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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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?
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Janis Turk is a travel writer, photographer, and author who has appeared in travel segments for CNN’s airport network, the Dallas Morning News and others. Her work also appears in magazines and newspapers and popular travel websites. Her most recent book Frommer’s TEXAS is available on Amazon.com and in bookstores everywhere.