We spent three days exploring Wales, a land spilling over with myths, legends, and castles.
Leaving the town of Harrogate in England—after having attended ExploreGB, VisitBritain’s flagship supplier and destination event—we headed out on our coach for a 5-hour drive to Portmeirion Village in Snowdonia, North Wales. Says Stephen Nase, director of marketing, North America for VisitWales, “This place can’t be explained; it has to be experienced.” And boy is he right. With its vibrant colors and intricate details, Portmeirion Village—built to show how one could develop a naturally beautiful setting without spoiling it and that with sufficient skill and care architectural good manners can actually enhance the natural environment—captivates visitors with its enchanting setting. As we toured the village, our guide shared that “it’s been an inspiration for creative people; The Beatles are connected to here,” as is Frank Lloyd Wright, who was a frequent guest. In addition, we learned that the popular British TV show, “The Prisoner,” was also filmed here.
The creator of Portmeirion Village, Sir Bertram Clough William-Elli, was a great traveler who was inspired by Portofino and his travels; he was an architect who designed buildings in both Cheshire and London, while Portmeirion was a passion project that took him 50 years to complete. The property is made up of 58 hotel guestrooms and 13 individual cottages—ideal for a destination wedding, group vacation, or the lover of architecture and fantasy.
Next, it was off to Porthmadog, where we boarded a historic train for the 2-hour ride to Caernarfon. Traversing Snowdonia National Park, we took in the countryside scenery and viewed herds of sheep in lilac fields. Upon our arrival at Caernarfon, we were greeted with bustling streets as the Caernarfon Food Festival was taking place near Caernarfon Castle, a UNESCO-listed castle, and where Prince Charles was crowned Prince of Wales.
After the castle visit and mingling at the festival, we were off to Halen mon Sea Salt company, where we learned that Prince William and Duchess Kate had, four days before our arrival, been in attendance for a private food tasting. Halen mon Sea Salt company, in the Anglesey area, makes natural sea salt from the nearby river; your clients will enjoy stocking up on the sea salt goodies.
Have your clients make a pit-stop for the best social media photo-op at the town with one of the world’s longest names (58 characters long!)—Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.
Our day began with an early-morning tour around Aber Falls Whiskey Distillery, where we learned about whiskey-making and partook in a tasting. Then we transferred to Conwy, where we toured the 13th century Conwy Castle—a UNESCO World Heritage site—and learned that King Edward II and his son were the last royals to inhabit the castle. Conwy is home to a charming seaside area, and the smallest house in Britain, measuring 5.9-ft. wide.
Next, we arrived at Llandudno, Wales’ beachside resort town featuring Victorian and Edwardian elegance. Here, where we learned “Alice in Wonderland” is based on a local, Alice Liddell; you can find statues depicting the story all around town. Then we took the Great Orme Tramway, Britain’s only cable-hauled public road tramway, up to Great Orme, a promontory overlooking Llandudno, where we were greeted by large green pastures with sheep, views of the sea and windmills, plus a quaint museum.
We stayed in Deganwy for the evening, at the Deganwy Quay Hotel, where we enjoyed sunset views of the castle from the terrace as we sipped on pre-dinner local gin.
The last day started with a visit to Gwinllan Conwy Vineyard, set against the backdrop of Snowdonia National Park. Here, we enjoyed a quick tour followed by a wine tasting; this is the perfect spot for a mid-afternoon stop for your clients. They’ll enjoy sipping wine, enjoying local charcuterie, and the stunning views.
Then it was off to Bodnant Gardens, a must-stop for many travelers to the area, especially during the 10 days of the year when the Laburnum Arch blooms with its exquisite yellow flowers—planted in 1881.
What’s In it For Travel Advisors:
Tour Operators Intel
During our travels through Wales, tour operators who were traveling in the group expressed how in awe they were with the destination and how they would be adding it as an option to their itineraries. Others mentioned how they would be revamping their tour offering after the trip.
Charlie Newton, president of Britain by Choice Inc., has been selling Wales for almost 40 years. “I had not been to North Wales for almost 30 years, and as I always discover on these VisitBritain FAMs, nothing ever stands still and the improvements in North Wales are really dramatic,” he says. He adds that he’s already in talks with both the Portmeirion and the Quay hotel to feature them in a 7-day program to North Wales in his revamped 2020 Snowdonia itinerary.
When asked what surprised him the most from the trip through Wales, he notes, “The development of the Llandudno/Conwy area from a tired Victorian seaside resort to an integrated and appealing tourist destination.” Fiona Lydon of Isle Inn Tours was also on the trip and says, “The biggest surprise was the wonderful food and drink offerings available. From Halen mon Sea Salt in Anglesey to the Gwinllan Conwy Vineyard in Llandudno, there are so many artisan producers offering unique products of a very high quality.”
Newton adds, “In many ways, Wales is a step back in time, with life progressing at a leisurely pace, so take your time and smell the roses. There is so much see and experience
in a relatively small area. It is no longer a region to only be passed through en-route from the Irish ferry at Holyhead to Manchester.”
Mike Hawe, president, Isle Inn Tours adds that, “We find Wales is a great fit for the client that has visited the UK previously and wants to return for a closer look. With so many castles and history, a great coastline, and all the natural beauty, Wales is also great for those looking for that ‘hidden gem’ in the UK. We’ve added Wales on a number of group itineraries over the past couple years and it has been very well received.”
“I think many different types of travelers would enjoy Wales form adventure seekers to multi-generational families,” says Lydon. “Local guides bring the past to life at historic sites and castles. Wales is full of myth and legend and when you travel there if feels like you are stepping back in time.”
And for those sending clients to Wales, Lydon suggests, “Look for an experienced tour operator that specializes in travel to Wales. They will be able to offer custom travel options tailored to their clients’ particular needs.” Hawe adds, “I’d remind agents that Wales is a great add-on to an existing itinerary, particularly for clients who want to see London and then take a train up to Wales; even visitors to Ireland can arrive by ferry after a quick crossing and experience another Gaelic tradition.”