Wales is a country with a wild landscape filled with ancient tradition. From the Preseli Hills of Pembrokeshire, origin of the bluestones at Stonehenge almost two hundred miles away, to the legends of Merlin and King Arthur, it has always held visitors in its thrall. No matter where you stay in Wales, the feeling of being in a magical place reaches out and grabs your spirit. Here are just six places to stay among many that are guaranteed to give you an enchanting holiday experience.
The Boat House Bed & Breakfast
This lovely B&B (which serves an all homemade local menu) lies on the edge of the Tâf estuary in the ancient township of Laugharne in South West Wales. Its haunting atmosphere is in no small part due to the legend of its most famous resident, poet Dylan Thomas, who composed many of his best works in his home, which is nearby, a museum now and open to the public. The estuary itself is connected with the open sea and sea water enters it with the rhythm of the tides, covering the sands and then withdrawing in a never-ending cycle. The light is different there, something that lingers like the sheen of a pearl.
Nearby is The Great Glass House of the National Botanic Garden of Wales. A short boat journey takes you to Skomer Island, a birdwatchers dream where there are dolphins and grey seals that make it seem a magical place. The ruins of Laugharne Castle evoke the 12th century origins of the town. There are marvelous walks to be taken and the area is surrounded by some of the best beaches on the Pembrokeshire coastline.
St. George’s Hotel
Harken back to Victorian traditions at the St. George’s in Llandudno, Conwy, on the North Wales Coast. It was the first hotel built in Llandudno, 150 years ago. The rooms offer sea views and exquisite service. There is an elegant front lobby and rooms with paneled ceilings and chandeliers. St. George’s offers grand food, including a dessert menu with unusual recipes, like Panacotta with Coconut and Lemongrass, Pineapple Compote, Basil, and Honey Tuile. This immense building lends itself to beautiful views across the Creuddyn peninsula, which stretches out into the Irish Sea. The wide, curving Llandudno Promenade in front of the hotel has been visited by kings and queens and is open to pedestrians and cyclists.
The summit of the Great Orme rises behind St. George’s and is a landmark in the area. The sheer limestone cliffs of the Great Orme host a wide variety of birds, including cormorants, razorbills, puffins, numerous gulls, and peregrine falcons. A sightseeing cable car runs along the Great Orme for a distance of just over one mile.
The town is filled with Celtic lore, and many of the high street shops show this. Ancient Welsh tales of Taliesin and Maelgwn Gwynedd are associated with the local landscape. One of its famous residents was the mystic Dion Fortune, who later maintained a residence in Glastonbury and ran a center at the base of the Glastonbury Tor. Whether staying in Llandudno for a few days or a week or more, it is a place you will find hard to leave.
Royal Oak Hotel
The Royal Oak Hotel is in Betws-y-Coed, in the Snowdonia National Park, North Wales. On first view it looks like a castle of its own, with ivy and wisteria climbing the stone walls. Inside, the stairwells have original stained glass, there are views from the rooms over the Llugwy River (known for its majestic waterfalls), and the accommodations are very comfortable (and warm!) Unique to this hotel is the angelic sound of a resident harpist during the evening dining.
Snowdonia is a walker’s paradise, and there are trails and paths to take in every direction to special sites or just to while away the hours. The Royal Oak staff supply a packed lunch. You can take this into the Gwydyr Forest Park, which contains many remains of former metal mines. Below the surface of the forest lies a labyrinth of tunnels that run to scores of miles. Most metal mining occurred between 1850 and 1919, but there is also evidence to be seen of some shallow mining carried out by the Romans who were in the area almost two thousand years ago.
Caernarfon Castle is nearby to the north, a fortress built by Edward the 1st in the 13th century. Just south of the Royal Oak Hotel is Portmeirion Village and Gardens. This fascinating area was the setting used to film the cult series “The Prisoner,” with Patrick McGoohan, in the 1960s.
The Royal Oak Hotel also has a spa-like salon and indoor swimming pool that is lovely on rainy days.
Lake Vyrnwy Hotel and Spa
This hotel in Powys is called one of Wales’ great country houses, first established 120 years ago in the Vrnwy valley. It is in a magical landscape, with its own fairytale tower in the middle of the lake. There is also the massive stone aqueduct, the Vyrnwy Dam built in 1879, a wonder of nineteenth-century engineering. Moorland and forest surround it, and it is considered one of the best Welsh estates for sporting, including rock-climbing, cycling, and horseback riding. Local walks and nature trails are side-by-side with National Trails. Butterflies and dragonflies abound, and it is a birdwatcher’s heaven with ninety species of birds. Heather covers the moorland.
The area has wild landscapes, too, and villages filled with the history of a Wales that never did succumb to all the various invaders who crossed over into England for a steady thousand years. The hotel itself has a complete spa where visitors can rest and forget their stress as they gaze out at the lake and countryside.
The haunting loveliness of the hotels just described carries over into the next two places to stay in Wales, with the addition that these two (among others) also boast a ghost or two!
Photo: Jim Linwood
This is a stunning and elegant retreat beside the Clwydian Range in Denbighshire, North Wales. It dates back to the 1200s and has a Medieval Banqueting Hall where people gather in costume and celebrate the way they did over 700 years ago. The bar in the hotel is set up as a library, filled with easy chairs and a fireplace. They rightly claim the comfort of the rooms would suit royalty.
Still, there is a mystery the castle holds, and more than one apparition. Lady Grey is the most well-known. As the story goes (from centuries before), she discovered her husband was having an affair with one of the peasant girls, and she took her revenge by killing the girl. She was tried and executed, but as the legend tells it, she has never left the castle. Visitors purport to see her in the banqueting hall and wandering over the battlements. Visitors have also seen the ghost of a soldier who wears just one glove and haunts the grounds. What has appeared most often to people are orbs of light appearing in the air, staying for a few minutes before blinking out. More often than can be explained, these orbs have shown up on photographs. All of it adds to the enchantment of this retreat.
Baskerville Hall Hotel
In Powys, Wales, on the border of Wales and England, close to the internationally famous town of books Hay-on-Wye, this castle lives up to its name and makes a marvelous stopover. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle loved this grand hall and it inspired his story “Hound of the Baskervilles.” But not only the ghost of a great hound haunts this place. The paranormal has found a home for itself. Visitors have seen “The White Lady” in the rose garden and the apparition of a man on the main staircase. Guests as well as the people who work in the hotel constantly hear banging noises and footsteps at night along the corridors.
The hotel itself overlooks the Wye Valley, which lies on the border of the Brecon Beacons and Black Mountain National Park, giving much opportunity for walking. The nearby Hay on Wye has a population of less than 2000, but during its annual Festival of Literature and the Arts that number increases to 80,000 and more over a period of ten days at the beginning of June. Literary names attend from all over the planet. It contains dozens of second-hand bookshops and stores with antiques.
The landscape of Wales evokes a mystical vision at times that lingers long after you have left its shores.