There’s more to southern Snowdonia than the majestic Cadair Idris massif – here’s your guide to its best pubs, finest hikes and most creative communities
The five peaks of Cadair Idris dominate the landscape of Snowdonia National Park’s southern edge, in an area known as the Dyfi Valley. It’s surrounded by a bevy of pretty bays, landscapes and towns – including historic Machynlleth – as well as the pioneering eco-tech Centre For Alternative Technology. Hiking, biking, rail-riding and saving the world – explore all sides of the Dyfi Valley with these Cadair Idris highlights.
Shortlisted as a possible capital of Wales in the 1950s and site of Owain Glyndwr’s totemic 15th-century Welsh parliament, Machynlleth (or ‘Mac’) retains its handsome architecture and environmentally conscious image. Full of historical landmarks, Mac’s excellent facilities, lively atmosphere and proximity to the coast also make it an ideal base for exploring the area.
Mac’s become something of a mountain biking mecca; there are some excellent purpose-built routes nearby. The best place for info and cycle rental is The Holey Trail.
If the weather turns, come over cultured and head to the Museum of Modern Art, Wales, in Machynlleth. Housed in a serene old chapel, this free museum hosts exhibitions, theatre, concerts and more.
Take the water-balanced cliff railway to the beautiful main site of the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT), 5km north of Machynlleth. Conceived during the 1974 oil crisis, a once derelict slate quarry has been turned into an almost entirely sustainable community. But although CAT generates 80% of its own power from wind, sun and water, this is no hippie commune: the idea is to embrace technology and promote its application in urban situations – along with nearby Corris, this is a working community that aims more to educate by example than entertain (01654 705950).
The down-to-earth seaside resort of Tywyn – a handy base for the Talyllyn and Dysynni valleys – houses St Cadfan’s Stone, which bears the earliest example of written Welsh, dating back to AD 650.
The main attraction, though, is the cute Talyllyn narrow-gauge railway – the inspiration for Thomas the Tank Engine, no less – which tootles 12km inland through the delightful wooded Talyllyn Valley. Hop on and off, taking in the fine broadleaf forest and old slate quarries (£13 unlimited one-day travel; check timetables online).
This five-peaked massif stands defiant in its isolation. Catch it on a good day and the summit views – occasionally stretching to Ireland – are phenomenal.
The most dramatic hike up follows the Minffordd Path (10km; 5hours; 870m ascent), a popular route that makes a full circuit around the rim of Cwn Cau, probably the country’s most impressive mountain cirque. The path starts just west of the Minffordd Hotel at the junction of the A487 and B4405. From the car park, follow signs along an avenue of horse chestnuts and up through the woods, heading north. Take a map and bad weather gear.
Most of this corner of the Cambrian coast is an easy commute by bus or by train from Machynlleth, itself a swift, relaxing train ride from Shrewsbury.
By plane: Not convenient. Cardiff (120km south) is the nearest airport.
By train: Direct lines to Machynlleth run from Shrewsbury (80 mins) and Birmingham (140 mins). Trains from both Swansea and Cardiff divert via Shrewsbury, so try the bus instead (www.nationalrail.co.uk).
By bus: National Express coaches (www.nationalexpress.com) run daily from London Victoria to Aberystwyth (7 hours, via Birmingham and Bangor). From there, catch the TrawsCambria X32 to Machynlleth; the X40 links Aberystwyth to Carmarthen, Swansea and Cardiff. If coming from the other direction, buses travel in from Edinburgh (11 hours, via Glasgow, Carlisle and Birmingham) to Cardiff. Early reservations are recommended.
By car: Best route into mid-Wales is A458 (via Shrewsbury bypass) or A456 (via Birmingham). If you’re coming in from the south, try the M4.
Local transport: Reliable-if-sparse bus and train links run around the Dyfi Valley, including the stop-off points for Cadair Idris – Machynlleth, Corris and Dolgellau (www.ecodyfi.org.uk/transport.htm).
Wynnstay Arms (Machynlleth) Full of laid-back grandeur, good food and cosy guest lounges where you can curl up with a book after a long day of hiking. B&B doubles from £45 pppn.
Reditreks (Machynlleth) Cheap and cheerful bunkhouse beds for £15 (£17.50 Fri-Sun), camp pitches for £5 pppn. Offers organised mountain bike rides from £40 (6hrs).
Tyddyn Mawr Farmhouse (Islawdref, 5km south-west of Dolgellau) Eighteenth-century farmhouse on the slopes of Cadair Idris at the foot of the Pony Path. Very welcoming and great value, with open fireplaces and en-suite rooms. B&B doubles £37 pppn. Check ahead for winter closures.
Penhelig Arms Hotel (Aberdyfi) Coastal hotel with attractively streamlined rooms and a nautical-styled restaurant with expertly cooked seafood. Doubles from £69.
Dylanwad Da (Dolgellau) Consistently the best restaurant in town, serving creative, affordable dishes – such as Thai seafood soup and cumin-spiced salmon or Moroccan lamb stew – served in simple surroundings.
The Slaters Arms (Corris) Fabulous food and drink (including a good range of ales) in this old pub just a few miles from Cadair Idris.
Town & Gown (Tywyn; 01654 711 771) Serves good daytime food – you can eat while browsing thousands of second-hand books.
This article was adapted with permission from the Rough Guide to Wales (£12.99), which provides comprehensive information on the whole of Wales, including Snowdonia NP and the Cambrian Coast