North Wales – underground exploration and sky-high views
If you want action and relaxation, North Wales has both. Vast Snowdonia National Park is a natural playground, with many small businesses offering year-round activities including horse riding, mountain biking, white water kayaking and guided walks and climbs.
For thrill-seekers, there are multiple Zip World sites. Penrhyn Slate Quarry, located near Bethesda, is home to the world’s fastest zip line – speeds can reach a face-wobbling 100mph. A ride on it will give you a bird’s-eye view over the dramatic mountainside quarry and extensive surrounding countryside. If you want an escape from the elements, the all-weather Slate Caverns in Blaenau Ffestiniog have a trampoline park deep inside a former Victorian mine, and an underground rope course with zip lines, tunnels, climbs and descents through caverns.
There are dozens of affordable B&Bs in the Conwy area. Gwynfryn is a top choice, right in the town centre. Or stay near the fairytale waterway of the Menai Strait at the Black Boy Inn, one of the oldest in North Wales.
Penarth – cliff-top trails and mouthwatering meals
In the southeast of the country, just across Cardiff Bay from the capital, is Penarth, a seaside town with all the charm and none of the gimmicks of similar places. At the tip of the Vale of Glamorgan, it’s an ideal rural base from which you can walk the Wales Coastal Path to neighbouring towns and villages, blowing away the cobwebs as you stroll on the cliffs, hills or even just along the pier. After an activity-filled day, you can choose to spend the night in the area or head back to explore bustling, compact Cardiff.
Staying in Penarth means you can treat yourself to an evening meal at Restaurant James Sommerin, one of only a few Michelin star eateries in Wales: the six- and nine-course taster menus showcase some of the very best seasonal produce of the area. If all that food makes you sleepy, you can stay overnight in one of their rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Severn Estuary. Alternatively, stroll uphill to Holm House Hotel, a modern building with luxury accommodation, landscaped gardens with sweeping sea views, and a spa.
Brecon Beacons – waterfalls, walks and whisky
With spectacular scenery and endless paths for wintery walks, Brecon Beacons National Park feels like it was made for the season. Bring walking boots to cope with the demands of the terrain and head for wonderful natural attractions such as Sgwd yr Eira waterfall. The three-hour route leads directly behind the fall, which looks spectacular whether the water is fast-flowing or frozen into spiky icicles. Penderyn Distillery is close by, ideal for warming yourself up with a taste of Welsh whisky made on the premises.
For ultimate cosiness when it comes to somewhere to stay, opt for a cottage. The Sunday House, a converted Sunday school next to the River Usk, is well located if you have a car, and even comes with a telescope so you can spend those long evenings picking out constellations in this International Dark Sky Reserve. There’s also Old Crofftau, another countryside cottage with great access to Brecon’s amenities, views of both Pen-Y-Fan and the Black Mountains and a wood burner for lazing beside. Or for some Georgian elegance book a room with a view at Peterstone Court, reserving a table in their excellent restaurant at the same time.
Other great food options abound in Abergavenny, a small town with a big reputation as a gourmet haven. Fuel up with award-winning afternoon tea in The Angel Hotel or enjoy country pub delights at The Hardwick or The King’s Arms. Just north of Brecon is Talgarth Flour Mill, a restored watermill with a bakery and breadmaking courses that operate all winter. The Felin Fach Griffin is nearby, a lovely spot for a gastropub meal made using ingredients grown in the on-site garden.
Pembrokeshire – pick a beach, any beach
Sprawling hills for blustery walks, local pubs with great beer and open fireplaces, little villages and towns to hide away in and stretches of sand that are beautiful come rain or shine – Pembrokeshire has all this and, in winter, none of the peak season crowds.
With over 50 beaches here, there’s a high chance you’ll find one to claim as your own. Cwm yr Eglwys is a sheltered low tide beach, with a pebbly cove hidden behind the western part of the main beach, where you can search for marine life in the rockpools. Abereiddy beach is long, with stretches of pebbles and dark slate sand, while the harbour to the north, known as the Blue Lagoon, is a breached quarry filled with azure water that’s worth clambering over the hilltop for. Tenby’s beaches are much nearer civilisation, with a handful of options in the town depending on what type of beach experience you want.
To be near amenities, stick to the small urban centres like Tenby, St Davids, Fishguard and Narberth. Perfect for a special occasion if visiting the latter is The Grove, a Georgian hotel with acres of private gardens, plush lounges, an award-winning restaurant and easy transport links. Alternatively, you could stay in one of Fforest’s apartments on Cardigan Quayside and enjoy a meal in an historic setting at 1176 in Cardigan Castle. Or historic St David’s has sights, sleeping and eating options aplenty if the weather turns really bad. Check out the cathedral, peruse the many independent shops and then retire to Tŵr y Felin, Wales’ first contemporary art hotel.