At the Gateway to Wales, the flowing history of Wales mingles with a cosmopolitan outlook and strong community ties in a riverside setting.
You’ll find the narrowest part of Dee Valley, cutting through the UNESCO World Heritage landscape. This geography is considered by UNESCO to be of “Outstanding Universal Value” and includes 11 miles of canals from Gledrid to Horseshoe Falls via the remarkable Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.
This charming valley is full of historical and religious testimonies, such as the imposing Gothic bridge, the Cistercian abbeys and the medieval ruins of Castell Dinas Bran.
The charming town of Llangollen lies at the heart of the valley and is best known as the festival capital of Wales, hosting the annual International Music Eisteddfod. Llangollen readily embraces the many idiosyncrasies of festival culture and its adherents. It is not uncommon to encounter padded bridges, screeching thriving cities and women on stilts with feather patterns.
It is a destination best suited to walkers and heritage enthusiasts as it is close to historic canals and the Offa’s Dyke long distance footpath and railway.
There is also plenty of culture, boutique shopping and quality accommodation. Although it has attracted visitors for centuries, the Vale of Llangollen is a firm favorite with tourists who still feel undiscovered.
I have to stay
Pretty Llangollen has modern and historic hotels, B&BS and even a 16th century coaching inn for a peaceful night’s sleep. Further afield there are a number of luxury resorts within easy reach of the valley.
The nearby 5-star Chester Grosvenor offers stylish accommodation with individually designed rooms, spa facilities, a Michelin-starred restaurant and hatted doormen. Dating back to 1865, the Chester Grosvenor is a historic and lavishly decorated hotel with soft yet sophisticated ivory, champagne and gold tones and a beautiful colonnade.
Another affordable luxury accommodation in Llangollen is the characterful 18-bedroom Pale Hall, a historic farmhouse cleverly converted into a luxury hotel with fine dining.
I have to eat
This charming part of Wales has plenty of options for hungry visitors. From country pubs and cafes to sophisticated wine bars, there’s something to suit every budget.
As many travelers know, Wales is known for its native Welsh lamb and black Welsh beef, and luckily Llangollen is surrounded by working farms where sheep and cattle graze.
They even have an organic farm down the road that raises bison. This means that many establishments serve as much local food as possible. Many Welsh artisans in the area produce traditional food and drink such as beer, cider, Welsh sweets and Bara brith.
Diners should try The West Arms, a quintessential British pub with an inventive menu using local produce. Gales Wine Bar & Hotel is a great place to sample a glass or three in their impressive wood paneled wine cellar. They also offer a variety of seasonal dishes using fresh local produce and delicacies.
At the Cottage Tearooms guests can enjoy home cooked farm and afternoon tea. With a natural courtyard, less than 100 meters from the iconic Llangollen Bridge, the tearooms are a popular place to enjoy a cream tea in historic surroundings.
Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Horseshoe Falls
The seven-mile flume from Chirk Bank to the spectacular Horseshoe Falls was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2009 for its engineering features and historical activity. The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is a must see and one of the most amazing achievements of the Industrial Revolution.
At 38 meters above the Dee Valley, it is also the highest navigable aqueduct in the world and the oldest in Britain. Designed and built by Thomas Telford and Williams Jessop, it is still in use more than 200 years after construction began.
It’s a seemingly impossible channel show. There are 18 curved stone pillars supporting deep cast iron pools filled with water to form Sky in the River, accessible by foot or boat.
There are several companies in the area that offer canal tours or rent canal boats so you can travel along the canal and across the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct in style.
At the southern end of Llangollen is the medieval chocolate castle of Plas Newydd, home to the iconic ‘Ladies of Llangollen’. Sarah Ponsonby and Lady Eleanor Butler fled their aristocratic families in Ireland in the 1780s and together embarked on a bohemian lifestyle, moving away from the rather boring constraints of social norms and opting instead for intellectual curiosity.
The couple were the epitome of lovable and slightly eccentric codependency, offending rural society by sharing a bed, wearing top hats and men’s suits, and decorating their residence in a Gothic style. Notable guests at the cosmopolitan residence include Robert Southee, William Wordsworth and statesmen such as the Duke of Wellington.
Today, the home and manicured gardens are an unlikely tourist attraction and now a scenic museum for visitors. Its grand and non-conformist quality beautifully sets the tone for the city’s free and rather welcoming nature.
It has to do
White water rafting on the River Dee
With rugged mountain peaks, rocky coastlines and some of the best rafting rivers in the UK, it’s easy to see why North Wales is known as the adventure capital.
Go on a guided rafting trip along the long River Dee in Llangollen and feel the adrenaline rush as you paddle the raging rapids from grades 2 to 4. Known locally as Serpents Tail, Tombstones and the classic Town Falls, the fast-paced sections are best explored with qualified guides on an organized adventure activity.
Admire panoramic views of the valley as you ride fast-flowing waves, cruise the shallows and splash in deep pools on a river that alternates between turbulent and calm.
The Llangollen Railway is North Wales’ only standard gauge railway, taking visitors on a classic journey through the beautiful countryside. Climb aboard a 1950s carriage pulled by a classic steam engine and enjoy the nostalgia as the train follows the river and curves through the lush landscape.
The track is a labor of love as railway enthusiasts have painstakingly built and restored 10 miles of neglected lines and stations between Llangollen and Corwen over 45 years. The result is a wonderful community asset that makes a family day out at the Welsh circuit one of a kind.
The most spectacular section of the 177-mile Offa’s Dyke trail runs through the Llangollen Valley, with shorter sections available for keen walkers visiting the area. Local legends suggest that a medieval king built it as a show of strength to intimidate his opponents.
As well as its mythical qualities, the path takes in some of Wales’ most impressive scenery and historic castles as it loosely follows the Welsh-English border.
Day walkers can try the 13 mile stretch from Llangollen to Llandegla to see the highlights of the Llangollen Canal, Castell Dinas Bran and UNESCO scenery.