Star (and Spa) Trek in Eryri (Snowdonia)

While Eryri (Snowdonia) is well known for its rugged landscape and wild, wide-open spaces, it’s also an indulgent destination for those in search of the finer things in life. Travel writer Huw Thomas hits the road in search of sumptuous spas and luxury, seasoned by fantastic food, at some of our finest hotels.

Huw and Caroline

As challenges go, being asked to visit some of the most luxurious spa hotels in North Wales is not the most daunting. This time out I’m accompanied by my wife Caroline, a true spa aficionado who knows her salt scrubs from her seaweed wraps (and who would never forgive me if I left her at home for a trip like this).

Into the woods

Our first stop on our journey from South Wales is the Waterloo Hotel & Lodge, sitting on the banks of the River Conwy on the edge of Betws-y-Coed. The town is famous as a gateway to the Eryri National Park and as a bustling hub for outdoor adventures, but the Waterloo proves it also exceeds expectations when it comes to relaxing indoor escapes. We stop for a lunch at the hotel’s Sunday carvery (a hearty spread that’s justifiably popular with locals and visitors alike) and take some time to check out the facilities. 

The Waterloo’s rooms are spacious and modern, each with a feature wall emblazoned in striking natural scenes echoing the views of forest and river visible through the windows. The bar’s a welcoming spot too, with plenty of comfy chairs and even a dedicated dog-friendly section for four-legged visitors. 

For rest and relaxation, there’s Stations Leisure, which offers the only hotel pool in Betws-y-Coed, alongside a jacuzzi, steam room and sauna. There’s also a fully equipped gym, should you feel the need to work up a sweat before treating yourself to a soothing soak. Our schedule doesn’t allow us to stop overnight this time, but we make a plan to give it a proper try next time we’re in town.

Swallow Falls © Hawlfraint y Goron / © Crown copyright (2024) Cymru Wales

Don’t miss
If you’re in Betws-y-Coed, a visit to Swallow Falls is a must. Located a couple of miles out of town, this beauty spot has been attracting nature-loving tourists for over 100 years. When the River Llugwy is in full flow, it tumbles over in a series of cascades in dramatic, foamy fashion. You can either see it from an easily accessible platform above, or descend the steep staircase to get a spray-soaked, riverside view.  

It takes a village

We head south-west, through the jagged quarries and slate fields around Blaenau Ffestiniog (now part of one of the UK’s newest UNESCO World Heritage Sites) and on towards the coast. Our destination is the fairytale village – and unique hotel – of Portmeirion, idyllically perched at the water’s edge on the mouth of the Dwyryd Estuary.

Portmeirion and Dwyryd Estuary

We’ve visited previously, but never stayed in the village overnight. The golfcart ride to our room through the village’s car-free streets conjures up some instant celebrity glamour, while a first look at Upper Pilot – our luxurious village suite – confirms that we’re in for something special. Located in a lofty spot above the village and estuary, there are showstopping views from every angle, whether we’re reclining on the comfy sofas in the lounge or laid out on the huge canopied bed in the bedroom.

We resist the urge to bask in our accommodation and head out to explore. Even if you’ve been here before, Portmeirion never ceases to amaze. It’s a testament to the unorthodox imagination and rule-breaking spirit of its creator Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, who spent decades transforming this wooded headland into the wonderland we see today. It’s a joyous jumble of influences that melds Italian-inspired design with historic architectural features gathered from across the country to create a surreal film set that blends with the dramatic natural contours of the landscape.

Portmeirion

We spend some time exploring the village and the network of pathways that loop along the coast and through luxuriant woodlands bursting with exotic trees and colourful rhododendrons. It’s the perfect way to build up an appetite for dinner.

Dinner is served
Not the we require much encouragement. From the amuse-bouche of miniature fishcakes topped with tangy slices of pickle through to the dessert of kafir lime and mango pavlova with fragrant lemongrass ice-cream, every course tastes as good as it looks. The setting plays its part too. The hotel dining room is styled to resemble that of a cruise ship, with polished wooden columns and arcing bay windows overlooking the shore. As night falls and the tide rises on the estuary, the effect is complete.

After dark with the day visitors gone, the village takes on a whole new personality. Illuminated by the silvery moonlight, its magic is magnified. A post-dinner stroll through the shadowy streets is a memorable end to the first day of our trip.

History lessons
After an excellent breakfast (try the poached eggs and avocado on sourdough), I’m given a guided tour of the village by Meurig Rhys Jones, Portmeirion’s location manager. He’s an enthusiastic fountain of knowledge, filling me in on some fascinating facts as we travel. I’m shown the room where Beatles manager Brian Epstein used to stay, regular visitor George Harrison’s favourite suite and the rooms where Noël Coward wrote Blythe Spirit during World War II.

Portmeirion Poached Eggs and Avacado on Sordough

Meurig also points out some of the techniques used by Williams-Ellis realise his vision, including perspective tricks that make the pocket-sized buildings seem much larger, deliberately wonky rooflines that create the impression of age and even buildings with false, painted-on windows (surprisingly easy to miss at first glance). It’s an enlightening deep dive into the vision of Clough Williams-Ellis and proof that there’s always more to discover about this singular place.

Our only regret as we leave Portmeirion is that we were unable to squeeze in a visit to the hotel’s Mermaid Spa. We manage to content ourselves with a quick dip in the (pleasantly warm) oval-shaped outdoor pool, positioned in yet another great spot by the water. We also browse the tempting spa menu to decide what treatments we’ll go for next time we visit (a Purity spa with bladderwrack seaweed scrub for Caroline and a hot stone Soothing spa for me).

Now and then

The next leg of our trip takes us north to Caernarfon and lunch at the Celtic Royal Hotel. Dating back to the late 18th century, it’s a grand old building with an impressive history (the future Queen Victoria stayed here in 1832). But it’s not a place that rests on its laurels. An ambitious refurbishment has brought the hotel squarely in to the 21st century. It’s a careful balancing act that’s preserved the historic building’s many original features while introducing complementary (and contemporary) colours and styles.

The Celtic Royal’s public spaces are immediately eye-catching – including a towering atrium with striking modern chandelier and cosy, library-style lounges lined with books and antique typewriters. We climb up the mighty wooden staircase that rises above the reception desk for a tour of some of the hotel’s generously proportioned rooms. They look the part too – coloured in cool shades of blue and bathed in natural light from tall picture windows.

Celtic Royal Hotel  

Back on the ground floor, we check out Celtic Royal’s leisure facilities. The sparkling 52ft/16m swimming pool, with adjoining bubble spa, looks warm and inviting. There’s also a hot and steamy sauna, plus fully equipped gym.

We settle down for lunch in the relaxed Y Copa/Summit Bar (the ciabatta club sandwich comes highly recommended). It’s ideal for no-fuss daytime dining, but Celtic Royal also offers an indulgent afternoon tea and gourmet à la carte evening menu in its Castell Restaurant if you’re in the mood for something a little fancier.

Celtic Royal Hotel Club Sandwich

Don’t miss
See ancient accommodation fit for a king at Caernarfon Castle, the UNESCO World Heritage Site fortress that looms over the town. Get your steps in by climbing the soaring Eagle Tower for super-sized views across Eryri and over the Menai Strait to Anglesey, or take things a little easier by riding the lift onto the new viewing platform above the King’s Gate.

On the waterfront

It’s just a short hop along the coast to the Quay Hotel and Spa in Deganwy, our final stop for the day. Located between Deganwy’s boat-packed marina and the waters of the River Conwy, it almost resembles a cruise liner, an impression only reinforced by the nautically themed artworks on the walls of its gleaming, light-filled lobby. 

Our suite is accessed through the Quay’s zen courtyard, a serene space of tinkling fountains and swaying palms. To describe the accommodation as spacious is an understatement. The bed is bigger than some hotel rooms I’ve been in, while the sofa-strewn lounge could probably accommodate a game of five-a-side football. The sense of space is only enhanced by the patio doors, which open onto wonderful watery views across the river to Conwy Castle and marina.

 

Spas and seafood
We’ve been excited about checking out the Quay Hotel’s spa and wellness facilities, so we grab our robes and head over to find a host of indulgent spa options. The biggest challenge is deciding where to start. We opt for the fragrant thermal area, lined with pink Himalayan salt bricks and infused with soothing aromatherapy scents. 

The Spa at the Quay

We also enjoy our first experience of an infra-red sauna (good for soothing aching muscles). Its heat is a little less intense than the traditional sauna next door, though we also spend a few blazing minutes in there too. The steam room rounds things off, before we finish with a refreshing swim and soak in the pool and its bubbling massage bath.

Rest and relaxation can make you surprisingly hungry. Luckily, we have dinner in the hotel’s Ebb and Flow restaurant to look forward to. It’s a warmly lit and easy-going room, strung with rigging-like rope in a subtle continuation of the Quay’s nautical theme. 

Crab tian accompanied by fresh flavours of avocado, lemon and watermelon

The menu’s big on seafood too. Caroline opts for a crab tian accompanied by fresh flavours of avocado, lemon and watermelon, while I choose a crispy herb fishcake with a deliciously punchy, caper-packed tartare sauce. A shared main of pan-roasted beef fillet with garlic wild mushrooms proves that the Quay is just as adept with ingredients sourced from the land. We finish with some ice-cream (from award-winning Conwy-based maker Parisella’s) flecked with crunchy shards of meringue, before retiring to our palatial room for a sound night’s sleep.

Making waves
Our spa experience at the Quay has left us hungry for more. In the morning, we drive away from the coast, following the rolling road along the lush Conwy Valley to the little village of Dolgarrog. We’re here to visit the Wave Garden Spa and Hilton Garden Hotel, comparatively recent additions to this part of Eryri.

Wave Garden

First, we check in for our two-hour spa session at Wave Garden. Decked out in fluffy robes with complementary glasses of Buck’s fizz in our hands, we’re ready sample its pleasures. Inside we find a tropically warm infinity pool with invigorating massage jets, bubbling foot spas, Himalayan salt sauna and a humid steam room. The sauna is particularly striking, thanks both to its pink-hued salt wall and the large windows giving views out over the surrounding countryside. 

Wave Garden really comes into its own when we head outside. The large deck area is home to a wooden barrel sauna, airy relaxation room with soft sun loungers and even an ice bucket challenge shower for hardier visitors (neither of us are brave enough to give it a go). Our favourite feature is the infinity spa pool. As we enjoy our drinks under bright spring sunshine with red kites wheeling in the skies above us, it’s hard to imagine a more relaxing place to be.

Wave Garden  

It's the blend of indoors and outdoors that makes Wave Garden feel really special. Caroline likens it to her experiences at the famous Thermae Spa in Bath. I know that’s one of her favourite spa destinations, so this is high praise indeed.

New kid on the block

Suitably refreshed, we grab a bite to eat in the Hilton Garden’s Zephyr’s Bar and Grill, a bright and breezy space with a touch of beach bar vibe. There’s an extensive menu of light bites and more substantial meals through the afternoon and evening. Top tip: the wild mushroom and grilled salmon salad is perfect lunchtime fare.

Hilton Garden’s Zephyr’s Bar and Grill

After we’ve eaten, Isabel at the front desk gives me a quick tour of some of the Hilton’s rooms. As you’d expect from a hotel that’s only been open for a few years, they are immaculate and stylishly designed (the funky Smeg mini-fridge in every room is a nice touch).  

The suites are particularly impressive. Located in the eastern wing of the sharply angled hotel building, these spacious escapes feature unique touches like a huge free-standing bath in the bedroom, perfectly located to enjoy the views from the windows or watch the (waterproof) widescreen TV.

Sea here

The final leg of our journey takes us back to the coast to Aberdyfi and the Trefeddian Hotel. The hotel sits in a commanding spot between hill and sea, overlooking a rugged expanse of rolling sand dunes and the waters of Cardigan Bay.

We receive a warm welcome at check in and ascend the lift to one of the expansive luxury suites on the hotel’s fourth floor. Draped in fabrics in varying shades of maritime blue and white, with shabby-chic furniture the colour of driftwood, it feels like an extension of the glorious seascapes we can see from our window.

Looking good
You can’t talk about the Trefeddian without mentioning the views. Whether you’re sitting in one of the lounges, on a rattan armchair on the manicured lawns or in the sun-filled observation lounge on the top floor, the stunning sights are inescapable. Everyone we meet tells us we’ve picked a good day to visit. Gazing at the vistas in warm spring sunshine beneath a cloudless blue sky, it’s hard to disagree. 

Trefeddian Hotel Views

It's the same story at the Trefeddian’s leisure and wellness centre, located in the trees just below the main hotel building. The swimming pool and spa bath also benefit from super sea views, and there’s a terrace with laid-back loungers for sleepy sunbathing. Even after our lunchtime spa soaking, we can’t resist a quick dip in the pool. It’s the best of both worlds – sunny, seaside swimming without all that chilly ocean water.

Don’t miss
If you’re any kind of golf enthusiast, you have to take the opportunity to play a round at Aberdyfi Golf Club, which winds its way through the dunes right in front of the Trefeddian. The historic links (laid out by legendary course architect James Braid) is a regular on rankings of the UK’s top clubs.

Class act
Maybe it’s the fact that it’s been owned and run by the same family since 1907, but the Trefeddian exudes an unmistakable old-school aura. The front of the building is strung with a series of elegant lounges – decked out with comfy armchairs and antique furniture – that could come straight out of an Agatha Christie novel. Everywhere you look are reminders of the hotel’s long history, from the old photos and documents that hang on the walls to the vintage silver cutlery in the restaurant engraved with the Trefeddian’s name.

Not that the place feels in any way stuffy or stuck in the past. Contemporary flourishes and modern design choices complement the more traditional elements to give the Trefeddian an atmosphere that feels genuinely timeless.

Trefeddian Hotel Room

In the evening, we head down for dinner in the grand, chandelier-hung dining room to sample the Trefeddian’s extravagant, five-course table d'hôte menu. Changing daily to incorporate the freshest ingredients available to the kitchen, its selection of fish, meat and vegetarian options is almost overwhelming. After some tricky decision-making, we enjoy a dizzying round of exquisitely-prepared dishes, served by friendly and attentive staff (our highlights are the mouthwatering pork loin wrapped in pancetta and super fresh sea bass served on zingy Thai noodles).

The food is only part of the experience. As we eat, we’re treated to a spectacular natural light show of the blazing orange sun dipping slowly below the horizon. It’s a wonderful end to three jam-packed and indulgent days enjoying the best of Eryri. Can we do it all again please?

View from Trefeddian Hotel at night