Wales and the unexpected: there are all kinds of interesting places hidden in the hills and valleys. Here are just a few - in the order you'll find them if you start at the north end of The Cambrian Way in Llandudno.
Trefriw Woollen Mills, Conwy Valley
Trefriw Woollen Mills is a traditional family business operating since 1859. Here in this historic working mill they manufacture gorgeously colourful Welsh fabrics in the unique ‘tapestry’ styles that have been passed down the generations. Have a look around the weaving shed and turbine house before browsing the lovely shop, full of throws, blankets, hats and more.
Blas ar Fwyd, Llanrwst
If you’re passing through Llanrwst be sure to stop off to stock up at Blas ar Fwyd. This friendly local deli and shop sells all sorts of Welsh food and drink -perfect for picnics or as an unusual gift. Cheeses, pates, bread and cakes, pickles and preserves all adorn the shelves. Don’t forget the wine, beer and spirits too.
Read more: Tempt your tastebuds along the Cambrian Way
Welsh Royal Crystal, Rhayader
Located in Rhayader, Welsh Royal Crystal is the only hand-crafted crystal glass maker left in Wales. You can do a tour and watch these master craftspeople demonstrating their skills, then pop into the shop and choose from gorgeous crystal pieces each individually mouth-blown and hand-cut.
Gigrin Farm, Rhayader
It used to be rare indeed to see red kites anywhere in Britain. A small population was clinging on in remote pockets of the Cothi and Tywi valleys. Due to dedicated conservation efforts you see them far more frequently almost everywhere in Wales nowadays – a real success story. If you’d like to see these majestic birds up close, the daily red kite feedings at Gigrin attract up to 600, along with a supporting cast of buzzards and ravens.
Read more: Up close with the red kites in Wales
Yr Ysgwrn, Trawsfynydd
The soldier-poet Ellis Evans – better known by his bardic name, Hedd Wyn – is a major figure in Welsh cultural life. He was killed at Passchendaele weeks before he was due to be awarded top honours at the 1917 National Eisteddfod. The poet’s family farm, Yr Ysgwrn, near Trawsfynydd, is now a visitor centre with exhibitions about his life and legacy, Welsh language and culture and the First World War.
Dyfi Distillery, Corris
The Cameron family have won stacks of awards for their florally flavoursome gins. They distil in tiny batches, using herbs foraged from a secluded valley that is Wales’ only UNESCO World Biosphere. At the Dyfi Distillery you can chat to them about their craft, try a nip or two and buy some to take home. Be sure to take a look at the other interesting workshops here in the Corris Craft Centre community too.
Read more: Gin experiences in Wales
National Cycle Museum, Llandrindod Wells
Cycling has always been big in Wales, so it’s fitting that Britain’s National Cycle Museum is here in the heart of cycling country at Llandrindod Wells. They’ve got over 200 cycles packed into this quirky museum, from ancient bone-shakers to hi-tech carbon jobbies. The knowledgeable staff are great fun and very happy to tell you more.
Farmers’ Welsh Lavender, near Builth Wells
The lavender fields near Builth Wells produce the scented oil that goes into their Farmers' range of creams, balms, lotions and scrubs. You can visit Welsh Lavender most days in summer and stroll through the fragrant fronds before taking in the views over tea and cake and buying a few lovely lotions. Ring ahead first to make sure they’re not out tending to their crops.
Brecon Mountain Railway, Merthyr
For many, the Brecon Beacons are all about walking. But you can explore in less strenuous ways by riding the historic narrow-gauge Brecon Mountain Railway. Beautifully restored steam locomotives run from Merthyr Tydfil’s northern outskirts to the foothills of South Wales’ highest summits. It’s a return journey of 9 miles/14km and the views of sparkling lakes, woodland and rolling green hills are spectacular.
Read more: Heritage railway heaven
Castell Coch, or the ‘red castle’ is a fairytale gaggle of turrets surrounded by beech forest. It sits high on a hillside in the village of Tongwynlais, on north outskirts Cardiff moments off the A470. Whilst parts of it date back to the 13th century it was renovated and embellished by the Marquess of Bute in the 1800s. Inside you’ll find a staggeringly opulent display of Victorian Gothic architecture and decoration.