Wales is like England. Only better.
October 29 2015 9:30 AM EST
October 29 2015 7:10 AM EST
For a tiny country, Wales can feel surprisingly spacious, particularly in the Wye Valley, where hills ripple in all directions, and in the West, where the dramatic Pembrokeshire coastline rises and tumbles through a series of prismatic coves. Like much of Britain, Wales has become adept at mixing old-school charm with contemporary savoir-faire. And there’s a strong locavore trend that animates restaurants and hotels alike. You’ll likely end up eating Welsh lamb, drinking Welsh cider, and being reminded by locals at every turn that Wales is like England. Only better.
A sprawling Edwardian manor, Llangoed Hall is straight out of the board game Clue, though instead of finding Miss Peacock with the candlestick, you’ll discover feather-stuffed couches and dripping chandeliers. The immaculately manicured 17 acres feature a chicken farm (pick out your egg for breakfast!) and organic gardens with just about every green you can imagine—obscure edible flowers alongside traditional herbs like sage and mint. Don’t miss the hedge maze—impossible to navigate after a few cocktail-hour whiskys.
Like some kind of holy land for bibliophiles, Hay-on-Wye is a village in which nearly every establishment has been transformed into a bookshop, from the church to the local cinema. It’s a secondhand shopper’s dream. Don’t miss the Honesty Bookshop, where you can drop 50 pence in the slot and grab as you go.
This massive Cistercian abbey overlooking the river Wye has inspired poets including Wordsworth, Tennyson, and even Ginsberg, who wrote of the “clouds passing through skeleton arches,” in his poem “Wales Visitation.” Founded in 1131, it’s an imposing stone carcass of its former grandeur, the church’s hallowed interior and gaping windows exuding a creepy but majestic spirit.
Let your nose guide you deep into the countryside to find Wright’s Food Emporium, one of Britain’s most legit farm-to-table establishments. House-made pickles, vats of wine (for regulars to replenish their own bottles), locally smoked meats, a cake buffet, and freshly baked bread woo discerning eaters from all over the island. Try the rarebit sandwich, an elevated version of the Welsh original, and wash it down with a regional cider.
Wales’s most compelling crumbling castle sits atop a grassy mound with an espansive view of rolling meadows. Once it was a turreted stronghold; all that remains today is the elaborate bones of a multi-story fortress — a jungle gym for curious tourists. Don’t miss the cave below, signposted with a small arrow. The grounds are perfect for a picnic lunch.
St. Brides Spa Hotel
Perched above the village of Saundersfoot, the hotel welcomes guests with sweet staff and marine-themed decor. The rooms on the second floor have beautiful views of the harbor below, but the pièce de résistance is the on-site spa’s outdoor infinity pool.
With all the British whimsy of Mary Poppins, and the oceanic charm of the French Riviera, Tenby is a bolthole for summer-seekers looking for sociable beaches dotted with shade-bearing umbrellas, throwback ice cream parlors, and a small town center hemmed by old fort ruins.
Towering above the village of Roch, its namesake castle is an elegant relic from more than over 800 years ago. Until recently, the site was just another structure haunting the countryside. Then a locally born architect bought the property and transformed the castle into a six-room boutique hotel. Though the exterior remains antique, the interior is positively modern, with stark black-and-white stylings throughout.