The Bala loop
Head east from Trawsfynydd and the road sweeps past the much-painted Arenig mountains to Llyn Tegid. It’s the largest natural lake in Wales, with its own unique species of fish – the Gwyniad - and is popular with windsurfers, yachters and anglers. Bala itself has always played a big role in Welsh culture and politics. A few miles north, the River Tryweryn was dammed in 1965 to create a reservoir to supply Liverpool, submerging the village of Capel Celyn. Cofiwch Dryweryn – remember Tryweryn – is still a rallying cry (and graffiti slogan) of the nationalist movement.
Over the top
Locals tend to cut the corner between Machynlleth and Llanidloes by going past Llyn Clywedog. It’s a twisty, swoopy road for much of the way, but plenty wide enough for two-way traffic. The best views are northbound: stop at the Wynford Vaughan-Thomas memorial for the greatest of all. This vast panorama of Snowdonia was the venerable broadcaster’s favourite view in the world.
The Welsh lakelands
Victorian travellers called the Cambrian Mountains the ‘green desert of Wales’: big space, no people. It’s still our most thinly-populated (by humans, at least) quarter: wildlife rules the roost in this vast landscape. The Elan Valley visitor centre is the best place to start. They’ll recommend driving, walking and cycling routes around the network of dams and reservoirs, and the moorland and woodland that surrounds them.
The Brecon Beacons
The A470 cuts through a dramatic pass in the Brecon Beacons mountains in the centre of the Brecon Beacons National Park. But it’s worth exploring the Beacons’ sister ranges. To the west, the Black Mountain (singular) falls away into the Camarthenshire, stopping just shy of Llandeilo. To the east, the Black Mountains (plural – confusing, isn’t it?) stretch to the English border (the fabulous Green Man festival takes place in this range, at Crickhowell). And to the south, Waterfall Country has the best concentration of cascades and gorges in Britain.
The food tour
You’ll drive past (or ideally, stop at) the superb Felin Fach Griffin on the way down. It’s the taste of things to come. Cut east to Abergavenny, and you’ve reached the food capital of Wales. Abergavenny Food Festival takes place here in September, and a cluster of first-rate restaurants-with-rooms in Monmouthshire and the Wye Valley. The Walnut Tree, The Whitebrook (both Michelin-starred), The Hardwick, The Bell at Skenfrith, The Bear Hotel… they’re all pit-stops par excellence.