DAY 3: Mount Snowdon, Ynys Llanddwyn and Conwy
At 3,560 feet, Mount Snowdon dominates the landscape of northern Wales. Indeed, outside of Scotland, it's the highest mountain in the U.K. Taken from the Old English for "snow hill," the name "Snowden" conjures up a good deal of Welsh pride and few can truly call themselves devoted until they've climbed it at least once. If you're fairly fit, it's doable in three to four hours, but a better option is to ride the old-timey Snowdon Mountain Railway (available March through November) to the top and walk the two hours down. You'll still get views and plenty of exercise.
On a clear day, from the summit you might spy the Island of Anglesey, just off the northwest edge of Wales. Now connected to the mainland by two bridges (the first built in 1826 by engineering genius Thomas Telford), the island retains a strong Celtic vibe. Most visitors don't venture much farther than the town just over the bridge, famous for its name: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. There's little to do here besides getting off the bus, posing next to the town's sign at the train station and ducking into the tourist center next door for classic Welsh souvenirs like wool throws, wooden love spoons and Celtic jewelry.
Turn south on the A4080, stopping at Halen Môn to taste some of the purest salt in the world (loved by President Barack Obama in the smoked sea salt caramels made by Fran's Chocolates in America) and tour the facilities to learn how it's produced.
But the real highlight of Anglesey is Ynys Llanddwyn, otherwise known as the island of Welsh lovers. Accessible only when the tide is out, the bit of land is home to the legendary Dwynwen, the patron saint of Welsh lovers. The daughter of a fifth-century Welsh prince, she retired to the island heartbroken after being spurned by her sweetheart, vowing never to marry, but wishing happiness to all true lovers.
Over the centuries, a shrine and church built in Dwynwen's honor have become a place of pilgrimage for young couples. Gone to ruin during the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII, the church survives in a few walls alongside a Celtic cross. Just beyond, an equally evocative abandoned lighthouse stands sentinel against the sea, offering one of Wales' best ocean views.
Return to the mainland and head north along the coast on the A55 to Conwy, yet another walled town with a castle built by Edward I. Although less intact than the castles at Harlech and Caernarfon, it may be more scenic, particularly if you get there early in the morning. Take a couple of hours to circumnavigate the town walls for pleasant views of the rolling green landscape and bay. Along the beach side, find the "narrowest house in Britain." If the owner is home, for a pound or two you may even get to look inside.
Cross the River Conwy and continue north to Llandudno, a Victorian seaside town known as the "Queen of the Welsh Resorts." Although more like a faded princess today, Llandudno features a promenade backed by Victorian buildings (now mostly hotels), which remains the centerpiece of town, particularly along the pier on the west side. Now populated by a mostly geriatric crowd, it has a few points of interest, the biggest and best being the Great Orme — a heap of limestone overlooking the west side of town. Take the tramway to the summit, or follow the ring road by car and bike. Be sure to stop at St. Tudno Church along the way and explore the graveyard, where stones appear more chiseled by the sea winds than by human hands. Back in town, Lewis Carroll fans can follow the trail of Alice Liddell, whose tales of Llandudno inspired the author to write "Alice in Wonderland." For dinner, feast on hearty classics at the Ham Bone Brasserie and Deli or on more haute cuisine at the Terrace at St. George's Hotel.
By Mike Dunphy
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