60 minutes from…Belfast

Northern Ireland’s lively capital is renowned for its mix of art, culture and history, and you’ll find a wealth of exciting attractions to keep you busy. But beyond the limits of Belfast’s rich cultural cityscape, only an hour or less away, lie even more remarkable destinations that can enthral and excite. What’s more, eagle-eyed visitors will spot filming locations from the HBO epic Game of Thrones at nearly every turn, many of which are set to open to the public in 2019 to coincide with the airing of the show’s final season.

Birdwatch at Castle Espie

Drive eastwards from Belfast towards Strangford Lough to discover Castle Espie, an extensive wetland reserve managed by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust. Found three miles to the south of Comber, County Down, it is home to an abundance of native and exotic water birds, stunning estuary views, as well as habitats for plenty of other incredible wildlife. Castle Espie is also an early wintering site for the vast majority of the world’s migrating pale-bellied Brent geese, while Kingfishers are a regular sight in the Saline Lagoon.

From Castle Espie, head south for 20 minutes to take in the picturesque Killyleagh Castle with its conical roofs and imposing battlements, which stands proudly over the village of the same name. Alternatively, head around Strangford Lough in a clockwise direction to reach the National Trust site of Mount Stewart, a splendid collection of award-winning gardens alongside a beautifully refurbished neo-classical property. The characteristic gardens have a strong exotic and Mediterranean feel, while wooded areas support plants from all over the world, ensuring there’s something to discover all year round.

Slightly further south are the ruins of Grey Abbey, a former grey stone Cistercian priory. You’ll also find the Grey Abbey House and Gardens, which hosts an annual steam rally by the County Down Traction Engine Club in addition to numerous classic car meetings.

Head north from Mount Stewart to the centre of Bangor and the North Down Museum. This insightful exhibition explores the pivotal role that Bangor Abbey had in early Christian Ireland and the impact of the Viking invasion. Full-sized versions of a Viking Longhouse and Monk’s Cell accompany a range of exhibitions on the Bronze Age, plantations and more.

Boat on Lough Neagh

Drive westwards from Belfast and bask in the tranquil atmosphere and unspoilt scenery of Lough Neagh, Northern Ireland’s largest freshwater lake. An Area of Specific Scientific Interest, its internationally recognised wetlands are a haven for wildlife and numerous viewing points can be found dotted along its 125km of pristine shoreline. Hire a boat to experience the calm waters or try out a number of more adventurous water sport activities.

Go full-steam ahead in Whitehead

Venture in a north-easterly direction for 25 minutes to uncover the Whitehead Railway Museum, on the east coast of County Antrim, which offers a fascinating insight into the world of steam travel and the history of railway in Northern Ireland. Children can dress up in Victorian costume, watch as restoration work takes place and climb on board several iconic locomotives and carriages from the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland’s collection.

Uncover the beauty of Lisburn

Immerse yourself in the historical importance of Castle Gardens, in Lisburn, by travelling just 20 minutes to the south west of Belfast. Once the home of a fortified 17th-century manor house and now a beautifully kept public park, the city is also home to the spectacular 300-year old Lisburn Cathedral. Delve further into the history of the region with a visit to the Irish Linen Centre and Lisburn Museum, which explores Ireland’s industrial heritage, tracing the history of linen through its award-winning Flax to Fabric exhibition.

Bask in the splendour of Hillsborough Castle a short distance further to the south west, an 18th- century Georgian country house that is also the Queen’s official residence in Northern Ireland. Take a guided tour of the castle and state rooms, before venturing outside to explore its ornamental grounds, woodlands and waterways.

Around an hour from Belfast to the south west is the city of Armagh. See St Patrick’s Cathedral, which stands on top of the hill from which the city derived its name. Gaze at the stars at the Armagh Astronomy Centre and Planetarium and listen to a show on the night sky, before exploring its beautiful landscaped grounds. Finish your visit to the city at Armagh County Museum. Designed like a Greek temple, the museum is home to numerous artefacts that detail the rich history of the region dating back to prehistoric times.

Discover the mesmerising Mourne Mountains

Some 50km and an hour to the south of Belfast by car, in County Down, is the immeasurable beauty of the Mourne Mountains, the country’s highest and most awe-inspiring set of peaks. Explore the summits, complete with their granite tors, via a network of criss-crossed tracks and trace the old smuggling routes from Newcastle to Hilltown, taking in views of the Mourne Wall along the way. Built to keep sheep and cattle away from the Silent Reservoir catchment, the 22-mile long wall has stood for close to 100 years.

If there is time to explore a little further from Belfast, then start with the stunning scenery and natural sights of Country Antrim to the north. The striking coastline is home to an abundance of wildlife, as well as the majestic Giant’s Causeway and the impressive Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, near Ballintoy. Other popular destinations include Bushmills Distillery – Ireland’s oldest working distillery – and nearby Dark Hedges, where Arya Stark made her escape from King’s Landing in Game of Thrones. Dunluce Castle, a cliff top ruin, also starred as The House of Greyjoy in the hit TV show.

Six of the healthiest spots to kick off the new year

Feel the need to detox after the end-of-year celebrations? Here’s a pick of health retreats in Britain where you can easily kickstart your new-year, new-year wellbeing journey.

Gilpin Hotel & Spa, Lake District, north-west England

England’s stunning Lake District vistas are inspiration enough to make someone want to embrace a healthier lifestyle for the new year but, for that extra boost, check in to the Gilpin Hotel for some star-quality spa experiences. In addition to the 25 bedrooms, all with lake views, the hotel offers five new detached Spa Lodges; in each you’ll find an ensuite spa – think outdoor saunas and hydrotherapy hot tubs and indoor rainmaker showers and steam rooms. An alternative option at the property is to stay at the Gilpin Lake House, situated a mile away on a separate estate. This is truly a sanctuary – available to be privately booked for 12 people, it has its own lake, hot tubs, sauna, pool and the Jetty Spa, a Swedish-style spa treatment room set three metres into a tree canopy. Round off the relaxing experience with healthy, yet mouth-watering dishes at the Michelin-starred HRiSHi restaurant back up at Gilpin House.

The Sharpham Trust, Devon, south-west England

Set on a 550-acre estate on the River Dart in south Devon, the Sharpham Trust aims to bring nature and mindfulness to its guests. Its programme of mediation retreats are held at The Barn, a converted linhay (a type of two-storeyed farmhouse particularly found in Devon), while its dedicated mindfulness retreats take place in the Grade I-listed, Georgian mansion Sharpham House. The Trust, which has been running for more than 30 years, is set in gorgeous Capability Brown-designed parkland. Woodland retreats are also available, providing a fantastic opportunity to be super close to nature as guests stay in yurts out in the woodlands, or consider booking onto one of its courses for positive mental health, ranging from a one-day to a nine-week Mindful-in-Nature course.

ecoYoga, Scotland

The fresh air of the Scottish Highlands is a sure-fire way to get in the mood for a healthy outlook on life. Head to the tranquil, riverside retreat of ecoYoga Scotland for its relaxed vibes; here you’ll find a variety of yoga courses and retreats that are married with the teachings of sustainable eco-living. The ecoYoga Centre is powered by a hydro turbine and solar panels, water comes directly from a natural spring and guests can get involved in forest creations, gardening and a number of other eco-style activities. Even when retreats are not running guests can stay at the venue on a self-catering basis, take yoga classes in its yoga studio and enjoy its hot wild-river baths. Yoga classes are also taught by visiting teachers and include styles such as Ashtanga and Iyengar.

Seren Retreat, Gower, south Wales

Interested in Polarity Therapy? This technique, which focuses on the body’s energy flow, is a speciality of the Seren Retreat, a health resort 15 minutes from the award-winning beaches of the Gower Peninsula and set in 23 acres of woodland. Run by Rex and Alaea Beynon, who have 30 years’ experience in the healing arts, the retreats here aim to promote emotional, mental, physical and spiritual happiness. Treatments and counselling sessions are supported by both nutritional guidance and yoga aimed towards maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Yoga and mediation retreats use Ayurvedic rejuvenation techniques and retreats can be booked for between three to ten nights and also come with an Ayurvedic cooking demonstration.

Neal’s Yard Holidays, Britain-wide

Vegan detox and juice detox spa breaks, yoga retreats and wellbeing retreats – whatever way you’re looking to recharge your batteries and kickstart a healthy lifestyle you’re likely to find it through the UK-based Neal’s Yard Holidays, which take place across a number of locations across Britain. North Yorkshire has been the location for its juice detox spa breaks, where, as well as staying in a beautiful venue, guests enjoy yoga and energy rebalancing workshops. There are also women-only wellbeing retreats that combine life coaching with meditation and gourmet raw food, while its yoga retreats take place across some of Britain’s most beautiful and tranquil locations.

Stoke Park, Buckinghamshire

Just over half an hour from London and only seven miles from Heathrow Airport, you’ll find Stoke Park Hotel in the heart of the beautiful Buckinghamshire countryside. Not only will the five-star luxury of this mansion house kickstart those endorphins to start you down a stress-free path, if your exercise of choice is tennis then you’re also in your dream location. Here you’ll find 13 tennis courts encompassing grass, clay and indoor, ideal for any level of player. Plus, it boasts a 4,000sqft gym for guests use, personal training and up to 40 exercise classes each week, a 27-hole Championship golf course, indoor pool and 14 acres of private gardens to stroll around. Relax after all that sport with some time in its award-winning spa and Scandinavian sauna.

7 amazing reasons to visit the Lake District this winter

7 amazing reasons to visit the Lake District this winter

48 Hours in Birmingham

Time to check in

As befits a city of its size, Birmingham has a multitude of hotels, ranging from budget chains to luxury properties and everything in between. The seven-storey, 131-bedroom Pentahotel is one of the city’s coolest properties – its bar, restaurant and lounge being a particular draw thanks to its funky décor – and is only a ten-minute walk from the train station, and just five from the city’s must-visit Bullring Shopping Centre. For boutique-style accommodation set within Victorian architecture, The Edgbaston – located in the Edgbaston neighbourhood of Birmingham, the famous home of cricket – has just expanded to offer 20 contemporary, individually styled bedrooms. You’ll find four-star luxury at the Genting Hotel, situated right at the heart of leisure and entertainment complex Resorts World Birmingham and, come early 2019, The Grand, a luxury, 180-room hotel with a restaurant and bar, a spa and a rooftop infinity pool, is due to open in one of the city’s best-known, Grade II-listed buildings.

DAY ONE

09:00 Did you know that Birmingham has more miles of canals than Venice, all of which are lined with beautifully restored industrial heritage landmarks or striking contemporary buildings? Embarking on a canal boat tour is one of the best ways to explore the city’s heritage. There are several routes to choose from, ranging from tours of the more modern developments of Birmingham to the city’s pretty suburbs and out further into the countryside.

11:00 Discover adventure in the heart of a city as you test your mental and physical abilities at Birmingham’s recently opened Bear Grylls Adventure, the TV presenter’s eponymous activities venue. Choose from thrilling climbing challenges, tackle extreme high-ropes courses, experience unadulterated joy as you free fall at indoor skydiving, or take a deep breath as you submerge for the underwater challenges. The adrenaline rush will set you up for the day ahead!

13:00 How about a botanical-inspired cocktail – think poppy and pomegranate martini or a sage and rhubarb spritz – created from greenhouse herbs grown on-site to accompany a hearty lunch in a charming venue? The Botanist evokes a secret garden atmosphere, its décor embellished with various knick-knacks and ornaments. The restaurant serves up BBQ, deli and rotisserie-based dishes such as its Famous Hanging Kebabs, ranging from Tandoori cod and king prawn to lamb kofta with harissa jam.

15:00 One of Britain’s most famous confectionary brands, Cadbury, was born and bred in Birmingham. Discover its story – as well as feast on as much chocolate as you can eat – at Cadbury World, 20 minutes from the city centre. You’ll find out how chocolate is made, explore the 4D Chocolate Adventure zone and the 4D cinema experiences and watch the chocolatiers at work. And don’t forget to stock up on treats at the world’s largest Cadbury shop on-site!

17:00 Make your way over to the Custard Factory, the city’s creative quarter, and enjoy a round of crazy golf against a backdrop of graffiti art and cool music at Ghetto Golf. After you’ve hit 18 holes sip a cocktail or two at its stylish bar.

19:00 Head back into the city centre for a meal at one of Birmingham’s newest dining experiences, Pint Shop. Located in a listed building dating back to 1860 in Birmingham’s former financial quarter, Bennett’s Hill, the restaurant focuses on a menu of seasonal British produce and local and national beers.

DAY TWO

09:00 Gain a genuine insight into what life was like in the Black Country (just west of Birmingham) as the region grew into one of the world’s first industrial landscapes at the Black Country Living Museum. This fascinating open-air museum is packed with original period shops, houses and villages, with costumed characters to relate stories of what it was like to live and work in the region in the mid-19th century. Plans are also under way to create a new town centre telling the story of the Black Country from the 1940s to the 1960s.

11:00 In addition to its well-documented industrial heritage, Birmingham is renowned for its jewellery and metalworking heritage. Head to the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter in the Jewellery Quarter to discover more – the museum is a perfect time capsule, built around a preserved jewellery workshop. Take a guided tour, explore the galleries and watch live jewellery-making demonstrations before exploring the Jewellery Quarter itself which, as well as the ideal place to search for a new bracelet or earrings, boasts a thriving arts scene.

13:00 Stop for a quick bite to eat at the Jewellery Quarter-based Rose Villa Tavern. Described as a ‘vintage Victorian mecca’ it’s a highly decorative venue (think antler chandeliers and artistic tiles), creating a lovely atmosphere in which to enjoy classic diner-style food, craft beers and maybe a sample of one of the 100 vodkas it stocks.

15:00 Birmingham has long been a magnet for TV and film producers; one of the biggest hits recently filmed here is Peaky Blinders, a show set in the city during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Discover Birmingham’s darker past on a Peaky Blinders-inspired walking tour. There are several tour companies offering such tours, as well as a host of other walking routes. BrumTours, for example, also runs a BrumPubs tour, a Birth of Birmingham tour and a Thousand Trades tour, as an homage to the city’s rich trading and manufacturing past.

17:00 Head to the neighbourhood of Digbeth, a cool, creative hub where street and graffiti artists have changed the outlook of the area’s classic red brick walls. Order a drink in one of the newest bars in the area, The Ruin, which also recently unveiled a mural-style map featuring 12 independent and unique neighbours, together called ‘The Digbeth Dozen’. Created by Birmingham graffiti artist Title (Andy Mills) it features venues such as the street-food focused Digbeth Dining Club, where you can stop by for a bite to eat on Fridays and Saturdays.

19:00 Birmingham is one of England’s cultural hubs, and an evening can be spent enjoying a production at one of its theatres. Check out the Birmingham Repertory Theatre for classic and contemporary theatre, the New Alexandra Theatre for its mix of musicals, comedy, drama and concerts, or the Midlands Arts Centre (MAC), which boasts four performance auditoria presenting a wide range of contemporary work across a variety of genres.

Getting there: Birmingham has its own international airport and can also be reached by train from both London and Manchester in 90 minutes.

12 festive things to do in London at Christmas

12 festive things to do in London at Christmas

New Year extravaganzas – where to welcome in 2019

2019 is almost upon us and Britain is preparing to celebrate the new year in style. Which destination will you choose to say farewell 2018, hello 2019?

LONDON

The capital is world-famous for its New Year’s Eve fireworks display over the London Eye, the largest such annual display to take place in the UK. Crowds gather all along the South Bank to hear Big Ben chime midnight as they enjoy the rainbow of colours lighting up the sky as they welcome in another year. This has been a ticketed event since 2014 and you can get yours here. Of course, even if you don’t get tickets to this coveted event, there are plenty of other ways to see the famous fireworks; head out onto the water on board one of City Cruises New Year’s Eve cruises on the River Thames for example, or book a table at one of the capital’s top restaurants that boast views overlooking the Thames, such as Galvin at Windows or the Aqua Shard.

Of course, London has numerous different venues that host their own special New Year’s Eve extravaganzas; how about partying the night way underneath the skeleton of Hope the blue whale, the largest creature to have ever lived, at the Natural History Museum’s New Year’s Eve Party Animals event? On the night you can also try your luck at Musical Bingo, sample edible insects, explore two blockbuster exhibitions, and dance the night away in the Silent Disco.

There’s also Silent Disco fun to be had at the City of London’s Grade II-listed Banking Hall, a stunning Art Deco building. Or be transported back in time to some 1940s-style fun, courtesy of live big bands and a swing dance class at the Blitz Party New Year’s Eve at Shoreditch’s Village Underground, which will be transformed into an air-raid shelter for the occasion.

EDINBURGH

Edinburgh’s Hogmanay is one of the world’s biggest New Year’s Eve celebrations. This year, on 31 December, Scottish indie sensations Franz Ferdinand will top the bill at the Concert in the Gardens main stage in the Scottish capital’s iconic West Princes Street Gardens, supported by Metronomy and Free Love. The gig will be followed by a jaw-dropping firework display over Edinburgh Castle and, a ticket for Concert in the Gardens also includes access to the famous Street Party! Every reveller to the Street Party will receive a free dram of host Johnnie Walker’s whisky to see in the new year and guests can throw some shapes at the silent disco. Alternatively, you can toast 2019 with a whirl or a jig at the Ceilidh under the Castle event before enjoying the fireworks display.

Like London, Edinburgh has a multitude of venue choices to see in the New Year; arts and music institution located in the Old Town, Cabaret Voltaire, is hosting its ‘Psychedelic Wizard of Oz’ event, where the year turns back to 1990 and guests are whisked down the Yellow Brick Road on a journey to Oz. If classical music is more your thing, head to the stunning 19th-century building McEwan Hall, which will host Symphonic Ibiza, classic Ibiza anthems played by a 20-strong orchestra.

NEWCASTLE

Considering that little ones also like to enjoy the fun of welcoming in a new year but may not be able to stay up until midnight on 31 December, Newcastle in north-east England is putting on brilliant family friendly fireworks display at the Newcastle Civic Centre. The afternoon will be packed with entertainment such as music and street theatre before the fireworks display at 6pm.

For a more mature evening, check out the New Year’s Eve celebrations at the iconic Sage Gateshead, where orchestral pop band The Divine Comedy will be performing alongside after guests have enjoyed a four-course meal. Or you could head to music venue the O2 Academy for a party led by Monta Musica, one of Newcastle’s most well-known music producers. Beer lovers should head to the Wylam Brewery, which will host The Whole Hogmany III at Exhibition Park Palace of Arts – expect a hog roast, 36 taps of craft keg beers and pop-up bars, a street food village, a gin palace and fireworks at midnight.

MANCHESTER

Marking the end of the north-west England city’s Christmas season will be a spectacular fireworks display outside the iconic Manchester Hall in Albert Square. Poignantly, big screens will display poetry and messages during the event, including This is the Place by Tony Walsh, which was embraced by the city following the attack on the Arena earlier in the year.

Manchester’s venues also put on great parties come 31 December. Want to time travel back to the 1990s? Head to All Star Lanes for a New Year’s Eve with a ‘90s twist – come dressed in your finest neon and dance to the party tunes of the decade at this popular bowling alley. Journey further back in time to the 1920s for a Gatsby-style celebration at The Fitzgerald in the bohemian Northern Quarter, where live entertainment, burlesque dancers, DJs and a jazz band will evoke the Roaring Twenties. And, if you’ve got the stamina, you can party for 24 hours at The Liquor Store’s famous New Year’s Eve party. Start at midday on New Year’s Eve and keep on celebrating until midday on New Year’s Day. Keeping you energised will be live music, pizza, games and prizes plus a Jager Fountain.

CARDIFF

Wales’ capital city will be heralding the new year with a spectacular firework display at the beautiful City Hall. And a great spot to watch those is from Cardiff’s Winter Wonderland (which runs until 6 January), particularly if you’re skating on its ice rink during the special New Year’s Eve 11.30pm-midnight slot. Other attractions to enjoy on the night include a fun fair with some hair-raising rides including The 90ft Tower!

Elsewhere in the city centre, Cardiff’s pubs, bars, clubs and restaurants will be packed with revellers enjoying a whole range of parties. Fond of a craft beer or two? Check out the New Year’s Eve party at BrewDog Cardiff, which will host a ‘BREW Year party’. Tickets include limited edition beers, tapas and a table for your party. Another ‘Brew Year’s Eve’ can be found at the Brewhouse & Kitchen, where a dinner party ticket gets you a three-course meal before the music and dancing starts.  

AND FOR SOMETHING A LITTLE DIFFERENT…

Britain is well-known for its quirky traditions, and New Year’s Eve is no exception. Here are a just a few that might tempt you to spend a New Year’s Eve quite unlike any other you’ve experienced…

Fireball Ceremony at Stonehaven – in a pretty harbour town just south of Aberdeen in north Scotland is an astonishing ceremony where a group of people parade through the High Street swinging flaming balls above their heads, accompanied by bagpipers, as the clocks strike midnight on 31 December. The fireballs are then thrown into the harbour waters. Its free for visitors to watch and the event culminates in a fireworks display.

Comrie Flambeaux Procession – Scotland is well known for its love of Hogmanay celebrations and the small village of Comrie in Perthshire, around 90 minutes from both Edinburgh and Glasgow, is no exception when it comes to celebrating. This ancient fire festival – originally believed to cleanse the village at the start of each year – sees people bearing torches through the village before poles are lit and bagpipes played at midnight. Before this all happens there’s a children’s fancy dress parade and fireworks display earlier in the evening.

The Allendale Tar Bar’l – this fire festival takes place in the Northumberland town of Allendale in north-east England, around 45 minutes’ drive from Newcastle. More than 40 local men, bedecked in fancy dress, form a procession through the town carrying whisky barrels containing burning hot tar. The music-led procession ends at a ceremonial bonfire at midnight and the party begins!

48 Hours on….The Wales Way

Recently launched, The Wales Way is a group of three national touring routes crossing the country’s most epic landscapes, showcasing its fascinating history, coastlines and attractions. The routes demonstrate how Wales is a destination for experience-seeking travellers, willing to explore off-the-beaten track locations along The North Wales Way, The Cambrian Way and The Coastal Way, all year round. Here we take a look at how to spend 48 hours across the Cambrian Way, a north to south journey of the country, stretching 185 miles (300km) along what is known as the ‘mountainous spine’ of Wales.

 

DAY ONE

09:00 Begin your journey in the vibrant capital city of Wales, Cardiff, and gain an insight into the country you’re about to traverse with a visit to the National Museum of Wales. Discover Wales’ national art, geology and natural history collections as well as major touring and temporary exhibitions…and it’s all for free! Visit from now until 24 February 2019 and explore the world-renowned Artes Mundi, a biennial international art exhibition and prize.

11:00 Travel on half an hour out of Cardiff to the Royal Mint Experience in Llantrisant. The Royal Mint makes and distributes British coins and official medals for around 60 countries every year and visitors can take a guided tour of the manufacturing areas to discover how coins are created, plus the chance to strike your own coin. The experience concludes with an interactive exhibition.

13:00 Did you know that more than 20 different grape varieties are grown in vineyards across Wales? Stop to discover seven of those varieties, as you arrive at the Brecon Beacons National Park and a tour of the Sugar Loaf Vineyards near Abergavenny. The vineyard produces three whites, a rosé and, if the weather is in its favour, a red. You’ll also be rewarded with lovely views of the Usk Valley and be sure to stop for some lunch in its coffee shop – any non-drivers should, of course, order a glass of wine to go with it!

15:00 Another hour’s drive will take you to the stunning Farmers’ Lavender Fields near Builth Wells, which produce the scented oils that are used in the Farmers’ body care creams and lotions range. The farm is open year-round (although peak time for lavender is midsummer) for visitors to embark on self-guided tours and, out of season, the distillery is open for visitors see how lavender flowers produce essential oil. Stock up on body care products and a range of beautiful gifts in its shop as well as enjoying some tea and cake in the tea shop.

17:00 45 minutes from the lavender fields is the pretty market town of Llanidloes, a beautiful spot at the gateway to the Cambrian Mountains and also, intriguingly, that lays at the heart of Arwystli, an ancient medieval kingdom. It’s a pleasant spot to stop and settle in for the evening.

19:00 Dine out in town, which boasts a range of eateries. In the mood for homemade pies or succulent steaks? Check out Bistro Hafren. Fish and chips take your fancy? Head to the town’s Evans Fish Bar. And, for some after-dinner drinks accompanied by live music, take a walk to the Old Mill Bar, a café-bar set in a former flannel mill.

 

Time to check in

Llanidloes is well-served by charming bed and breakfast accommodation. Among them are the prettily named Unicorn Hotel, which offers six classic rooms, and The Whistling Badger, a historic pub that has been operating for more than 100 years, which offers three rooms. 

DAY TWO

09:00 Just over an hour’s drive from Llanidloes and you’ll hit the start of Snowdonia National Park and the amazing viewpoint Bwlch y Groes. Meaning ‘Pass of the Cross’, this mountain pass stands at 1,788 feet/545 metres above sea level and is well worth travelling through for some epic views.  

10:00 Take advantage of being in the adventure playground that is the Snowdonia National Park and check out some seriously thrilling activities to get the adrenaline pumping! Ever wanted to try surfing…inland? Surf Snowdonia (due to reopen in Spring 2019) is a 300-metre lagoon in the heart of the Conwy Valley countryside where, along with surfing, you can try out a watery assault course and have fun at its Crash & Splash Lagoon. Alternatively, Zip World, near the historic mining town of Blaenau Ffestiniog, is the place to go to bounce and slide through a huge underground net adventure, climb through a unique underground course in a disused slate mine or zip down Europe’s largest zipwire!

12:30 To wind down after all that adventure, explore somewhere a little statelier; Gwydir Castle, half an hour from Zip World and sitting on the edge of Snowdonia National Park. Once the ancestral home of the local, powerful Wynn family, it has a long tradition of entertaining royalty and is regarded as one of Wales’ finest Tudor houses.

14:00 Travel on 40 minutes and you’ll arrive at the splendid Bodnant Estate, set in picturesque countryside with wonderful views across to Snowdonia. Explore the magnificent Bodnant Hall, its terraced gardens, lawns and wild garden, admire the stone cottages (that you can also stay in) and farm buildings that were restored using traditional techniques and materials, as well as its Garden Centre and Craft Centre.

17:00 Head north on a 20-minute drive from the Bodnant Estate and you’ll arrive in the seaside retreat of Llandudno in north Wales. Its beautiful beaches have made this a popular resort since the Victorian era, while fans of Alice in Wonderland will enjoy taking part in the town’s Alice in Wonderland trails (the real Alice, Alice Liddell, spent time at her family’s holiday home in Llandudno). The town is also home to Wales’ longest pier (built in 1876), which stretches 2,295ft/700 metres out to sea. Just 15 minutes’ drive away is the seaside town of Conwy – home to the spectacular medieval Conwy Castle, built by England’s King Edward I; climb up to its battlements for incredible views across the sea and the town.

19:30 Time to feast on local delicacies such as pot roast of Welsh beef or slow-braised shoulder of Conwy Valley lamb, a sample of dishes that can be found at the town’s Bistro Bach. For dining at a proper Welsh country pub, try The Cottage Loaf, a charming inn of wooden beams and log fires serving a menu of seasonal specials and pub classics created from ingredients that are as locally sourced as possible.

Time to check in

Llandudno offers a good accommodation mix of hotels, townhouses and B&Bs. One of the most elegant and luxurious is Bodysgallen Hall & Spa, just south of the town centre; a romantic hotel set in a Grade I-listed country house with stunning gardens to match, guests will also love its gorgeous views over both the mountains and the sea.

The Quay Hotel & Spa located on the Conwy Estuary, affords amazing views over the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Conwy Castle and has fantastic leisure facilities, while if you’re looking for something a little more central to town, the luxurious rooms at St George’s Hotel overlook Llandudno’s glorious seascape, which are particularly good from its rooms with balconies on The Rooftop.

Getting there: Cardiff, at the start of the Cambrian Way, has an international airport and is 2.5 hours by train from London. Llandudno, at the end of the journey, is a two-hour train journey from Manchester, and three hours from London. 

Ten cool hotels to have on your radar in 2019

Suitcases at the ready – some fabulously cool hotels are set to open in Britain next year, each bringing their own unique vibe as they set to join the ‘hottest properties to stay at’ lists.

The Hard Rock Hotel, London

Get ready to rock – located on the corner of Oxford Street and Park Lane in the conversion of the existing Cumberland Hotel, the legendary Hard Rock Hotel is scheduled to open its new London property in Spring next year. With 900 rooms and suites, together with two bars and a Hard Rock Cafe®, Hard Rock Hotel London will pay tribute in its memorabilia collection to former residents such as Jimi Hendrix, Diana Ross, Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder and Madonna. The lobby will house its world-famous Rock Shop® featuring Hard Rock merchandise, and guests seeking the ultimate experience will have the opportunity to elevate their status and become Rock Royalty®. These luxurious Rock Royalty rooms and suites will offer extra perks including a personal concierge and access to a lavish lounge.

The DogHouse, Aberdeenshire, north Scotland

Beer lovers rejoice; independent craft brewer BrewDog has announced plans to build the world’s first craft beer hotel – wittily called The DogHouse – and will launch this immersive craft beer hotel and brewery expansion at its headquarters in Aberdeenshire, north Scotland. Set to welcome guests in the first half of 2019, the 26-room hotel will feature beer taps in the rooms, a built-in shower beer fridge, while the rooms will overlook the brewery itself. Guests will also be able to watch brewers at work from rooms overlooking the new facility.

Vineyard hotel at Denbies Wine Estate, Surrey, south-east England

If wine is more your favourite tipple, look no further than England’s largest single estate vineyard, which, come Spring 2019, will have converted its existing farmhouse accommodation into what is being billed as the UK’s first vineyard hotel. Set on the Denbies estate in the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and offering panoramic views across the vineyard and North Downs Way, the new hotel will have 17 en-suite bedrooms, an Orangery-style garden restaurant, outdoor dining cabanas and its own ‘Enomatic™ wine dispensing machine’ – meaning guests can taste and purchase Denbies wine by the glass. Plus, there’ll be complimentary wine tasting tutorials. Cheers to that!

art'otel Hoxton, London

What could be cooler than staying in a hotel with its own art gallery? art’otel plans to open its first property in London in the neighbourhood of Hoxton, which will be an 18-storey, 350-bedroom contemporary hotel. As well as an art gallery located in the publicly accessible arts centre, plans are said to include a top-floor restaurant and bar and luxury spa. Another art’otel property to have on your radar is the one the hotel group is said to be opening near the historic Battersea Power Station in the new Nine Elms district, south London.

Grantley Hall, Yorkshire Dales, north England

When Spring rolls round, the doors are set to open on a new five-star luxury country resort hotel and spa, set in a grand 17th-century house on its own island! Situated between the elegant Yorkshire towns of Ripon and Harrogate, Grantley Hall is being restored to its former early 20th-century glory and guests will be able to choose from 47 rooms and suites, four restaurants, three bars, a private members club, a spa pool, state-of-the-art gym and elite performance centre. The elegance continues outside; explore gorgeous landscaped gardens, which including a 1910 Japanese Garden that features on Historic England’s National Heritage List.

Stock Exchange Hotel, Manchester, north-west England

If you’re a football fan, the newest hotel owned by Manchester United legends Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville should be on your hotel hot list. The former footballers-turned-hoteliers are transforming Manchester’s beautiful old Stock Exchange building into a five-star boutique hotel, with 40 bedrooms, two presidential suites, two restaurants and private dining in the wine cellars for up to 100 people. The hotel is due to open in Spring 2019.

The Pig at Bridge Place, Kent, south-east England

Joining the litter of Pig Hotels, The Pig at Bridge Place in Kent is due to open in Spring. Its home is within a 17th-century manor house that may once have been the refined Bridge Place Country Club but was also host to some legendary parties and gigs in its time – Led Zeppelin even played here in the 1970s. Its 28 bedrooms will be enhanced by period features such as large fireplaces, secret stairways and panelled rooms, and there’ll be a further 12 bedrooms in its new Coach House. As with all Pigs, the kitchen garden and restaurant will be at the heart of this new property, and anything that can’t be supplied by the gardens will be sourced from the best producers within a 25-mile (40-km) radius. Also keep an eye out for another Pig opening towards the end of 2019; The Pig at Harlyn Bay, Cornwall, south-west England.

Market Street Hotel, Edinburgh, Scotland

Early 2019 will see Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh, welcome a property from the Carlton House Collection, called Market Street Hotel. Situated on the edge of Edinburgh’s gorgeous Old Town, the historic nature of the building means lovely high ceilings and plenty of historic references, although the 98 bedrooms will be contemporary, urban-styled rooms with ante-room bathrooms. Its top floor is intriguingly being described as a ‘Champagne city residence’ and will offer wonderful vistas across the city.

The Crescent, Buxton, Derbyshire, north-west England

Get ready for some serious indulgence as the historic spa town of Buxton, Derbyshire, welcomes an 80-bedroom, five-star spa hotel to the Grade I-listed architectural masterpiece The Crescent. The hotel will be part of the overall transformation of The Crescent – which originally opened in 1789 and is one of the most architecturally significant buildings in Britain – and guests will also have access to the splendid Assembly Rooms, a thermal natural mineral water spa in the Natural Baths plus to the six prestigious retail premises along the front ground façade.

The Grand, Birmingham, central England

The chance to stay in hotels housed in some of Britain’s most iconic architectural sights continues in Birmingham, where one of the city’s best-known, Grade II-listed buildings is to be redeveloped into a luxury, 180-room hotel with a restaurant and bar, a spa and a rooftop infinity pool. While the hotel is scheduled to open in early 2019, several lovely bars and cafés have already set up home in the development - The Alchemist, Gusto and 200 Degrees cafe – that hotel guests will have easy access to.

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The best seafood in Devon & Cornwall