Day one (about 58 miles/93km)
Start at the border town of Mold. Stay here the previous night to take in an evening performance at Clwyd Theatr Cymru, home to Wales’ major drama producing theatre company. Music, comedy and film are also on the menu.
If you’re planning a picnic, call into the nearby Hawarden Estate Farm Shop for the freshest farm-grown food before driving over the smooth, green Clwydian Range of hills – an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – to Ruthin, a town full of historical and cultural riches. It’s a smörgåsbord of red-bricked and black-and-white half-timbered buildings from medieval, Tudor and Georgian times. In contrast, purpose-built Ruthin Craft Centre is filled with the best in contemporary art and crafts.
Head up the pastoral Vale of Clwyd to Colwyn Bay. This traditional seaside resort is changing fast. The bay – a sandy crescent that goes on for miles – looks better than ever. There’s a new beach with Saharan quantities of fresh sand, a revitalised promenade and Colwyn Bay Watersports Centre, all close to Eirias Park, a lovely 50-acre/20ha ‘park by the sea’.
Day two (about 5 miles/8km)
You’ll need a full day to do justice to Llandudno and its surroundings. The ‘Queen’ of Welsh resorts really does have regal qualities. Perhaps it’s the perfectly preserved Victorian and Edwardian seafront lined with candy-coloured hotels. Or those wide, well-planned shopping streets with their ornate canopies. Or possibly the pier, the longest in Wales.
The Great Orme headland, a nature reserve with rare flora and – would you believe? – wild Kashmir goats, rises dramatically above the promenade. Go to the top San Franciscan-style on the historic tramway, or alpine-style by cablecar. Back in town, MOSTYN is making waves internationally as a cutting-edge contemporary art gallery. And Venue Cymru, North Wales’ leading theatre and entertainments complex, stages performances by big-name players, including Welsh National Opera.
The theme is medieval at nearby Conwy. Its narrow streets, enclosed within original town walls, are full of historic houses. But nothing can rival brooding, dark-stoned Conwy Castle, a World Heritage Site, for presence.
Route notes: You’ll visit three world-class castles on this route – Conwy, Caernarfon and Beaumaris, all World Heritage Sites
Day three (about 36 miles/58km)
Penrhyn Castle, Bangor, is an outrageous, over-the-top 19th-century mansion built by an immensely wealthy local slate baron. For pure showmanship, the cavernous Great Hall takes the breath away, though the other side of Penrhyn’s story is revealed in the Victorian kitchen where servants sometimes worked 20 hours a day.
North Wales is the UK’s outdoor activity capital. It’s not just because of the mountains, but also down to places like Zip World Velocity at Bethesda, the world’s fastest zip line (can you handle 100mph/160kmh?).
Day four (about 43 miles/69km)
Caernarfon, like Bethesda, requires a short there-and-back detour from the main route. But you wouldn’t want to miss either. Caernarfon is home to our most famous castle, another soaring medieval monument that served as a royal palace for Edward I. For a different side to this much-visited town go to Galeri, a modern complex with art spaces, cinema and café/bar on the redeveloped waterfront.
Return to Bangor, crossing the Menai Strait that separates the Isle of Anglesey from mainland Wales either on the modern Britannia Bridge or historic Menai Suspension Bridge (a world’s first), designed by 19th-century genius Thomas Telford.
Beaumaris is a handsome sea-town with another outstanding castle. Of all the 13th-century castles built by Edward I in Wales, Beaumaris is the most accomplished. Any attack on this moated, ‘rings-within-defensive-rings’ fortress, must have been a daunting prospect.
You won’t be able to see all of Anglesey on this tour. So head inland for Llangefni and the next best thing – Oriel Ynys Môn, an attractive museum and gallery that gives an instant tour of the island’s history, heritage, wildlife, geology and art.
Anglesey’s coastline is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It doesn’t come much better than at South Stack sea-cliffs beyond the port of Holyhead, where colonies of guillemots, puffins and razorbills can be viewed from Ellin’s Tower RSPB Seabird Centre.