Wales: Myths, mountains and Midsomer Murders
Language classes, local lore and a trip to Snowdonia are all in store for Thomas Breathnach on a short break in Wales.
Set the mood
"It's pronounced bendigedig," explains Pegi Talfryn. "And we usually stress that third syllable using jazz hands!"
Pegi is a Welsh language teacher at Nant Gwrtheyrn heritage centre. And bendigedig, as it transpires, means 'wonderful'. The word is apt. This awesome, gnarly coastal setting I find myself in is just that. I'm in North Wales to experience the natural and cultural allure of our tír-gan-teanga, tír-gan-anam Celtic neighbours. A journey through a land of myths and mountains? This is right up my valley.
Nant Gwrtheyrn (nantgwrtheyrn.org) isn't the kind of treasure you'd discover in passing. Set in an abandoned Victorian mining village on the fringes of the Llyn peninsula, this cultural heartbeat is sequestered down the most dramatic ravine roadway ever to burden my handbrake. The site features a terrace of quaint granite holiday cottages, an artisan café in which to savour local fare, and a school offering Welsh language classes. My beginners' crash course has me decoding impregnable consonants and basic Welsh greetings which I'm soon applying to the outside world... starting with a stop at the village Londis.
A weekend with a Welsh course and full-board starts from €338pp.
Chateau Rhianfa, Wales
In search of some Pays de Galles indulgence?
Chateau Rhianfa (chateaurhianfa.com; from €123pps), a Loire-inspired castle in the Welsh stronghold of Anglesey, makes for a super check-in. Built in 1849 by a Francophile aristocrat, the hotel combines the magic of a fairytale getaway with the mystique of a location shoot from Midsomer Murders. Service is excellent, while my chamber suite was a classically appointed affair, jazzed with modern tones and touches like turret rain showers.
Back-dropping much of North Wales, Snowdonia National Park (snowdoniatourism.co.uk) has 'Great Outdoors' stamped all over it. I put my calves to work on the slopes of Tryfan, hiking across mighty, sugar-dusted stollens as red kites hover above me. Afterwards, Llanberis village provides the liveliest après-hike scene (think cider, think Six Nations).
The Euro/Sterling exchange is likely to prove the greatest budget buzz-kill on a trip to Wales this weather. If you're driving, hit the pumps locally: filling your tank on this side of the pond should save about 15pc on your fuel bill.
Overall, however, my Wales debut makes for an invigorating weekend getaway. Its accessibility makes it a worthy rival to the home staycation market, but if anything, a reunion with our Celtic cousins gives me an alternative sense of being Irish. Bendigedig indeed.
For some dream driving, hit the A5 at Bethesda before looping along the A4086 from Capel Curig. Voted Britain's favourite road-trip, the route ranges through some of Wales' top calendar vistas. Make the lakes of Llynau Mymbyr your picnic pit-stop.
Get me there
Almost usurping my Welsh weekend itself was the novelty of my first ever car-ferry journey to Holyhead. I flew the flag with Irish Ferries (irishferries.com), making the three-hour crossing aboard Ulysses, the alpha vessel of the Irish seas.
Trips start from €89 each way for a car and driver, and I'd tip an upgrade to Club Class. A mere €18 buys you access to the luxury panoramic lounge with its free Wi-Fi, complimentary bevvies and gourmet snacks like profiteroles and gravlax.
For more info, see visitwales.com.