On this side of the pond, chances are that when you think of traveling to the United Kingdom, your mind jumps to the metropolis of London, the craggy highlands of Scotland or the famous Emerald Isle (Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland). But some of Britain’s most amazing sights and thrilling attractions are located in Wales, where castles and walled towns overlook secluded beaches and hiking trails criss-cross the undulating countryside connecting world-class accommodations like a dot-to-dot picture.
You can access Wales easily by car from Manchester International Airport. We flew into Manchester and hired a car for the drive to the walled medieval town of Conwy (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). There we stayed at the Castle Hotel, located within the town walls and built on the site of a Cistercian Abbey, where we enjoyed excellent croissants at breakfast. While in Conwy, take a tour of the castle and the town walls: the views of the surrounding countryside and the sea from the walls (be sure to walk the whole way round) are incredible and the tour guides are extremely knowledgeable. While you’re in Conwy, it’s worth checking out Britain’s smallest house: it’s only 6’ wide and 8’ high!
From Conwy, we drove to Snowdonia National Park, where we stayed at the Plas Dolmelynllyn Country Hotel located within the park at the head of a meadow within Coed-y-Brening forest. Our innkeeper sent us off with a Couch beer (a Welsh Hug) and directions for a short walk to the spectacular local waterfalls. The Dolmelynllyn staff are very knowledgeable about the history of the region, and especially the hotel, which has been the site of buildings since medieval times, and also includes parts of a Tudor manor house that are still in use to this day. It definitely makes use of your time in Snowdonia to get out and wander in the incredibly beautiful park, and take in the amazing vistas of mountains, rolling hills, waterfalls and lush forest. After a day outdoors, enjoy a great meal at the Dolmelynllyn’s excellent restaurant and a great night’s sleep in the peace of this stately country manor.
After a spectacular day and night in Snowdonia, we headed out to Pembrokeshire, which also boasts incredibly beautiful scenery. We stopped several times along the way to explore the picturesque towns and to enjoy the plentiful scenic walks and hikes. We enjoyed a tasty lunch at the Sloop Inn in Porthgain, and lingered to hike the paths in the area. This part of Britain has a vast network of paths to explore – often they pass right through farmers’ fields but they’re entirely public and visitors are welcome to walk through the pastures. One of the highlights of our day in Pembrokeshire was the Panorama walk at Barmouth – definitely not to be missed!
Some towns not to miss on your drive through Pembrokeshire are Aberdovey, a lovely place to stop for a while. The road passes along the Dyfi estuary (one of the finest in the U.K.). Don’t drive past Aberaeron without stopping for an award-winning honey ice cream, locally made for 35 years by the Holgate family. For the literary-minded, you can visit New Quay (Cei Newydd), where Dylan Thomas reputedly set his play Under Milk Wood. There is a lovely sunny beach to enjoy at the end of the breakwater in New Quay as well, and the local school of dolphins can often be sighted out in the bay from the other side of the breakwater. If history is your thing, don’t miss Cardigan and Newport in Pembrokeshire: each of which is centered around a castle dating all the way back to Norman times.
After our drive through the Pembrokeshire countryside, we arrived in Roch for our stay at Roch Castle, which dates back to the 13th century and is stunningly built right into the bedrock of the Welsh hillside – make sure to check out the doors in the lobby you can open to reveal the rock. The décor is sumptuous and modern and the views and surrounding countryside is spectacularly rugged. We ate at Blas restaurant, which is located in the Twyr e Fellin hotel in nearby St. Davids and is operated by the same hoteliers as Roch Castle. Blas restaurant offers a great menu, with an outstanding collection of modern art to enhance the quite sophisticated dining experience.
Next day, we made our way to Cardiff (the capital of Wales) stopping at St. Govans Chapel for a walk along the coast to Stackpole Quay and back. This walk was far and away one of the highlights of our trip. Dating from medieval times, the quaint St. Govans chapel is built right into the rocky cliffs and boasts stunning views of the nearby cliffs and seaside. The walk is windy and undulating and you’ll find a beach or a village around almost every corner. From there, we drove to Tenby, a lovely busy seaside town to stop and people-watch while enjoying a tasty lunch. In Cardiff, we stayed at the Hilton Cardiff, which is perfectly located right across the street from Cardiff Castle (definitely worth a visit; be sure to take the guided tour to get the most out of your experience).
From Cardiff it was across the Welsh border and off through the Cotswolds, for another incredibly beautiful drive. Our next stay was at the luxurious Barnsley House, a private house in the heart of the countryside. The Barnsley House boasts a beautiful on-site spa, huddled in the midst of beautiful gardens and ponds. We stayed in a private cottage called “The Secret Garden”, set apart from the main house and beautifully appointed in every way. For dinner, we strolled down the road to the Village Pub, where we enjoyed an amazing meal.
Next day was a visit to Tintagel castle in Cornwall, where we immersed ourselves in local history and myth as we explored the birthplace of the mythical King Arthur and took in the stunning craggy views of cliffs and sea. We headed on from Tintagel to Portscatho, where we spent 3 lovely nights at The Rosevine.
While in Portscatho, take a visit to the Harbour Club. Non-members are welcome to enter for a small fee, and you can enjoy well-priced drinks and food while taking in the spectacular view of the harbor. If you choose to walk there through the paths, you will pass The Hidden Hut. Stop for a bite of local fare and a view of the beach! We also enjoyed a visit to St. Mawes just minutes from Portscatho where we explored the St. Mawes castle.
While based at the Rosevine in Portscatho, we drove to St. Ives and Padstow where there are endless things to do and see, including the Tate’s Barbara Hepworth Museum and Leach Pottery in St. Ives, then cycling the Camel trail and dining in a Rick Stein restaurant in Padstow.
Our road trip through Wales and southern England was a huge success. We can’t wait to go back and explore some more. Home to some of Britain’s best-kept tourist secrets Wales is definitely not to be overlooked!