Forget New England in the fall; North Wales has recently been named among the top places in the world to visit. Our brief autumnal trip, when the colours were at their most dramatic, was a glorious way to discover one of the UK’s most beautiful and sparsely populated regions.
We spent our first night in the pretty but unpronounceable Dolgellau, where we stayed at beautiful boutique hotel Ffynnon. This renovated Victorian rectory in southern Snowdonia has been transformed into a chic hideaway. Our bedroom looked onto a hillside dotted with sheep, and the soothing greens and tasteful Welsh touches of the decor meant we quickly relaxed into the rural calm of the place.
Before dinner we made the most of the honesty bar in the glamourous drawing room. Provenance is key here, and it was lovely to find not only good local ale but also spirits from Welsh distilleries. Ffynnon is run by manageress Angela, whose warm hospitality and nothing-is-too-much-trouble approach only add to the relaxed charm. Her husband Bernhard lovingly and single-handedly creates everything that comes out of the kitchen, making the hotel’s recent addition of an evening restaurant a welcome one. We had delicious local lamb and steamed monkfish, both creatively cooked and beautifully presented.
From our base in Dolgellau we followed a great recommendation and checked out the Ty Coch pub. This cosy inn is only accessible by walking across a very windswept golf course and must have one of the most enviable locations in Britain. It looks out over a peaceful cove of immaculate sand, from where walkers can set off on bracing walks around the headland. Afterwards, we explored the chocolate-box village of Portmeirion, which was designed and built between the Twenties and Seventies in an Italian style.
After a restful night’s sleep at Ffynnon, we felt prepared to take on Mount Snowdon. After a steep 2-hour uphill climb to the summit, we were rewarded with thick pea-soup cloud and visibility of about 6 feet – so much for the famous views! We did, however, enjoy a very satisfying lunch of hot chocolate and sandwiches. That’s not to say that the café at the top of Snowdon is particularly good (it isn’t), but there’s nothing like fresh Welsh mountain air to stimulate hunger pangs.
A day of exertion meant we were ready for another relaxing overnight stay. We were therefore glad to arrive in Ruthin – a historical town 30 miles east of Snowdonia – and find a very warm welcome at stylish restaurant-with-rooms manorhaus Ruthin. Owners Christopher and Gavin certainly know a thing or two about design, and the bold colour schemes and modern furniture throughout this beautiful old building complement the many original features.
We settled down to an excellent dinner served in the cosy conservatory, before exploring everything this quirky hotel has to offer. I would advise any guest who comes here to make use of the private cinema in the medieval vaulted basement. Book the widescreen projector to watch a movie with surround sound, or leave the kids entertained with computer games. Those lucky enough to arrive on a day when the ‘picturehaus’ film club is running will be invited to enjoy a film and an accompanying themed dinner. We liked the sound of Absolutely Fabulous with a champagne supper!
The next day, we continued the outdoorsy theme with a visit to Surf Snowdonia – an artificial wave pool and major attraction. Until recently it was the only inland surf lagoon in the world. It’s an impressive place and I can see the appeal for UK surfers starved of decent waves, but after an hour of falling off I’ve decided to stick to bodyboarding!