The rugged, wind-swept beauty of Wales’ northern mountains dominates the landscape of Snowdonia. Four huge castles built by Edward I to control the populace ring the region. At a pub in Porthmadog, you might hear only Welsh spoken (though almost everyone speaks English as well). You’re a world away from the Home Counties here.
Day 1 – Off to North Wales
It’s a fairly leisured day’s drive up to North Wales from London and environs. Route up the M40 toward Birmingham and then make for Shrewsbury and the A5. Alternatively, take the train north and pick up a car in Wolverhampton, Crewe or Chester. All roads lead northwest from Shrewsbury on the A5 for the Cambrian Mountains and Llangollen. There are several small hotels and a number of guest houses in town. Llangollen is accustomed to visitors, and you’ll quickly discover why.
Day 2 – A Llangollen Idyll
Yes, here’s a day to explore the eclectic attractions of this funky small town—highlighted by Claire Hopley in her story a few pages on. Do make it a point, though, to drive down to Froncysellte or Pontcysyllte to see the famous Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, or better still, take a canal boat from the Llangollen wharf. Another great visit just a mile or so up the valley is the idyllic ruins of Vale Crucis Abbey, and the Pillar of Eliseg.
Day 3 – North through the Vale of Conwy
Today, continue on the A5 to Betws-y-Coed and follow the A470 north through the Vale of Conwy. From February through November, plan a stop at Bodnant Garden—truly one of Britain’s greatest show gardens. The walled town of Conwy is a delight, and a great place to base a couple of days. Visit Conwy Castle, whose massive curtain walls seem to grow naturally from its rock foundation, and Plas Mawr, the finest surviving Elizabethan townhouse in Britain. It’s also just a short drive around the estuary to the seaside resort of Llandudno, and the dramatic headland of Great Orme with its sweeping vistas over the Irish Sea.
Day 4 – A Walled Town and a Seaside Resort
Take an excursion today north along the coast and across the Menai Strait to the Isle of Anglesey. Our highlight visit is Beaumaris Castle, the last of Edward I’s great 13th-century constructions, and the most technically perfect castle in Britain.
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Another great visit is lovely Plas Newydd, stately home of the Marquis of Anglesey. On the return, time might invite you to stop in Bangor for a visit to Bangor Cathedral. Back in Conwy, you won’t have difficulty finding a good local restaurant or pub. They’re all over town.
Day 5 – The Grandeur of Snowdonia
It’s a few miles down the valley to Betws-y-Coed, then turn west through the Pass of Llanberis underneath Mount Snowdon. The easiest way up Wale’s highest mountain is the Snowdon Mountain Railway, and it’s well worth the trip. Of course, you can hike, but be prepared. Carry on to the market town of Caernarfon, in the shadow of majestic Caernarfon Castle, described as the most striking medieval monument in Wales.
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Day 6 – Portmeirion and the Slate Mountains
Today’s excursion routes down the A487 to Porthmadog. Our destination is nearby Portmeirion, the colorful, fantasy village of Sir Clough Ellis-Williams. It’s a great visit! This afternoon, you might continue down the coast just a few miles to Harlech and complete the quartet of Edward’s great fortresses at dramatic Harlech Castle, Lancastrian stronghold in the Wars of the Roses. Or, you can turn inland to the slate-mining community of Blaenau Festiniog, for a visit to the award-winning Llechwedd Slate Caverns and its grim recreation of Victorian life in the Welsh mining villages. Alternatively, you can take one of Wales’ great little steam trains from Portmadog—the Ffestionog Railway. Either way, return to Caernarfon on the A4085 through Beddgelert.
Day 7 – Back to the English World
The quick drive out of the mountains is north to the coast and the A55 to Chester. If time is pressing, drop the rental car and take the train back to London. Or stop for a day or two to explore Chester and the fascinating county of Cheshire.
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