Maybe it’s the impossible to pronounce names like Llangollen or Betws-Y-Coed or Llandrillo that makes traveling in North Wales a fun experience.
But when the language is spoken in lyric Welsh, actually “Cymru” it sounds like water flowing over rough rocks…and gives a hint of the deep, rich Celtic culture beneath this un-touristed, beautiful land.
It’s a bilingual country, amusing to think that the tongue-twisting sounds of one of Europe’s oldest languages is right next door to English speaking England.
But such is the uniqueness of the North Wales and its people.
North Wales is all verdant green hills and rolling valleys, dotted with flocks of white gamboling lambs and gently moving sheep.
The rich folkloric character of its people is obvious in the winding, narrow roads lined with flowering bushes and patiently built stone walls; its soul lies in its many sleepy villages.
In Llandrillo, a postage-size hamlet of old stone homes, the handwritten sign said “Tea and Biscuits,” so we dropped in, and sat with the locals. We listened to their childhood stories about World War II, drank the strong tea and ate the teacakes…served with a healthy dose of village gossip.
But don’t let the rustic, authentic quality of North Wales deceive.
Along with its thirteenth century castles and sweeping, solitary coasts, there are boutique hotels with exceptional cuisine.
And very family-friendly B and B’s!
Castle Cottage, actually an extension of the Harlech Castle built by Britain’s Edward I to keep the Welsh in their place, (www.castlecottageharlech.co.uk) is a romantic, gabled seven-room stone building with views of the sea and dramatic Mount Snowdon.
And Tyddyn Llan in tiny Llandrillo (www.tyddynllan.co.uk) is an comfortable Georgian country house, rich with warm colors, quality appointments and outdoor gardens of daffodils and bluebells and country walkways.
Kids love the maze and endless walkways and little ponds.
Bryan and Susan Webb, transported London restaurateurs, offer a very good roast wild bass, laverbread butter sauce or Gressingham duck. And simple psts dishes.
The stone arches, porches, and period furniture work are cleverly designed.
The pride of North Wales is likely Mt. Snowdon, the highest mountain south of Scotland, and the gem of dramatic Snowdonia National Park.
The low-lying crags and accessibility are favorites for rock climbers and hikers, family picnics, and nearby climbing shops offer friendly advice and good equipment.
It’s a perfect family picnic place.
Coastal Portmeirion is an example of wacky Welsh humor or ingenuity.
The seventy acre kaleidoscopic mix of pseudo-Victorian, art deco and Mediterranean colors, is really a sprawling resort on the edge of the Irish Sea, the brainchild of Welsh architect Clough Williams-Ellis. It’s a fun place: Alice in Wonderland meets Welsh humor and craziness.
The town of Conwy and the Castle Hotel (www.castlewales.co.uk) snuggled within the old town walls next to another Edwardian castle, itself perched above a vibrant harbor with bobbing boats and the smell of fish and chips.
North Wales like all of the UK enjoys a strong pound, but it too is dropping prices in response to the global financial crisis.
No, it’s not quite a bargain vacation.
But it is an authentic travel experience, and what could be a better value than that.
Manchester, England, is the closest airport, and a relief from Heathrow.
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