Hidden gems & food
Quite apart from those castles and museums, there are lots of serendipitous pleasures to discover among the mountains. Aristocratic bison and gourmet salt are on the menu in our 10 hidden gems.
Flint Castle by Flint CastleWork began on Flint Castle in 1277, making it the first of Edward I’s strongholds in the conquest of Wales. It played a notable role in British history when Richard II surrendered to Henry Bolingbroke (soon to be Henry IV) here in 1399. According to legend, Richard’s greyhound ran to greet his future monarch: the dog was faithful to the crown, not the man. The castle was partially destroyed by Cromwell’s army in the 1640s, but there’s plenty left to enjoy here, and it makes a lovely picnic spot on the Dee Estuary.
Good Life Experience, The Hawarden Estate by Wales On View
The 19th century prime minister William Gladstone lived (and died) at Hawarden Castle. The current tenant, his great-great-grandson Charlie, now runs the estate’s farm shop and, with singer Cerys Matthews, co-curates the Good Life Experience festival here. Down on the Rhug Estate near Corwen, Lord Newborough farms organic beef and lamb that’s exported to fine-dining restaurants around the world. His home-raised bison burger isn’t too shabby, either.
Bodnant Welsh Food Centre, North Wales by Wales On View
This culinary centre of excellence is set in old farm buildings on the Bodnant Estate in the Conwy Valley. There’s a farm shop, tea room, restaurant, dairy, bakery, cookery school, and six luxury rooms (which might be handy if you’ve attended their wine school). Its mission is to showcase the best local artisan food, so there’s lots of home-grown produce from the estate and local farms.
Porth Eiras, Colwyn Bay by Bryn WilliamsThe chef Bryn Williams is chiefly known - outside Wales, at least - for cooking the Queen’s 80th birthday dinner, and as chef-proprietor of the much-lauded Odette's in London. In 2015 he opened Porth Eiras, a seafront bistro in Colwyn Bay. It’s a spacious, relaxed kind of place where Bryn’s team turns simple, local, seasonal ingredients into great bistro-style food.
Bodelwyddan CastleThe attractions at this castle/mansion near Rhyl are based on its Victorian glory days, with nods to its medieval roots and to World War I: soldiers were trained here, and replica trenches are one of many diversions in the parkland. There’s also a good display of Welsh art, and the adjoining hotel specialises in leisure/entertainment breaks.
Llanfair PG train station, Isle of AngleseyBritain’s longest place name was invented in the 1860s as a publicity stunt to attract tourists. It still works, judging by the number of visitors who come to take selfies with the railway station sign. Deep breath: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch means ‘St Mary’s Church in the hollow of the white hazel near the rapid whirlpool and the Church of St Tysilio of the red cave’.
Halen Môn, AngleseyA pair of Bangor University graduates fell in love with Anglesey (and each other), grew oysters in the Menai Strait, and founded a Sea Zoo. They noticed that their seahorses – notoriously picky about water quality – thrived here, and wondered if perhaps the same pristine waters mightn’t make superb salt. The rest is history. Halen Môn is now one of the world’s top salts, and its behind-the-scenes story is well told at their visitor centre.
Oriel MOSTYN Gallery, Llandudno, North Wales by Oriel MOSTYN GallerySeaside locations have always drawn colonies of artists, and galleries have followed. There are lots around the North Wales coast, but here are just three: MOSTYN in Llandudno is one of our best public visual arts centres. The Royal Cambrian Academy in Conwy was founded in 1882 as a centre for artistic excellences. Oriel Ynys Môn has the largest collection of works by Sir Kyffin Williams alongside contemporary exhibitions and a museum of Anglesey’s history and culture.
Bodysgallen Hall, Llandudno
This 17th century National Trust-run manor house is so splendid, and its formal gardens so beautifully kept, it seems faintly absurd that you’re actually allowed to stay there. But it’s run as a luxury hotel, with a spa/pool discreetly tucked away in the grounds, and a very good restaurant beyond its baronial hall.
The husband-and-wife team at Sosban and the Old Butchers in Menai Bridge don’t have a menu: they just serve a series of dishes using the best locally sourced produce available on the day, and in the least stuffy surroundings. There’s another wife/husband duo at Tyddyn Llan in Llandrillo, serving highly refined food at a country house setting, with lots of first-class local ingredients.