Once a coal-mining and industrial hub, Wales has quietly become an unforgettable outdoor adventure destination. Less than three hours west of London, the country’s coastline, mountainous terrain and rich culture and history (it has more castles than anywhere else in the UK, for starters) make it an explorer’s dream. Activities abound on land and sea, tiny towns boast fine dining, and cyclists can travel nearly 2,000 kilometres of National Cycle Network paths, lanes and road routes. Take the train from London and begin your trip in the market town of Abergavenny.
Get on your bike in Abergavenny (Drover Cycles offers rentals), and head north to Old Hereford Road. Begin a 33-km cycle along a quiet road route towards Hay-on-Wye, passing the sheep-dotted Black Mountains along the way. These sandstone hills form a natural border between Wales and England.
At Llanthony Priory, the ruins of a 12th-century Augustinian priory (monastery), refuel with a ploughman’s lunch at its restaurant and get ready for the climb up to Gospel Pass. At 549 metres above sea level, it’s the highest point of land in Wales accessible by road. Enjoy a view of the Wye Valley and the Vale of Ewyas.
Continue to Hay-on-Wye, a charming 1,600-person community with an astonishing 35-plus secondhand, antiquarian and specialty book shops. Stop for a chocolate and nut flapjack at Richard Booth’s Bookshop and drive to The Angel Hotel Abergavenny to dine on Welsh lamb in The Oak Room, and order a packed lunch for tomorrow.
Have breakfast and golden milk at The Art Shop & Chapel and head about an hour and a half northwest to the Elan Valley Visitor Centre. The environmentally protected Elan Valley Estate encloses a chain of reservoirs formed by a series of five imposing Victorian dams. Not only is the region a haven for wildlife, it provides almost 100,000 megalitres of clean drinking water to the city of Birmingham each day.
Cycle 10 km along the line of the old Birmingham Corporation Railway past the beautiful Caban Coch, Garreg Ddu and Pen-y-garreg dams. At the Craig Goch dam, picnic on sandwiches and baked treats from The Angel. Admire the dam’s curved retaining wall and copper-capped tower. Once you get back to the Visitor Centre, drive west through craggy farmland to Aberaeron.
Stroll past Aberaeron’s Easter egg-coloured Georgian row houses and around the picturesque harbour that drains completely during low tide. Dine on fresh local seafood at the Harbourmaster Hotel, a buzzing local landmark, and end the day watching the sunset over Cardigan Bay.
Drive just over an hour southwest to the Preseli Venture, a five-star sustainable eco lodge in Pembrokeshire. Haul on a wetsuit and join one of the lodge’s guides for an unforgettable seaside experience: coasteering. Incorporating swimming, climbing, cave exploration and even cliff-jumping, coasteering is simply the act of navigating a rocky coastline without a boat or a destination—and it’s never quite the same twice. Preseli Venture has been guiding coasteering adventures since the 1990s, when this sport was all but unknown to outsiders.
Grab a late breakfast of bacon, eggs and baked beans at Preseli Venture (laverbread cakes, salty porridge patties made with seaweed and cockles—small clams found in abundance on the Welsh coast—can be provided to groups on request), and follow a footpath 20 minutes to the sandy beach at Abermawr. From here, join the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path, a 299-km trail that tracks the Welsh coast. Hike as far as you like, eyes peeled for Atlantic grey and harbour seals.
Fill up on spaghetti Bolognese, served in the Preseli Venture communal dining room along with bara brith, a Welsh teacake packed with dried fruit. Play cards or board games in the sitting area, relax around the outdoor firepit or sprawl on the grass and stargaze—a fitting end to your Welsh adventure.
Getting there: WestJet flies to London 10 times a week from Calgary and Toronto.
Three Places to Go if You Really Love Books
In honour of National Novel Writing Month this November, an annual event where participants attempt to write a manuscript in 30 days, consider taking a literary-inspired vacation to Jamaica, England or Cuba to learn about Ian Fleming, Jane Austen or Ernest Hemingway.