From mountains of Snowdonia in the north to the vibrant city of Cardiff in the south, Wales has much to offer. Lulu started her collection of boutique hotels in Wales with the stylish St Brides Hotel in Pembrokeshire. A dramatic unspoilt coastline and untamed rural landscape mean that Wales is a must on any UK itinerary.
For gorgeous sandy beaches that rival England’s south west coast, head to the first Chic Retreats recommended boutique hotel in Pembrokeshire, the St Brides Hotel and Spa in the town of Saundersfoot. Chosen by Lulu for its heavenly spa and restaurant, service and lovely views of the harbour, this luxury hotel in Pembrokeshire is a beauty. Children will enjoy a day at Oakwood theme park (a 20 minute drive from Saundersfoot) where they can visit Neverland where activities include attending Tinks Flying School, riding the Crocodile Coaster and joining in with the Lost Boys Adventure. Less thrill-seeking days can be spent at the award-winning Barafundle beach, which is ideal for families thanks to its sand dunes and sheltered bay. Dale beach and Manorbier are both beaches popular with surfers and Amrothare is also excellent.
With such beautiful bays and beaches come plenty of cliff top walks and cycling trails, both in Pembrokeshire and its neighbouring county Carmarthenshire (its known as the ‘Garden of Wales’ for a good reason). In the latter, horse riding, kayaking and quad biking are all typical activities. Pembrey Country Park offers the best of both worlds with 8 miles of golden sands at Cefn Sidan and several wildlife trails to explore.
Bed down at luxury hotel The Corran, a spa retreat in Laugharne and one of our boutique hotels in Carmarthenshire. This luxury hotel in Wales is surrounded by beaches and marshland and in the town itself you’ll find a castle and the Dylan Thomas Boathouse (it was the poet’s last home, now it houses a small exhibition centred round his life and has a lovely tearoom). There are castle ruins to see - such as Kidwelly in Dyfed and Carreg Cennen - plus sights such as the National Botanic Garden of Wales. Highlights include the Norman Foster designed ‘Great Glasshouse’ where the green fingered can see rare plants from all over the world, a double walled garden and a Japanese garden.
Just across the border from England you’ll find Hay-on-Wye, perhaps one of the most famous towns in Wales thanks to the annual Hay Literary Festival which takes place every May. It involves 3 weeks of lively talks and interesting debates from authors, historians, artists and poets held in a series of marquees a 10 minute walk from the high street. During this time, the restaurants are packed, the town is buzzing and there is often live music in the streets. In recent years, the How the Light Gets In festival was launched and now happens at the same time on the other side of town. As well as philosophical debate, the line-up features comedy, music and film.
Even if you’re not visiting in May, it’s worth browsing the 30 major bookshops that line the Hay-on-Wye high street. Many of them are specialist bookshops, covering all kinds of subjects from natural history to detective fiction, crime and horror. One of the best known is Richard Booth’s bookshop which has a tiny cinema downstairs and a popular cafe, ideal for brunch and lunch. Pop in for Welsh rarebit with chilli jam, carrot, ginger and honey soup with orange crème fraiche or buttermilk pancakes with vanilla whipped yoghurt and maple syrup.
Activities and food
The Brecon Beacons National Park is a big draw for walkers and cyclists. The Central Beacons is the highest mountain range in southern Britain and encompasses the challenging twin summits of Pen-y-Fan and Corn Du, plus the Black Mountain range and the sandstone Fforest Fawr massif. There are walks for all abilities, whether you want to stride out purposefully along open ridges or take it easy on towpaths and gentle strolls through the woods.
After working up an appetite in the fresh air, spruce up in time for dinner at The Walnut Tree restaurant just outside Abergavenny. The Michelin-star chef and proprietor is Shaun Hill (previously he won a Michelin star at Gidleigh Park) who changes the menu daily. Typical dishes could include Thai crab cakes or omelette Arnold Bennett with smoked haddock for starter and rabbit loin as a main.
Another destination popular with walkers is Snowdon - many take the Llanberis Path to the summit, which runs parallel to the Snowdon Mountain Railway - and the Snowdonia National Park. The North Wales Path follows the coast between Prestatyn and Bangor; cyclists should opt for the route between Barmouth to Penmaenpool for glorious views of the Mawddach estuary. Not too far from here is The Montgomery, a Michelin star classical French restaurant with a seasonal menu from chef Stéphane Borie (he used to work with Michel Roux at The Waterside Inn Bray and has been a personal chef to Sir Anthony Bamford). If you’re feeling really hungry, opt for the 7 course tasting menu extravaganza.
Cardiff is another key attraction in Wales both for rugby fans hoping to catch a game at the Millennium Stadium and those wanting to shop. If you’re interested in the latter, head to The Hayes, a bustling pedestrianised shopping street lined with historic Edwardian and Victorian buildings that house designer boutiques. Behind the Old Library you’ll find Howell’s (part of the House of Fraser group), Cardiff’s oldest department store which has an excellent food hall selling Welsh produce.
Other highlights in Cardiff include the castle and Cardiff Bay, where Doctor Who fans can visit the interactive Doctor Who Experience. There are film clips with baffling special effects and an extensive collection of original Doctor Who props: costumes dating from 1963 to the present day and the David Tennant Tardis set. Before you leave the city, book a table for dinner at Mint & Mustard, the much-lauded Michelin Bib Gourmand Indian restaurant. The menu features dishes such as tandoori grilled Barbary duck infused with a cinnamon marinade and Kerala-style chicken curry with roasted coconut, tomatoes and spices.
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ST BRIDES SPA HOTEL
St Brides Spa Hotel is a destination spa hotel in Pembrokeshire, South Wales. Contemporary rooms, stunning views overlooking Saundersfoot harbour and a wonderful array of treatments make it the best spa retreats in Wales.