Wales: So Many Great Places to Discover!

A couple enjoys the sun on the coast of Wales. Max Hartshorne photo.
A couple enjoys the sun on the coast of Wales. Max Hartshorne photo.

Wild About Wales: Exploring the Wonders of Britain’s least known Destination

By Janis Turk

In England, travelers crowd the gates of Buckingham Palace to watch the changing of the guard. In Scotland, they head to the Highlands to look for the Loch Ness Monster.

Kazie the Gorilla is the mascot of the delightful Alpine Coffee Shop in Betws-y-Coed, which supports animal organizations including the Orangutan Foundation and Ape Action Africa.
Kazie the Gorilla is the mascot of the delightful Alpine Coffee Shop in Betws-y-Coed, which supports animal organizations including the Orangutan Foundation and Ape Action Africa.

In Ireland, they drink Guinness and do pub crawls in Dublin—and all of that is grand. But until they’ve visited Wales, they haven’t seen what may arguably be the best of Great Britain.

So what’s in Wales? Everything! Ancient castles, thrilling outdoor adventure spots, sprawling country manors, organic farms and cooking schools, fine restaurants, high-end hotels, pubs and inns, coal mines, artists’ enclaves, towns with cobbled streets, hills for hunting and hikes, parks, bike trails, boats, mountains, museums and more. Wales is wonderful—and it’s so easy to explore.

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The names of places in Wales takes some getting used to.
The names of places in Wales takes some getting used to.

Two Hours from London

Just two hours by car or coach from London (and even faster by train) rests Cardiff, its capital, an exciting urban port city, offering everything from high-speed boat rides to a Dr. Who exhibit, a spectacular opera house and even a medieval castle.

Portmeirion is an Italian-style tourist village in Gwynedd, North Wales designed and built by architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis between 1925 and 1975. Many visitors recognize it as a filming location and setting for
Portmeirion is an Italian-style tourist village in Gwynedd, North Wales designed and built by architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis between 1925 and 1975. Many visitors recognize it as a filming location and setting for “The Village” in the spy drama “The Prisoner.”

Or enter into the quiet beauty of rural Wales by flying into Manchester, England and then traveling by car, coach or train into nearby Northern Wales.

Then what?

Storm a Castle!

Travel along the North Wales Coast and stop in the town of Conwy, where both this seaside village and Conwy Castle are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Then enjoy a cup of tea at the old Castle Hotel coaching inn, and then at the water’s edge see the smallest house in Britain. Or if you start in the south of Wales at Cardiff, visit Cardiff Castle, a medieval fortress and Victorian-era mansion in the city center.

Sleep in Style!

For an extraordinary overnight stay, visit Bodysgallen Hall, a historic Welsh manor with handsome hedge-lined gardens. Featuring comfortable drawing rooms with oversized fireplaces and wide windows overlooking a sweeping valley with views of Conwy Castle, Bodysgallen offers luxury accommodations and fine dining as well as a large separate spa with an indoor pool.

Distant mountains form the border of the horizon in Southern Wales.
Distant mountains form the border of the horizon in Southern Wales.

Nearby, visit the town of Betws-y-Coed, with its shops and cafes, home to a visitor’s center for Snowdonia National Park. Filled with hikers and shops of camping and hiking gear, this town is a good place to start an unforgettable outdoor adventure.

Or travel further south and stay at one of the most elegant and meticulously curated country manors in the country: Llangoed Hall.

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Calum Milne, owner and managing director at Llangoed Hall in Brecon, Mid Wales, is deeply committed to maintaining this glorious castle-like country house and gardens which was once a home of Sir Bernard Ashley and wife Laura Ashley, of the clothing, textile and home decor/design fame. The house is now a luxury hotel property near Hay-on-Wye, the "town of books."
Calum Milne, owner and managing director at Llangoed Hall in Brecon, Mid Wales

Sparing no expense, its owner Calum Milne (great grandson of author A.A. Milne) has restored and renovated the estate, which was once a country house of the late world-renowned fashion designer Laura Ashley. The house is now a luxury hotel property near Hay-on-Wye, the “town of books.”

Staying in one of its spacious suites, guests may feel as though they’re living on the set of Downton Abbey.

A luxury guestroom (one of the smaller of the estate's many rooms) at Llangoed Hall,
A luxury guestroom (one of the smaller of the estate’s many rooms) at Llangoed Hall,

Guestrooms feature vistas of the elegant gardens and grounds. Large drawing rooms with enormous fireplaces, fine furnishings and priceless art and antiques make staying here divine, and Llangoed Hall’s chef de cuisine Nick Brodie makes dining there an unforgettable experience.

The mansion stands near Hay on Wye, a little town known as the Second-Hand-Book Capital of the World. With cobbled streets lined with bookshops, tearooms, antique stores, charity thrift shops and boutiques, it’s also home to the internationally acclaimed annual Hay-on-Wye Literary Festival.

Llangoed Hall, a country house hotel near Hay-on-Wye in Mid Greek and Roman columns, statuary, and topiary, gardens, boutiques, restaurants and hotels with views of the tide as it comes in and goes out. It’s also home to a popular pottery outlet.

Portmeirion is especially attractive in spring when its gardens are in bloom and in autumn when its woods are ablaze in fall color. Fans of the 1960s television show “The Prisoner” will recognize Portmeirion as a location for “The Village.”

Adventure and Zipping

If you seek adventure and thrills, visit Zip World Titan in Blaenau Ffestiniog. With a series three zip line wires set up in a disused quarry, the first ride is a half-mile run high above sheep-dotted hills with striking windswept views of the Snowdonia mountain range.

Then the next two trips involve 70-mile-per-hour plunges over jagged quarries and mines.

In the distance stands Cadair Idris, a favorite hikers’ mountain that dominates the southern end of the National Park.

To the north-west is Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales and England—popular with mountain climbers and other outdoor enthusiasts and photographers.

View from Conwy Castle
View from Conwy Castle

Then head deep underneath the same mountain to experience Bounce Below, an adventure experience set in a 176‐year old cavern filled with large trampoline-like nets hung within two vast chambers, all illuminated by technicolored lights.

Italian Style

One of the biggest surprises Wales has to offer is Portmeirion, an Italian-style cliff-side tourist village in North Wales. Set high on the hills above the Dwryryd estuary in in Gwynedd, this colorful Italianate-style tourist attraction is an architecturally arresting and entirely unexpected hamlet. Designed and built between 1925 and 1975, and perhaps inspired by Portofino, Italy, Portmeirion features ornate Mediterranean architecture,

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Bed and Brew

Want to experience Wales at its most welcoming? Stay in a traditional pub/inn, or just drop by for a brew. In the town of Tregaron, visit Y Talbot a 17th-century inn on the square with clean rooms, good beds, modern en-suite bathrooms, a traditional pub and an exceptional restaurant. Or pass through the town of Crickhowell and visit the Bear Hotel for a brew and a big Welsh lunch in South Wales.

Southern Wales has these endless vistas that are remarkably beautiful.
Southern Wales has these endless vistas that are remarkably beautiful.

Capital Idea—Cardiff!

No visit would be complete without seeing the cosmopolitan capital city of Cardiff. With a young energetic pulse fed by its large university, Cardiff is known for food and fun and a vibrant bayside pier area.

It’s also home to modern structures like the Millennium Centre, the new Welsh Parliament, and Millennium Stadium. Stay at the 4-star Cardiff Marriott in the city center, set amid shopping streets, restaurants, clubs and Victorian shopping arcades.

Dine at Chapel 1877, a three-floor restaurant and bar featuring cutting-edge cuisine set in a historic church building, or pop into the Potted Pig, a hip gastropub in a  former underground bank vault.

Visit the National Museum of Wales, tour Cardiff Castle, and then take a water taxi down to the bayside area where fans will enjoy the Dr. Who Experience in an interactive museum paying tribute to the cult-classic television series.

Isn’t it time you discover Wales’ myriad delights and see Britain at its best?