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THIS PANORAMA of the Celtic principality is a road less traveled, but a wonderful introduction to the land and people of Wales. Once again, set a pace that is comfortable rather than trying to see everything.
Day 1–To the Land of Leeks and Daffodils
You do need a car to see Wales, but not to get there. You can drive from London or the airports in a few hours of motorway driving. Another option is the train to Crewe or Wolverhampton, where you can pick up a car for an easy afternoon drive over the beautiful Cambrian Mountains to Snowdonia and the Vale of Conwy. One of the finest remaining walled towns in Europe, Conwy is a great place to stay. Do visit imposing 13th-century Conwy Castle, and the impressive Tudor mansion of Plas Mawr. It’s a delightful small town, with plenty of lodging and eating options.
Day 2–An Embarrassment of Riches
You’ll have to make choices as to what to visit today on an excursion through Snowdonia. Follow the A470 south through the Vale of Conwy to Betws-y-Coed, a popular base camp for Snowdonia outdoor pursuits. Then, take the A4086 through the Pass of Llanberis under Mount Snowden. Ride the mountain railway to the summit, or continue on to Caernarfon and its magnificent castle—site of Prince Charles’ investiture as Prince of Wales. You can route straight back to Conwy along the north coast or detour just across the Menai Bridge to Anglesey for a visit to Beaumaris Castle or Plas Newydd, the stately home of the Marquis of Anglesey.
Day 3–Take the Day Off
You haven’t begun to see what you want to. Explore lovely Conwy itself. Or perhaps today’s the day to skip down to nearby Bodnant Gardens, justly among Britain’s most famous gardens, with its superb terraces and a stroll in “The Dell.” This afternoon, drive around Conwy Bay to visit the Victorian seaside resort of Llandudno, and one way or another get to the top of the Great Orme for unrivalled views along the north Wales coast.
Day 4–The Dramatic West Coast of Wales
Our road leads south along the western Welsh coast today. Take the A470 down the river valley again through Betws-y-Coed, then on to the slate-mining community of Blaenau Ffestiniog. You might visit award-winning Llechwedd Slate Caverns and the recreation of Victorian life in the Welsh mining villages. Or you might detour to nearby Portmeirion, the fantasy Italianate village of Sir Clough Ellis-Williams. Then, follow the coast to dramatic Harlech Castle, Lancastrian stronghold in the War of the Roses, and the seaside resort of Bar-mouth. The scenery changes dramatically as you move through Aberystwyth and Cardigan on your way to the market town of Carmarthen. This is a long driving day, though, so monitor your progress.
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Day 5–A Delightful Day in Pembrokeshire
Our excursion today takes us first to the shores of Carmarthen Bay, to Laugharne for a visit to the Wales of Dylan Thomas’ poetry. Then, there are the coastal resorts of Saundersfoot and Tenby to explore. You might make for St. David’s through Pem-broke and Haverfordwest. Assorted castles, harbors and photo ops line the way. As always, there are an almost infinite number of fascinating detours that you’ll already have marked on your motoring atlas. Do visit majestic St. David’s Cathedral, founded by the eponymous patron saint of Wales, and explore this smallest of Britain’s cathedral cities. Or return to do a bit of shopping in Carmarthen, with its smalltown prices.
Day 6–In the Heartbeat of the Valleys
Turn east this morning toward the Welsh capital of Cardiff. It’s a short morning drive. Then, head north on the A470 toward the coal-mining valleys of the Rhondda. Visit the Rhondda Heritage Park at the Lewis Merthyr Colliery near Pontypridd, where life in the coal valleys becomes real. You might even stay next door, at the Heritage Park Hotel. For a look at real life today in the valleys, take the hour to drive a circle—up the Great Rhondda to Hirwaun and back down the Little Rhondda through Maerdy. Another great visit in the neighborhood is the living history manor of Llanchaich Fawr, where residents are preparing to receive a visit from King Charles I. The year is 1648 and the country is in Civil War. It’s a 20-minute drive back to Cardiff, where there are many options for friendly accommodation.
Day 7–Great Days in Greater Cardiff
Cardiff is a richly rewarding, overlooked city. Do pay a visit to the lively, elegant waterfront of Cardiff Bay. Downtown, there are Wales’ National Museums, and Cardiff Castle, the 19th-century fairytale castle of the Marquis of Bute. This afternoon visit the award-winning Museum of Welsh Life at St. Fagan’s; it’s the oldest open air museum in Europe and offers a great hands-on overview of Wales’ cultural and domestic history.
Day 8–Spoiled for Choices Yet Again
Today’s excursion might take you up the valleys and through the beautiful Brecon Beacons. Pay a visit to Brecon Cathedral and spend time in Hay-on-Wye, the border village known as the “Second-Hand Book Capital of the World.” Or stay closer with a visit to Wales’ largest castle, Caerphilly, and the lively market town at its gates, or take a short ride to the Victorian seafront at Penarth and visit Cosmeston Medieval Village. This evening, you might attend the rehearsal of one of the many Welsh male voice choirs in the area. It’s not that hard to arrange. Perhaps even join the lads for a pint at the pub afterwards.
Day 9–Returning East Toward London
Today brings a return to London or home. You might pay a morning visit to the Roman amphitheater at Caerleon, Chepstow Castle or historic Tintern Abbey in the lower Wye Valley. Across the Severn Bridge, it is more fun to travel across the Marlborough Downs to the Thames Valley on the old A4 than on the motorway. The ancient henge of Avebury lies along the way with Silbury Hill, a neat white horse in the hillside and the pretty town of Marlborough. Get back on the M4 at Hungerford. Or turn south and strike out to explore Hampshire and the New Forest.