For scenic driving holidays in the United Kingdom, Wales is hard to beat. It has craggy mountains, beautiful coastal scenery, and some call it the castle capital of the world! Here I have put together my recommendation for a week-long driving holiday in Wales, based on my experience travelling there.
Chepstow and Tintern Abbey
Starting your journey in the south, spend the first day and night in Chepstow, a charming town with its own historic castle. Wales once had around 400 hundred castles and at least 100 of them are still at least partly standing.
Nearby is Tintern Abbey, which I have visited twice and the beauty of this monastic ruin continues to enthral me. Founded in 1131 by the lord of Chepstow and rebuilt in the 13th century, its community was ended by Henry VIII. Set amid the serene hills of the Wye river valley, Tintern’s empty windows look out onto rich forest and the massive pillars and delicate stonework can’t fail to impress.
From Chepstow drive inland via Abergavenny to the Brecon Beacons National Park. This is beautiful driving country but remember that driving in Wales can be slow with the winding roads so take care.
Monmouthshire is quite the foodie region so stop for lunch in Abergavenny. There are gastro pubs, fish and chip shops, traditional tea rooms and even Michelin-starred restaurants.
The Brecon Beacons
The Brecon Beacons is well supplied with walking, mountain biking and horse riding paths, as well as wildlife-watchers. You might want to conquer the highest peak – Pen y Fan. I love the lake of Llangorse for waterside strolling and the ancient Crannog homestead. An amazing place to stay is the Craig y Nos castle hotel, which is set in a lovely country park and has a colourful history!
The Gower Peninsula
Next drive west to the Gower Peninsula, which has the most beautiful beaches I’ve seen in the United Kingdom so make time for at least a day here. This was the first place in Britain to be designated with that quaint phrase: “Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty”. Three Cliffs, Tor Bay, Rhossili and Oxwich Bay all have walking, horse riding, paddling and lazing in the sun on the agenda.
They call Pembrokeshire ‘little England in Wales’ but it has its own character and is one of the prettiest areas in Wales. St David’s may be the smallest city in Britain but its cathedral is magnificent. There’s also the ruin of the 13th-century Bishops Palace and visit St Non’s Well, which overlooks St Brides Bay and the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. After St David’s carry on to the Pembrokeshire National Park and do a little walking along the coast.
Now spend a day making your way north along the coast from Pembrokeshire to Snowdonia. The traditional fishing town and seaside resort of New Quay on Cardigan Bay is a lovely place to stop and enjoy a stroll around the harbour and on the big sandy beaches.
This is where the scenery gets really spectacular. Leave behind the pretty villages and get into the mountains of the Snowdonia National Park. Over 800 square miles of green valleys rising to craggy peaks, lakes and waterfalls, and dense forests. The Welsh call it Eryri, “the place of the eagles”. Climbing the highest mountain in Wales – Mt Snowden is a must (if that seems too much you can always get the train).
A good base to stay in Snowdonia is Betws-y-Coed, or one of the surrounding villages. From here you can spend a few days walking or climbing in the hills and also do a day trip to Conwy. On the way you might like to stop (just beyond Bangor) at Penryn Castle, a splendid Victorian mock castle.
Conwy is a magnificent walled town built around a mighty keep and one of my favourite castles to explore in the United Kingdom, and it’s a World Heritage Site. I loved walking round the walls and because there are so many of the internal buildings still extant you can get a real feel for how it must have been back in medieval times. The view from the top of the walls over the Menai Strait and the river is wonderful.
If you like trains, drive to the holiday in Wales. This narrow gauge line is often serviced by unique double Fairlie engines and it is quite something to experience them pulling up the steep gradients. If you have time break journey at Tan y Bwlch and follow the nature trail through the trees down to the lake.
By Natasha von Geldern
Have you travelled in Wales? Would you like to share your own recommendations?