When I think of Wales, I think of cliffs. The kind where the waves crash passionately and just out of reach below. The town names are often made up of a dozen consonants lined up in a unpronounceable row and many of the two-lane roads are only wide enough for one car, but these quirks only add to the charm to this less trodden UK country.
The first place I stay brings to mind what Basil Fawlty's bed and breakfast might look like if he had an exceptional chef and actually liked people. The hallways meander through the structure to spacious rooms with cozy beds and slightly faded décor. On its own, it would be a perfectly charming place to stay but what makes Tyddan Llan essential is their award-winning chef Bryan Webb. After his ethereal six-course tasting menu, I would have been happy sleeping anywhere. A nine-course is available for the truly hedonistic. A free-range duck breast from local farm Cefnllan had just a hint of gamey bite tempered with a balanced refinement that traced through all of the dishes. A wild bass with laverbread sauce (a seaweed based concoction of Welsh origins) was another highlight.
There are many culinary standouts in Wales, including the organic Rhug Farm Estate, which has been frequented by no less than the Prince of Wales himself. Bodnant Food Centre is a one-stop glimpse into local favorites like pork pies, and they also feature a great restaurant. Covered in rich knotty wood, the dining room is casually elegant and the food locally sourced.
If there's a cozier place to eat, it's On the Hill in Ruthin. Tucked into a cottage structure, you're never too far from a fireplace when ordering off the menu at this refined comfort food spot. Offerings include epic soups like a cream of leek with apple and smoked cheddar.
It doesn't seem to be an accident that many of the restaurants feel like private residencies. Even while having an elegant high tea, there's a sense of being welcomed into someone's home rather than merely patronizing a business. In the town of Ruthin there's a 13th century cathedral that's known as the smallest ancient cathedral in Great Britain and for housing the William Morgan Bible, the first one to be translated into Welsh.
There's an island known as the patron saint of welsh lovers (Llanddwyn), but as we approach it from steep sand dunes on a pleasant but windy day it becomes clear that the tide is too high to cross. In fact, if you don't know what you're looking at, it would be hard to see that there is anyway to reach this symbolic land mass by foot. Far from a disappointment though, the walk through Snowdonia National Park filled with lush greenery is idyllic, and there's hardly anyone else on the beach in the fall, making it a perfect place for contemplation.
On one hike near a different wave-splashed cliff, we are accompanied by a heard of goats. They are likely from a nearby farm but don't seem in much of a hurry as we traipse through their backyard. It's a blissful moment of untouched nature and one that abounds in this rich environment.
Almost as plentiful as goats, there are 641 castles in Wales, but I only visited one. The medieval fortress Caernafon built for Edward I in the 13th century gave me a taste of life in "Game of Thrones" times. The structure's outside walls remain intact and hold an imposing footprint but peering out from inside it's easy to imagine feeling vulnerable under attack from an enemy. The Welsh Highland Railway gives another view of Snowdonia. On a 25-miles scenic ride, the landscape opens up. What previously appeared as narrow crowded roads is now an expanse of rolling hills colored by fog and grazing wildlife.
The train leads us in the direction of our final stay at Portmeirion Village, a retreat that's equal parts manmade and naturally occurring and a favorite spot for late Beatle George Harrison. There's a village that evokes a bygone era and you'll surely find yourself saying "that's adorable" more than you like to admit, but there are also a plethora of trails that run through the ground. Weaving through one on our last day, I found myself unexpectedly off path. All of the routes had seemingly disappeared in an instant and each way forward looked steeper than the next.
On one attempt, I walked carefully around the side of cliff hoping to find that path I'd lost only to find rocks and wild outgrowths. The views that were once breathtaking began to take on a more sinister guise as I wondered only half-jokingly if they would be my last. Visions of scenes from "Lord of the Flies" began to flood my mind until I pushed through an overgrown branch to reveal the path I had inadvertently wandered off.