Justin Baird-Murray and his sister, Sarah Hill, are the fifth generation of their family to run the four-star Metropole Hotel and Spa in Llandrindod Wells, which this year celebrates 120 years of ownership by the same family.
Justin and Sarah’s great, great grandmother, Elizabeth Miles, founded the business in 1896, when, way ahead of her time as a female entrepreneur, she saw the potential in opening a smart hotel in a spa town, just as fashionable Victorians began taking to the waters.
At that time, The Metropole was the largest hotel in Wales.
As managing director and finance director respectively, Justin and Sarah have worked hard at modernisation, while still maintaining its character as a grand Victorian spa hotel. More than £5m has been spent in recent years, creating the state-of-the-art Rock Spa, upgrading wedding and conference facilities, revamping Spencer’s bar and brasserie and updating all the bedrooms.
“The upkeep on the hotel is immense,” says Justin. “The moment you think you have finished, you need to start again. Keeping our grand old lady in good shape is a costly business, and, no doubt, I’ll be asking Sarah to open her purse once again before too long. Roll on the next £5m!
“What’s clear to us is how much our guests appreciate the TLC we have lavished on The Metropole and the way in which we have managed to bring this stately Victorian building into the 21st century without losing its distinctive character and charm.”
Accolades support the pair’s work, with the Visit Wales gold award for outstanding quality, comfort and hospitality, following on from plaudits for the food, including an AA rosette.
Justin knows that well-fed guests are happy guests, so there’s great emphasis on local produce.
“Local is best, as we all know and we don’t believe in unnecessary food miles,” he says. “We have fabulous fresh ingredients, such as succulent mountain lamb and Welsh Black beef right on our doorstep. Our breakfast sausages are made by Bob the Butcher in neighbouring town, Rhayader, while the Watkins family drops off our free-range eggs as they do the school run.
“Another project – a labour of love – is the revitalisation of the hotel’s kitchen garden. We now have herbs, salad, courgettes, apples amongst other things, growing in abundance. We have even bottled our own mint sauce – the perfect way to use up this prolific herb when it runs riot.”
As The Metropole has the stunning Mid Wales landscape on its doorstep, Justin and Sarah make the most of the natural environment. Sarah is a keen photographer and Justin, with his wife Judy, are avid marathon runners and use the hills as their gym, running up and down dale to build up fitness and stamina.
Justin also confesses to being something of a petrol head and says that the winding, traffic-free local roads are perfect for a jaunt behind the wheel. It seems he’s not the only one to take advantage of perfect motoring country, as the hotel regularly hosts classic car clubs from all over the UK.
These include the Bentley Drivers Club, Morgan, MG, and Porsche car clubs, as well as Jowett and Rolls Royce enthusiasts and the Sporting Bears, as well as men’s and ladies motorcycle clubs.
The Metropole is firmly part of the community, providing Christmas dinners for emergency service workers, sponsoring local athletes, taking part in the town’s Big Lunch event, holding an annual wedding fair (this year booked for March 5) and hosting the Radnor Wildlife Trust’s annual ‘Barnes Memorial Lecture’, given recently by TV naturalist Iolo Williams.
As for the next 120 years, Justin and Sarah have set up The Metropole nicely to keep on providing hospitality just as their great, great grandmother intended.