Oxford MailA winning weekend (From Oxford Mail)

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A winning weekend

Oxford Mail: A winning weekend A winning weekend

We’d never won a raffle. Until now...

Sat in a cosy restaurant in Pembrokeshire, a generous Welshman had given us two strips of tickets before departing with his family for a seaside stroll.

And so the numbers were called. Green 185. Embarrassed, I mumbled to my wife, “Catherine, that’s ours”.

Equally embarrassed, she handed the ticket in but chose not to pick up a prize, believing others were far more deserving of an RNLI reward. After all, we’d not even purchased the tickets ourselves.

Two minutes later the lady called Green 178. We’d won again. It’s a good job I’d already wolfed down my giant cheese and bacon burger, otherwise I might have choked on it. Again Catherine declined a prize.

So having never won a raffle, our numbers had come up twice in the space of two minutes. In many ways that set the tone for an incredible few days in which we were made to feel like we’d won the raffle, bingo, Lottery and Euro Millions all in one magical long weekend.

St Brides Spa Hotel had looked impressive in our Pembrokeshire travel guide. But we weren’t expecting it to be quite so breathtaking.

Set on a clifftop overlooking the village of Saundersfoot, it has recently been named AA Hotel of the Year, Wales 2011-2012.

Quite an accolade, but every bit deserving. It was also Coastline Hotel of the Year in 2010 and has been nominated for a gold award again this year. These and a string of other accolades are proudly on display by reception, and rightly so.

Having been taken up to our ensuite bedroom, I was almost lost for words after stepping out on to our balcony. Admittedly the temperatures weren’t quite the same, but this could have been a luxury apartment in Malibu with stunning views of the village, beach and coastline stretching into the distance.

And there it was. What we’d both be looking forward to more than anything. The infinity pool...

We could see a fraction of it from our balcony and it was every bit as good as we’d imagined.

We’d arranged for a 90-minute session in the thermal suite and pool. First it was 15 minutes in the sauna, same again in the steam room and a further 15 minutes in the salt infusion room before literally chilling out in a tropical rain shower before the blast of a gush storm.

From there we tiptoed into the infinity pool for the most relaxing 45 minutes I can remember in a long while. Arms draped over the edge, we were simply lost in time as we gazed down to the bay and allowed all the stresses of life to drift away.

It might have been a brisk 7C outside, but with a pool temperature of 36C it felt like paradise.

I would have happily spent more time in the pool the following day, but instead Catherine and I were treated to 25-minute neck, back and shoulder massages which again I would heartily recommend.

The spa might be stunning but don’t overlook the excellent food on offer in the hotel’s Cliff Restaurant and Gallery Restaurant.

We chose to eat in the Cliff Restaurant on our second night in Saundersfoot. It was the same spot from where we’d enjoyed breakfast at the start of the day, but were charmed by how it was transformed into a cosy, romantic dining area complete with flickering candles.

Catherine opted for scallops as a starter, while I chose an omelette. The scallops were pan seared with green tomato and basil beurre blanc and Catherine hasn’t stopped talking about them since!

I was equally impressed by my classic omelette with smoked haddock and chives which was just the right size to set me up for my main course.

For that I chose a Fishguard chicken breast on a confit drumstick, chateau potatoes and red wine jus which tasted divine.

My wife opted for a bream fillet with salmon and crayfish ravioli and a creamy Carmarthen Bay mussel broth which again got a big thumbs up.

I have to confess I had over-indulged on the delicious crispy bread so skipped pudding, but Catherine devoured with relish her iced praline parfait with white and dark chocolate sauce and a hazelnut croquant.

The hotel has a further two restaurants in the village. The Mermaid on the Strand is located by the beach slipway and has blackboards showing the latest fresh fish catches.

This was where we ate on our first night and where that lovely Welshman had given us his raffle tickets.

My cheese and bacon burger was as tasty as they come, while Catherine’s giant rack of ribs had to be seen to be believed.

The Marina is the hotel’s contemporary fish and chip restaurant with traditional beer battered cod and chips or fresh, grilled fish with a salad. The fact we ran out of time to visit remains a source of irritation. There’s no argument, we’ll just have to come back!

You’ll find plenty of traditional seaside shops in Saundersfoot, while the small town of Narberth is well worth a visit for its fashion boutiques and antique shops.

We also squeezed in a trip to Tenby, which offers more of your high street outlets, and enjoyed a delicious hot chocolate at Pendine Sands, home to numerous land speed record attempts.

After such a memorable weekend we felt we just had to buy a Lottery ticket. But did our luck match our raffle ticket success? Not a chance...

Proprietors Andrew & Lindsey Evans have worked tirelessly to transform St Brides into an award-winning destination.

They took over 13 years ago and embarked on a major rebuilding project including the introduction of the spa.

Andrew said: “There’s no doubt the spa is very, very important. It has added a quality dimension to the hotel and gives another reason for people to visit us out of season.

“There’s a lot of recognition coming our way which is great. We pride ourselves on our warmth of welcome and that couldn’t be achieved without the quality of staff we’ve got here. Most of the staff have been with us since we started and have really bought in to what we’re trying to achieve.

“We’re also very proud about our restaurants. My head chef Toby has been with us for nine years. Local produce is very important to us and we serve ‘proper’ food that’s not over-complicated. I think of it is as ‘modern British’ and there’s always a wide choice on the menus.”

The Mermaid on the seafront has been run as a family business for 23 years, while the Marina opened six years ago.

STAYING THERE: To book a stay at St Brides Spa Hotel, Saundersfoot, call 01834 812304, or visit stbridesspahotel.com Suggestions for places to stay as well as activities and things to see and do can be found at pembrokeshire.com or for a free copy of the 2012 Pembrokeshire Holiday Guide call 0844 888 5115.

OUR TOP DEALS: 1 CORNWALL: Sands Resort Hotel, Porth (01637 872 864) offers two-bedroom ocean-view suite until June 30 for £248 per night, including accommodation, breakfasts, children’s teas and adults’ dinners, plus a pampering treatment for two at the Ocean Breeze Spa.

2 BOURNEMOUTH: Travelzoo offers two nights’ half-board at Hotel Piccadilly (01202 298 024), from £99, with complimentary dance lesson with professional teacher and an evening dance session. Valid for stays until July 31.

3 NEW FOREST: Little Paddock (01425 470 889) offers romantic adults-only breaks in lodges designed for two, from £149.50 per person for two nights’ self-catering, including champers on arrival and one dinner with wine at family-run Italian restaurant in Ringwood.

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