The Lonely Planet named north Wales one of the top regions in the world to visit in 2017; this part of the country has become a renowned adventure playground, so brace yourself for unforgettable, exhilarating experiences! Begin at Zip World Velocity in Bethesda – just over 1.5 hours’ drive from Liverpool, north-west England. Fly down Europe’s fastest and longest zip line, exceeding 100mph, with views as far as Ireland. Let the adrenalin rush settle (for the time being!) and drive 30 minutes to the picturesque village of Betws-y-Coed for a riverside walk and well-earned lunch.
Wales has all the ingredients for an unforgettable road trip: imposing castles, delicious destination restaurants and jaw-dropping scenery across three National Parks. Adrenaline junkies will be thrilled in north Wales, where you can climb the mountain Sir Edmund Hillary trained on before climbing Everest, and soar like a bird at 100mph on Europe’s longest, fastest zip-line. Coasteering was pioneered in south-west Wales, so jump in and become addicted to a truly Welsh watersport. When it comes to downtime, Wales spoils visitors with tree-houses to sleep in and clear views of the galaxies to gaze at in its International Dark Sky Reserve.
Day 1: Epic adventures in north Wales
20 minutes’ drive south, continue in the daredevil vein at Blaenau Ffestiniog, home to Zip World Titan, a phenomenal group zipping experience. Next, reach dizzying heights again, but underground at the extremely popular Bounce Below. One for the child in everyone, Bounce Below is a series of huge trampolines and nets in a former slate mine that’s as big as the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral. Curiously, these same slate caverns are used by the South Caernarfon Creameries to make ‘Welsh slate cavern aged cheddar’ – a foodie first (and very delicious) – look out for it on your trip.
When it comes to where to base yourself, there are plenty of great accommodation options for adventurers. Plas Curig is a fantastic five-star hostel with private rooms as well as dormitories, 30 minutes’ drive from Blaenau Ffestiniog. Also 30 minutes away is the Pen-Y-Gwryd, a favourite with mountaineers for more than 200 years – famously, the hotel hosted Sir Edmund Hillary while he and his team trained for the first successful Everest ascent in 1953. Or wake up to a morning surf – Surf Snowdonia is a world-first inland lagoon in Dolgarrog (approx. 35 minutes from Blaenau Ffestiniog), with on-site glamping pods that sleep up to four people.
Day 2: Fine food and fabulous fortresses
North Wales is a magnet for gourmet travellers and heritage lovers. You’ll find superb restaurants and food stores, plus not one, but four UNESCO World Heritage Sites to explore. Start your day at Bodnant Food Centre, approximately 10 minutes’ drive from Surf Snowdonia (30-35 minutes from both Plas Curig and Pen-Y-Gwryd): inhale the comforting smell of freshly-baked Welsh cakes, and treat yourself to one (or three) for breakfast.
Planning a picnic? Three quarters of the food and drink stocked at Bodnant’s Farm Shop is purely Welsh – look out for organically foraged Snowdonia Gin (great for gifts) and local craft beers (great for a sundowner later!). Next, head to Conwy, 15 minutes away, a tiny town home to both an imposing castle and the smallest house in Britain! If the Conwy Feast is on (October), stay put for a fantastic feed, or hop back in the car and drive just over 30 minutes to Sosban and The Old Butchers. Awarded a Michelin star for 2017, Sosban’s lunch menu is just £34; book ahead.
Well-fed, you’re also well-placed for more castle exploration. Caernarfon Castle, a short walk from Sosban, is another breathtaking example of King Edward I’s might, in amazing shape despite being built in the 13th century. Next, drive approx. 30 minutes across the Menai Bridge to compare notes with Beaumaris, ‘the most technically perfect castle in Britain’ and the largest Edward I had built. You’re now on the romantic Isle of Anglesey, where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge first lived as newlyweds. Swing by at Halen Môn HQ, where the world-famous Anglesey sea salt is made (the behind the scenes tour is fascinating), then drive to Holyhead to take in the view of the sun setting over the sea behind the spectacularly-sited South Stack Lighthouse, before heading back to base.
Day 3: Summit of Snowdon and sweet dreams
You’ve conquered several castles – now it’s time to take on Snowdon. The highest mountain in Wales sits at the heart of Snowdonia National Park at 1085 metres high. Six paths lead to the summit, ranging from gentle to challenging; there’s also a mountain railway from Llanberis and you can opt to take the train up and walk down to mix things up. However you do it, check the weather before you walk and ensure you take the right path for your level.
Next, drive to Portmeirion (approx. 1 hour from Llanberis). This seaside village was the vision of architect Sir Bertram Clough Williams-Ellis, developed from 1925-1975. Its charming pastel-coloured houses and piazzas are complemented by bright floral displays and an elegant hotel. Portmeirion draws a fun-loving crowd in early September each year with Festival No 6: three days of live music, carnival parades, dressing up and dancing (party-lovers might also like to check out The Good Life Experience in Flintshire, north Wales, later in the month). After lunch continue on towards your enchanting home for the night, reached via a scenic coastal drive.
Fforest has three sites in Cardigan, west Wales (2 hours 30 minutes from Portmeirion). At each you’re invited to step back to a simpler time, reconnect with nature and let the stunning surroundings inspire and refresh you. Visit the on-site pub to sample Fforest’s own craft beer, enjoy a cosy dinner at the Pizza Tipi and then lay your head in a cabin, bell tent or spaceship-like dome. Always wanted to wake up in a treehouse? It doesn’t get much more fairy-tale than living-room’s cosy treetop homes, each furnished with wood-burning stoves, woolly blankets and balconies overlooking the forest. Treehouses are in Machynlleth (1 hour from Portmeirion) and must be booked for a minimum of two nights.
Day 4: Adrenaline-pumping Pembrokeshire
Tear yourself away from your idyllic surroundings and head towards St Davids, 1 hour from Cardigan or 2 hours 30 minutes from Machynlleth. The visual feast continues as you enter your second National Park and drive through stunning landscapes to reach Britain’s smallest city. Named after Wales’ patron saint, St Davids has long been a sacred city – at one time it was said that ‘two pilgrimages to St Davids is equal to one to Rome’. Today, this part of Wales is as much a pilgrimage for thrill-seekers as it is for those looking to visit the city’s impressive Cathedral and Bishop’s Palace.
Fuel up with some lunch – the café at Oriel Y Parc Gallery has deliciously hearty meals – and get ready for an awesome afternoon adventure. Coasteering, which was pioneered in Pembrokeshire , involves getting around a coastline by any means possible, whether that means leaping off cliffs, caving, swimming or scrambling – usually a combination of all these. The first leap into the water is usually the most nerve-wracking, but after that you’ll be addicted! Coasteering providers all around Pembrokeshire’s coast provide trained instructors, and will kit you out with a helmet, wetsuit and buoyancy aid – TYF has its headquarters in St Davids.
For dinner, head to Cwtch, a cosy yet elegant restaurant in the heart of St Davids that serves an excellent-value seasonal menu starring the best local produce. You’ll be ready for a deep sleep after the afternoon’s excitement – Ramsey House is a welcoming and classy five-star B&B, or for luxury, book into the city’s new art hotel Twr Y Felin. Preseli Ventures, who run coasteering expeditions about 20 minutes outside St Davids have a purse-friendly on-site eco-lodge and beautiful glamping facilities.
Day 5: Sea-life, seafood and starry nights
Voyages of Discovery run excellent boat tours from St Davids, offering the chance to see the fascinating wildlife that makes its home on these shores, including whales, dolphins, seals and tens of thousands of migrating shearwaters. Depending on the time of year, you may spot arguably the cutest creature of them all: puffins. These brightly-beaked birds make the islands of Pembrokeshire their home from April to July.
From St Davids, continue your road trip around the coast, stopping off at stunning beaches and quaint little villages. For a delicious sea-view, seafood lunch, make a beeline for Dale, where The Griffin Inn serves a super-fresh catch of the day, sourced by the restaurant’s own fisherman each morning (approx.50 minutes’ drive from St Davids).
For a stunning dining room panorama – with fabulous food to match – head to Coast Saundersfoot, a stylish restaurant on the southern side of Pembrokeshire, approx. 1 hour from St Davids.
Continue towards your third National Park of the trip: The Brecon Beacons. Flower fanatics should make sure they stop off at the National Botanic Garden of Wales on the way (approx. 40 minutes from Saundersfoot), where you can ogle at the largest single-span glasshouse in the world and the many treasures within.
There are plenty of places in and around the Brecon Beacons to base yourself, from cottages to castles, such as (supposedly haunted) Craig Y Nos. Wherever you choose, stay up late and get a view of the stars – the National Park is a designated International Dark Sky Reserve.
Marvel at the Milky Way, the Ursa Major (Great Bear), North Star and even meteor showers. Some hotels, such as Llangoed Hall, have their own telescope, but the skies here are so free of light pollution that even the naked eye will be able to appreciate the dazzling display.
Day 6: Explore the National Park
The National Park is full of energetic activities and more relaxing ones.
On your way back to Cardiff, make sure to stop at the Penderyn Distillery – these producers of award-winning whisky, gin and other spirits and liqueurs use the crystal-clear waters of the Brecon Beacons National Park; tour the distillery and stock up on the ‘golden nectar’ to prolong your trip with the flavours of Wales when you get home.
It takes less than 3 hours to travel between London Heathrow Airport and Cardiff (via London Paddington). Cardiff is just over 2 hours from London by rail, while north Wales is easily accessible from Liverpool (2 hours by rail to Bangor, approx. 1 hour 40 minutes’ drive) and Manchester Airport (just over 3 hours by rail, 1 hour 30 minutes by car).