When you live in London, it is quite easy to forget there’s a whole country outside its borders. The city is alluring, full of lights and magic, a whole life would not be enough to discover all its secrets. I myself feel like I’ve seen so little in the past few months that I consider to belong to the suburb I live in, rather than to this mysterious thing we call the city of London. And yet, I’ve walked through the city centre a million times, by myself or with friends, I’ve memorised the tube stops and I’ve seen the seasons change from spring, to summer, to autumn and now to winter.
And still, there’s a whole world to discover outside London. When L’s parents came to visit, we decided to take that as a chance to step out the city’s mat and explore the countryside. We hired a car, went to the library, got a Lonely Planet and packed our suitcases with some warm clothes, ready to go to Wales. I had no idea what to expect, maybe a bunch of houses and some very cold wind? I was also a bit worried, going on holiday with other people other than L or my family is never an easy task.
Although we’ve been back for a few years now, my idea of a holiday on the road is still heavily influenced by my Australian memories, where we used to drive for days before reaching any destination. I was quite surprised when I discovered that Wales is only a few hours drive from London and that we also had time to stop to a couple of other cities on the way to our final destination: the national park of Snowdonia.
The first stop was Oxford, a cute little city full of history and universities. We quietly strolled around the city centre, had breakfast and then went back to our car. It was a nice way to stop and stretch our legs before reaching our next destination: the city of Shakespeare, Stratford Upon Avon.
As soon as we started walking through the lanes of Stratford Upon Avon, it became clear to us that the city life is heavily influenced by Shakespeare. Almost every building bears a name that is linked to either his name or his work, whether it’s a pub, a shop, a theatre or a museum and on each single door there’s his face, which serves as a reminder that he used to walk where you are now standing and he maybe had entered that property as well. I felt like I was standing on pure poetry land.
After a lunch at Stratford Upon Avon’s oldest pub – which serves a delicious, modern cuisine – we went back to our car and drove all the way to the first town in Snowdonia, which is called Bala, or as they say in Welsh, y Bala. As soon as we reached Wales, the high street ended. It was pitch black, L was tired and I drove for miles in these tiny roads with no street lamp, praying not to encounter another car on one of the many curves, feeling the tension among my passengers. Thankfully it was not the first time I was driving on the left side of the road and we managed to arrive to Bala safe and sound. We also found a very fancy hotel where we had some wonderful sleep.
During the following days we spent our time visiting Snowdonia, which in winter appears like a green mantle full of sheep. We started up north, where there are the highest picks and a few lakes, to then drive south along the coast, where we saw a rocambolesque copy of an Italian town in Portmeirion, a huge castle in Harlech and the port in Barmouth. Most places were closed as Snowdonia is more of a summer attraction for people who love to go trekking or kayaking and surfing. However, the in-laws were mostly interested in nature and I still managed to explore a couple of the small towns that populate the park.
In general, I have to say it was a very relaxing, slow-paced holiday, far away from traffic, technology and work. We also stayed in very nice accomodations, which always makes a holiday even more enjoyable and worthwhile. Everyone was very friendly as well, we never had a problem and they all smiled when we asked what black pudding was made of when they served us our Welsh breakfast.
This was our itinerary in Snowdonia:
- Slept in Bala at Plas Yn Dre
- We drove up to Bewts-Y-Coed where we stopped at the Tourist Information Centre.
- We decided to go to the lake Llyn Ogwen and walk from there to Llyn Idwal (it’s a very easy 20 min walk).
- We headed south, stopping at Beddgelert (a city named after a dog’s grave), Portmeirion and then Harlech.
- Most places were either fully booked or closed for the winter season. We managed to find two lovely rooms at Hafan Arto Hotel where a lovely lady gave us some useful tips.
- The following morning, we went to the beach at Barmouth, then slowly headed to Shrewsbury. We stopped in a couple of extremely small villages to have a look and enjoy the last moments in the green valleys of Wales.
On the way back, we stopped in Shrewsbury, which I discover is the city where Charles Darwin was born and a very nice one indeed. I liked it a lot because even without being as huge as London or Birmingham, it offers a well-kept historic centre, beautiful shops and cafes, a big park and it’s full of life. I even had a very good pizza at the street markets. That was one of the best discoveries of the trip, I have to say.
I will leave the rest of the descriptions to L’s photos, which are a
s usual breathtaking. I think he’s getting better and better both as a landscape photographer as well as a portrait and model one. I’m so proud of my boy!
Once again, thank you for following and let me know if you’ve been to Wales or if you are planning to visit that wonderful country!
All the best