed on insects. “They are not high-flying bats, so you don’t see them Dracula-like flying around the belfry,” she said.
The couple said they had been astonished to win recognition from the AA as the best guest house in Wales.
The judges described it as a “stunning country house ... offering guests an elegant and friendly ambience akin to being a welcome guest at a private country residence”.
They said: “The rooms are all individually styled and decorated with typically Edwardian elegance, together with some original and quirky touches.
“Many rooms offer stunning mountain views, while the Library Bar is home to overflowing bookcases for the guests to browse at their leisure.
“There is an elegant sitting room with open fire, mountain-view conservatory and a Steinway piano in the music room which leads through to a cosy bar.
“Dinner is a highlight, featuring skilfully prepared dishes made with high-quality ingredients.”
Mrs Burt said they only realised who the inspector was when she introduced herself at the end of her stay. “We were just astonished,” she said. “We immediately started to think, ‘Was the dinner all right? Was the service all right? Did we look after her properly?’
“But we obviously did. We had thought we might get one rosette, but we never expected two.”
The AA called the building “beautifully refurbished” and the organisation’s hotel services manager Simon Numphud said he was “delighted” the hotel had won.