Style, Price, Luxury and It's Dog-Friendly Too
When it comes to reviewing luxury hotels, there's always room for good surprises to make the job interesting. At Bristol's Hotel du Vin the surprise came in the form of a shower so spacious I could have invited six friends to join me in it...for a cocktail party you understand.
They call it a "monsoon" shower, in other words a version of the currently fashionable rain - showers on steroids. It had as much floor space as my kitchen. All forty of the hotel's rooms, from the smallest standard to the loft luxury suites with mezzanines, have these room-sized showers as well as roll-top baths (a Hotel du Vin trademark), big and fluffy terry robes and generous amounts of high quality toiletries.
Maybe not everyone gets as excited as I do about gorgeous hotel bathrooms, but designers for the hotel group that owns both Hotels du Vin and the Malmaisons around the UK surely must because delightful bathrooms and toiletries are among their trademark features. Another trademark is... the company's practice of converting interesting and important city center buildings.
The group regularly repurposes neglected and interesting buildings into luxury hotels. The Malmaisons I've visited, which tend to be larger, have occupied a Victorian prison in an ancient castle, a Royal Mail sorting office and an Edwardian textile warehouse.
The Hotel du Vin in Bristol is in the most interesting conversion I've stayed in thus far. It was a Grade II listed, 18th century sugar refinery associated with Bristol's active involvement in the triangular trade with the British West Indies. It also served time as a seed warehouse before being abandoned. By the time Hotel du Vin got involved, it had lain derelict for 12 years.
Clever, Modern Refurbishment
Original floorboards, heavy oak beams and exposed brick walls ensure that the hotel's historic origins shine through. Other touches are more subtle. The dark, gray-green of doors, woodwork, the outside of the freestanding bath and the big armoires in my room was a color that felt true to the building's history. So did some of the detailing of the woodwork - tongue and groove paneling on the doors and cupboards for example.
But, the period details are minimal, skilfully incorporated into rooms that are thoroughly modern and include:
- handsprung beds made up with luxurious Egyptian cotton
- large plasma televisions
- attractive, adjustable lighting
- plenty of power sockets for recharging all your electronic gear.
- a kettle with tea, coffee and chocolate making supplies as well as a small espresso machine with a rainbow of different coffee "pods" to try.
The studio suite I stayed in had a separate sitting area with several leather chairs and a sofa bed. At well under £200 per night (in 2013), and given that it could accommodate a couple with children, I thought it was excellent value for money. Standard rooms are also surprisingly reasonable for the quality of the accommodation they offer.
All this and Dog-Friendly Too?
In our travels, Wallace the Westie and I have found that hotels in this group are among the dog-friendliest in Britain and the Bristol Hotel du Vin did not disappoint. A comfortable, freshly washed dog mat and a set of bowls greeted us on arrival. Wallace knew which bed was his and made straight for it. There was also a selection of rather extravagant doggie chews that I had to hide so I could dole them out at appropriate moments.
Staff were dog-friendly too and there was no great panic when Wallace and I had to pass through the bar to go out for walkies - as there had been in another supposedly dog-friendly Bristol hotel we sampled.
Wining and Dining
As the hotel's name suggests, the Hotel du Vin concept includes a good bistro that is a destination in its own right and an extensive wine list. Events such as food, wine and spirit pairings with the head sommelier or wine and champagne dinners hosted by nationally known experts are regularly scheduled.
The bistro itself is in a beautiful room with a distinctly 18th century style. The windows, when we visited were draped with dried hops and ivy. If you are around Bristol at Christmas time, it's worth checking out what the Hotel du Vin's bistro is serving because the dining room seems to be made for Christmas celebrations.
The Down Sides
1. Pretty restaurant, ordinary menu - The restaurant claims it aims for a French bistro style with dishes based on French home cooking. I have to say that while our dinners (poached salmon, steak, vegetarian risotto) were beautifully prepared and clearly used quality ingredients, there was nothing particularly French or homey about them. Dinner was tasty and reliable but unimaginative. In fact, given the originality of the hotel, the ambition and reputation of the wine list and the out and out prettiness of the dining room, the lack of creativity and choice in the menu - besides our dishes the only other main course was chicken - was disappointing.
2. Lack of lighting in the corridors - Because the hotel is actually made up of several small buildings, getting to your room along the dimly lit interconnecting corridors, interrupted here and there by sets of double fire doors, can be confusing. The hotel has a fully licensed restaurant and bar open to the public and it is not that difficult for non-guests to make their way into the residential areas. Rooms are not numbered but named after various wines and spirits. A bottle of the appropriate tipple in an illuminated shadowbox (mine was le Courvoisier) is the only clue - not enough illumination for me to find the room lock and fit my key into it easily. All these factors combined made me, as a woman on my own, a little uneasy during the trip from the public areas of the hotel to my room.
3. Lack of parking - the hotel has a few street parking spaces that cannot be booked in advance and are shared with restaurant patrons and hotel staff. Nearby commercial parking garage is hard to find and expensive.
Overall, the Hotel du Vin Bristol is a well-decorated and equipped, original and comfortable hotel that is good value for money. It scored high with Wallace the Westie for its dog-friendly features and supplies and with me for friendly, professional staff and luxurious accommodations. Despite a few quibbles, I would not hesitate to recommend it - but, if you can, leave your car at home.
- Address: Hotel du Vin & Bistro, The Sugar House, Narrow Lewins Mead, Bristol BS1 2NU. Note: Narrow Lewins Mead is a cobbled courtyard off Lewins Mead, a main road through the city center. It looks a bit like a private driveway and is very easy to miss. If you notice some cobbles around a rather large tree, don't blink because you are there.
- Telephone: +44 (0)84473 64252
- Price Band: $$
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As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary services for review purposes. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our Ethics Policy.