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Wales Trip Planner
Text by Michael Shapiro, Jim Richardson, and Ingrid Ahlgren
Photo by Jim Richardson

The ruins Castell Dinas Bran overlook the Welsh town of Llangollen.

Britain's least known region has a language, culture, and mystical appeal all its own.

I 
n the May/June issue of Traveler, writer Michael Shapiro and photographer Jim Richardson travel to Wales in "Somewhere Beyond Time." Here are their recommendations of what to see and do on a visit to this lush land, along with what you need to plan a trip.

The Basics

Food and Lodging

Things to See and Do

The Guardian Hay Festival

Books That Put You There

Music Not to Miss

Must-See Movies

Local Media

Language Tips

For More Information

Other Wales Websites


The Basics

Entry requirements: U.S. citizens need a valid passport to enter the UK.

Time difference: The UK is typically five hours later than U.S. Eastern Standard Time.

Money: The currency of Wales is the British pound. For current conversion rates go to OANDA Currency Converter.

When to go: The weather in Wales is changeable no matter the season, so dress in layers and bring rain gear. Summer (June-Aug.) is the best time to visit, with warm days and cool evenings (57-68°F; 14-20°C). Autumn (Sept.-Nov.) days can be warm or cold (45-57°F; 7-14°C). Winter (Dec.-early Mar.) days are short and cold (34-41°F; 1-5°C). Spring (Mar.-May) weather can be sunny or cold and wet, with temperatures of 43-52°F (6-11°C), rising to about 64°F (18°C) in May.

Getting there: Flights from the United States to Cardiff connect via Amsterdam or other European cities. You can fly to London and take the six-hour train ride from Euston station to Porthmadog, starting on Virgin Trains and connecting to Arriva Trains Wales. There is also an express train (four hours) from London to Bangor, or you can fly to Manchester or Birmingham and take a train to Wales. National Rail information »

Getting around: Driving in Wales is challenging, not just because you drive on the left, but because roads are narrow and drivers pass one another with mere inches to spare. Buses, trains, and taxis are good alternatives if you're not comfortable driving under these conditions.


Food and Lodging

For a classic cream tea—hot tea and fresh, warm scones served with jam and clotted cream—stop in at
Pen-y-Bryn (The Princes' Tower), a 16th-century tearoom in the walled town of Conwy in North Wales. Lancaster Square, Conwy; tel. +44 1492-596445.

For convenient access to the region's attractions, consider staying in Porthmadog. Yr Hen Fecws (The Old Bakehouse) is a stately stone building with friendly hosts. Its seven rooms (five doubles and two singles) are simple yet comfortable; the restaurant serves traditional Welsh fare. $89-99 (double); $61-66 (single), including breakfast; Porthmadog, Gwynedd; tel. +44 1766-514625
.

In Portmeirion is the recently refurbished Castell Deudraeth, with 11 rooms including four suites, and such modern amenities as whirlpool baths. The restaurant serves locally harvested lobster, crab, scallops, and rock oysters, as well as Welsh beef. $243-312; Portmeirion, Gwynedd; tel. +44 1766-770228
.

In the foothills of Mount Snowdon lies the historic Pen-y-Gwryd Hotel. Five of the 16 rooms have private baths. A pub dispenses bitters, ales, and stouts; the restaurant offers elegant four-course dinners for $42. Rooms are spacious with views of Wales's tallest mountain. $61-70, including breakfast; Nant Gwynant, Gwynedd; tel. +44 1286-870211
.

The Tanronnen Inn is a cozy seven-suite lodge in the picture-book village of Beddgelert. Located close to an arched stone bridge over a burbling brook, the inn has tables out front, flanked by flowerpots, where you can drink your pint and watch Welsh life go by. $95-$208; Beddgelert, Gwynedd; tel. +44 1766-890347; e-mail
tanronnen@frederic-robinson.co.uk.

The Castle Hotel sits right in the middle of Conwy, perhaps the best walled town of Wales, with intact walls that are great for an evening stroll. The hotel has been restored and is very comfortable with a good restaurant and pub. $87-$148; High Street, Conwy; tel. +44 1492-582800; e-mail
mail@castlewales.co.uk.



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Things to See and Do

Nant Gwrtheyrn, the Welsh Language and Heritage Center, welcomes students from anywhere for Welsh language courses. There are beginners' courses and other sessions for more advanced students. Lithfaen, Pwllheli, Gwynedd; tel. +44 1758-750334.

Besides the famous Caernarfon Castle, another stunning Welsh castle is Harlech, about 11 miles (18 km) south of Porthmadog. Near the town of Porthmadog are the ruins of the Welsh castle at Criccieth. The great castles almost all have weekend programs of historic interest. Often one of the reenactment groups, like the Harlech Medieval Society, will be about, bashing each other with swords and wriggling into their chain mail
. More on castles »

The Lloyd George Museum in Llanystumdwy honors the accomplishments of the Welsh "cottage-bred" prime minister of England. Open 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Easter-September; shorter hours thereafter. Call for appointment in winter: tel. +44 1766-522071
. More on museums » 

Visit Aberdaron near the tip of the Lleyn Peninsula and from there take the boat out to Bardsey Island, noted as the Island of 20,000 Saints. (It would seem that saints outnumbered human beings in that era.) It's a mystical pilgrimage
.


The Guardian Hay Festival

Former President Bill Clinton called the Guardian Hay Festival, a literary festival held in the town of Hay-on-Wye, "the Woodstock of the Mind." The festival began as a small family business in 1988. "Arthur Miller came in our second year to see the mountains and the bookshops, and we've not looked back," says festival director Peter Florence.

Today, the ten-day festival draws 100,000 people to Hay-on-Wye (pop. 1,500). This year's dates are May 26-June 4, and Seamus Heaney, Al Gore, and Zadie Smith are among the authors scheduled to appear at the 2006 festival.

Maria Goddard—who works at Rose's Books, one of the town's more than three dozen bookshops—recommends buying tickets for events well in advance. "They sell out very quickly," she explains.

If you can't make it to Wales in late May or early June, here are a few other major Welsh festivals throughout the year: the Llangollen International Eisteddfod (July), the Brecon Jazz Festival (August), the Cardiff Summer Festival (June-August), and the Cardiff Screen Festival (November).


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Books That Put You There

An excellent anthology of contemporary Welsh short stories, Wales Half Welsh (2004, Bloomsbury) presents the work of 11 new writers.

On the Black Hill (1982, Penguin) by Bruce Chatwin examines the impact of a modernizing world on a pair of Welsh twins living on a family farm along the English border.

The Collected Stories (1984, New Directions) gathers all of Welsh literary heavyweight Dylan Thomas's prose in one volume, including A Child's Christmas in Wales and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog.

Jan Morris's books A Writer's House in Wales (2002, National Geographic Directions) and The Matter of Wales: Epic Views of a Small Country (1984, Oxford University Press) are ideal introductions to Wales.

A History of Wales (1993, Penguin), by University College of Wales scholar John Davies, covers the story of Wales from the Ice Age to the present day. Jan Morris wrote of the book, "holding its 700-page substance is like having all Wales in one's hand."

Stump (Jonathan Cape) by Niall Griffiths won Welsh Book of the Year in 2004.

More information on over 17,500 Welsh books »


Music Not to Miss

Be sure to check out our free streaming audio from Putumayo's Celtic Crossroads. Besides the familiar hits of pop icons Tom Jones and Shirley Bassey, there is a wealth of traditional and contemporary music by Welsh performers. Here are some CDs worth noting.

Celtic Music from Wales, Ffynnon (Green Linnet). Traditional and contemporary music.

Hyn: Traditional Celtic Music of Wales, Carreg Lafar (Marquis Music). Mostly traditional love songs.

Traditional Songs of Wales, Siwsann George (Saydisc). Traditional Welsh songs with a modern sound.

Songbook: The Singles 1, Super Furry Animals (Sony/Epic). Top singles of the madly experimental Welsh psychedelic rock quintet.

Forever Delayed: The Greatest Hits, Manic Street Preachers (Sony). A good introduction to the Welsh alternative-pop/rock group, which gained an international following in the 1990s.


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Must-See Movies

Wales is becoming an increasingly frequent setting for movies. A sequence in the James Bond movie Die Another Day was filmed on Penbryn beach near Cardigan; scenes for Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life were shot in Snowdonia National Park.

The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain. This 1995 romantic comedy starring Hugh Grant is set in the small Welsh town of Ffynnon Garw, where the villagers try to convince two English cartographers that their local "hill" is actually a "mountain." The mountain featured in the film is Mynydd-y-Glyn, situated near the village of Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant.

How Green Was My Valley. This Academy Award-winning 1941 film from director John Ford tells the coming-of-age story of a boy living in a Welsh coal-mining village. The film was based on the 1939 novel of the same name by Richard Llewellyn. Keep a handkerchief near and shed a tear for Huw Morgan. Sentimental? Oh, yes.


Local Media

The Daily Post is the top-selling newspaper in North Wales
.

The BBC News online has the latest coverage on Wales. Check the BBC's site on northwest Wales for links to pages on food, music, towns, and history
.

Porthmadog-Today has news on the Welsh town of Porthmadog
.


Language Tips

Welsh spelling is complicated, but these tips will make pronunciations simpler: "dd" is pronounced like "th" in the English word "the," so Beddgelert is pronounced Beth-gull-ert; "w" is pronounced like "oo," so Conwy is like Con-oo-ey; a "y" that appears between words is pronounced like "ee," so Pen-y-gwryd is Pen-ee-goo-rid; "ll" is pronounced something like "thl" in "thlan," so "Llandudno" is "Thlan-dud-no." More tips on Welsh pronunciations »


For More Information

General information: Wales Tourist Board.

Gwynedd county in northwest Wales, including Snowdonia: Gwynedd Council.

National bicycle routes: Cycling Wales.

Walking trails in northwest Wales: BBC North West Wales Walks.


Other Wales Websites

Wales: Finding Its Voice. National Geographic Society staffer Aled Greville pronouncing Welsh tongue twisters. Plus: links to sites devoted to Welsh music, culture, cuisine, books, and more. 

Three Peaks Challenge. A National Geographic online article on climbing the Three Peaks, which include Mount Snowdon.

Portmeirion Potteries. The village of Portmeirion is famous for its distinctive china designed by Susan Williams-Ellis, daughter of Sir Clough Williams-Ellis
.

The Legend of GelertRead about the tragic legend of Gelert, the faithful hound of the Welsh prince Llywelyn.


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