I chose to visit Conwy, Wales because it was easy for us to catch the ferry to Ireland, our final destination on our 8 month tour. Conwy was a great choice, if for no other reason than the sense of home we had there. The people in Conwy are incredibly friendly, welcoming us in and treating us like life long residents.
To arrive in Conwy we took the train from Caernarfon via Bangor. It was a great experience as most of the train was full of people going to a wedding. They were drinking beer at 10 a.m. preparing for the festivities, telling jokes, laughing and comparing outfits. Although it was pretty cold and rainy they were dressed in fancy cocktail attire for the women and jeans and dress shirts for the men. As I sat on the train platform shivering in my coat I watched in amazement as they held cold beers with short dresses, not affected at all. While we couldn’t understand most of their jokes, they were mostly speaking Welsh, we couldn’t help but smile and laugh at their joyful demeanor.
When we arrived in Conwy it was cold and drizzly. We had an uphill climb to our very comfy AirBnb. Pulling our luggage behind us we made our way along the ancient fortress wall to find our cottage. Conwy is famous for its castle, built in 1283, along with the fortress wall which runs around the city. We were so lucky to find a great place literally right next to the wall.
As always I was itching to start discovering so we headed down the hill into town. Conwy is quite small. There are just a few streets and waterfront area in the old town. Each street is just as quaint as the next with small buildings of stone or brick. They are brimming with small shops, coffee shops and restaurants. Everything was so enchanting, so small and inviting. We made our way to the waterfront where we found the smallest house in Great Britain. I couldn’t imagine anyone living in this tiny house, but then the whole town was full of petite places so perhaps my view was just skewed from growing up in America.
The waterfront is very pretty in Conwy, full of boats, rocky shoreline, trees and the castle sitting majestically on a hill at the end of the city. On this Sunday they were having a beer and local food fest along the water, fully of lively Welsh locals enjoying local meats and large glasses of draft beer. I was so surprised to find the Welsh drinking beer all day, starting at breakfast. When I understood that the beer alcohol volume is 4.5%-5% it made sense that you could drink it all day. In fact, I came to appreciate the low alcohol volume, it meant I could enjoy more of the various beers.
Our first morning, after a hearty oatmeal breakfast to warm us up, we headed up to the wall, to walk around the city. It was really amazing to find the wall in good enough condition to hold tourists walking around everyday. The medieval architecture is amazing to me, with so much less sophistication in technology and equipment they were able to build massive structures which stand the test of time. The dark and brooding stones form together to create a castle that was truly amazing. It was not beautiful like the castles in Germany and France that we all admire but beautiful in the lines and details they created with what they have. During a time when everything was about defending the community they still managed to add some beautiful details in the windows and fireplaces. The Conwy castle is so well preserved, in fact the Welsh castles in general are incredibly well preserved compared to other countries, you leave with an understanding of how they lived in the castle and the city within the walls.
The downside of traveling during off-season, which is definitely October in Wales, is a lot of things are closed earlier than normal. (The upside of course is that we are able to find a more authentic experience and not fight the crowds wherever we are.) Each country, region and city is always different, which I love but sometimes it can lead to missing meals, or days with nothing to do (many countries basically shut down on Sundays. If you are traveling that day it can be a little difficult to find food, or something to do). In Conwy we got stuck on Monday night trying to find somewhere to eat. There were limited vegetarian options, and then we had not booked ahead so we headed to this cool looking bar close to the train station (which is actually just a platform and a machine) to eat dinner, play cards and drink beer. The Bank of Conwy Bar is located in an old bank, the hardwood floors, leather furniture, wood tables and long wood bar provide the perfect ambiance for a Welsh rainy evening of beer and cards. It also provides great conversation with the locals, and some pretty good Welsh specialty liquor and beer tasting. Unfortunately they didn’t serve dinner and so it was chips, beer and Merlyn’s cream liquor for us. In case you haven’t heard of Merlyn’s it is the most incredible cream liquor, think Bailey’s, we have ever tasted. It makes all the other cream liquors taste like watered down milk drinks. The problem with having the best cream liquor in the world is that you can’t get it again unless you are in Wales. Therefore, I must go back, it was seriously that delicious.
The next day we headed over to the small town of Colwyn Bay. We went via the local bus. I have to be honest, we were pretty underwhelmed with the shopping area. The beach promenade area was very similar to Aberystwyth with a mixture of brick and Victorian homes. In the summer there is probably a different feel but during the late fall the town felt hollow to us. (Although the bus ride was pretty entertaining.)
We spent our evening in The Bank of Conwy Bar again, talking to the people we had met the night before and soaking in the local culture. That is the one thing about Conwy that was different than other Welsh towns we visited. The people were eager to hang out, to talk and to share stories. In Conwy I felt like I had lived there for years.
I was sad to be leaving Wales the next day. As much as I am always eager to discover a new place in Wales I had found a comfortable country I wouldn’t mind settling in, under a warm blanket with a cup of coffee and a great book.
The Castle Hotel is a beautiful option if you are looking for a little luxury and piece of history.