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Britain

Wunderbar Wales

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Castle Square in the walled town of Caernarfon

Glorious as it was, Wales’ underdog victory over Belgium last night in the quarterfinals of the European Championship is not the subject of this post. But if that victory means Wales gets more attention in the international travel press, all the better. After our return visit to the northwest corner of the country last week, I can’t understand why Wales isn’t plastered on the pages of every glossy travel mag. It may not always have the weather, but it has the scenery in spades and charming, unspoilt villages.

We first tiptoed into exploring Wales in early May with an overnight visit to Portmeirion before heading up north to the familiar territory of the English Lake District for the rest of the weekend. Leaving Wales so quickly was a decision we soon regretted. A combination of heaving crowds and a ratty hotelier painted the Lakes in grim relief compared to the busy-but-not-overwhelming Portmeirion, which seemed to be staffed solely by men and women whose warmth made me wish they were family. Turns out I’m a sucker for lilting Welsh-accented English.

That taste of Wales—I wrote about it here—was enough to prompt us to book a return visit in June. We again based ourselves in Portmeirion, but this time we explored the surrounding area, starting with a drive along the northern coast on the A55. The sun was shining and the combination of the green-capped hills and ocean made it feel like the PCH. A surfeit of castles on the route shattered the illusion in the most delightful way possible. (Yes, we have Hearst Castle in California, but along a 20-odd mile stretch of this Welsh coastline I counted no fewer than three such edifices, each with considerably more heritage than William Randolph Hearst’s twentieth-century creation.)

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Porthmadog Station of Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railway

In Caernarfon we stopped to use the loo and were lured down to the waterside by the view across the Menai Strait to the island of Anglesey. We kept walking, each block more interesting than the other, until we entered the medieval walls of the town. Here Welsh flag bunting fluttered above narrow, lively lanes—including Hole in the Wall Street—crammed with shops, cafés, and pubs. Lording over the scene was, you guessed it, a massive stone castle. We vowed to return and spend a night.

The ideal way to reach Caernarfon on our next visit is by narrow gauge steam train, specifically the Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railway. It leaves from Porthmadog, which is less than a three-mile walk from Portmeirion, most of which is along a bike path with glorious views across Snowdonia. The train wasn’t running on the day we visited, much to the disappointment of my husband who is of a middle age where an obsession with steam trains and train stations is mandatory.

Instead we followed the port, which was developed in the 1800s to export slate, to a small stretch of the Wales Coast Path leading to the harbor of Borth y Gest. Here a row of candy-colored, double-fronted houses line the crescent-shaped coastline. The tide was out and we drank a glass of rosé underneath the striped awning of the Sea View Bistro. There was an ice cream parlour next door, but after a short walk out to the windswept beach we settled on the deck of Moorings, the other village café, for another glass of rosé. I could have done the same thing every day for a week. Next time we visit it will be for a week—I always seem to leave this corner of Wales wanting more. There’s the rest of the Llŷn Peninsula and more walking on that coastal path and always another glass of rosé.

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Low tide at the harbor village of Borth-y-Gest

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