The river Tywi carves its way through the heart of Carmarthenshire from the Brecon Beacons, meeting the sea at Llansteffan. It is flanked by lush greenery, picturesque farms, and ancient castles perched on conical shaped hills. Some even compared it to the Loire Valley in France. Often shrouded in river mist (or ‘dragon’s breath’ as my daughter likes to call it); this is the atmospheric Wales of knights, Merlin, and legend.
The smart destination town of Llandeilo rises above the river's bank in a colourful meander of bright cottages, the tower of St Teilo church crowning the top of the hill. The town, as well as being a fantastic place to live, (it made it into the Sunday Times top 10 places to live in Wales in 2017), is attracting weekend visitors as a base for exploring the Tywi Valley and the western Brecons. It is fast becoming a rural hub for independent shops, antiques and interiors, and particularly good coffee.
Top things to do (as recommended by locals!)
1) Bluebells at Dinefwr Park
Take a stroll through the beautiful National Trust Dinefwr Park - within walking distance from the town centre.
See the ancient white cattle (famously visited by Prince Charles in 2017), spot the deer, and ramble up to enjoy spectacular views along the Tywi valley from the medieval castle ramparts.
If you are lucky enough to get the timing right – enjoy the bluebell show throughout historic Castle Woods. The more recent Newton house is worth a wander around, stop at the National Trust tea room and shop (thumbs up to the Lamb Cawl).
Later in the year there is the Dinefwr Food Festival (23th-24th June 2018), and then the wonderful Festival of the Senses (16th-18th November 2018).
2) Wander the shops
Llandeilo is rapidly getting a reputation for its quality and quirkiness of independent shops and is a very enjoyable place to spend an afternoon or two. It is particularly carving a niche for interiors and antique shopping. Start in King Street (across the road from St Teilo’s church). Don't miss:
- Peppercorn - An amazing kitchen shop full of treasures and cooking mod cons to rival John Lewis (5 King Street - www.peppercorn.net)
- Toast - This stylish clothing and homewares brand began its high street life here before growing into the UK-wide brand it is today. As well as the latest range, you can also shop previous seasons in one of the few Toast outlet shops (4 King Street)
- Eve’s Toy Shop - My kids love it here, so obviously I love it here too. But also because the toys are hand-picked for their quality, educational value and age appropriateness (think Lottie Dolls, not Barbie). There is a very thoughtful Brio table for keeping unruly toddlers entertained, and the owner is just lovely. Others think so too – this place won best independent Toy Shop in the 2017 (1 King Street)
- The Little Welsh dresser - Beautiful Welsh homewares and Annie Sloane paint suppliers, plus furniture upcycling workshops. They have seen recent success at the Wales Independent Retail Awards winning Bespoke Retailer of the Year (64 Rhosmaen St)
- Craft’s Alive - Browse a wonderful collection of locally produced products and homewares, including a galley upstairs (133b Rhosmaen St)
- The Works Antique Centre - An expansive treasure trove of antiques from over 55 sellers, the largest centre of its kind in South West Wales. Shop here for Welsh antiques including dressers, vintage Welsh ceramics, and tapestry blankets. Ajoining is a petite but lovely Garden Centre, with very helpful staff, and a vintage tearooms
3) Travel the Heart of Wales
Llandeilo is at the start of a pretty stretch of the Heart of Wales train line - we haven’t done this yet, but would love to take the train up through Llandovery and through the heart of Wales all the way to Shrewsbury for a bit of a road (or track!) trip.
Best coffee in town award
After that, you are going to need a coffee, better make it a good one. The Hang Out is a local’s secret - hidden down an unassuming side road between a Royal Mail centre and an auction room, this light filled café is adorned with colourful ethnic parasols and mementoes from the owners' travels across the world. This is the perfect place for a leisurely brunch and antipodean styled food with a heavy dose of Melbourne. Try the smashed avocado, mint, pea and egg on toast. And the coffee. It rocks. www.thehangoutllandeilo.co.uk, Beechwood Industrial Estate, Llandeilo, SA19 7HR
Eat and drink
- Ginhaus Deli: Gin + deli + coffee - what is not to like? Tucked on this quiet pedestrian lane in the centre of town, this is popular with locals and tourists alike. There are some outside tables for warmer days and you can often enjoy live music if you time things right. Browse the famous wall of gin where you can sample from 240 gins from 46 different countries. 1 Market Street, Llandeilo, SA19 6AH
- Heavenly: Yup I can vouch it is like heaven in here - they make their own chocolate and artisan ice cream in their 'lab' at the rear of the shop, resulting in exquisite chocolates and gifts. Try the hot chocolate (involving plunging a ball of pure chocolate into hot milk) in their opulently decorated cafe after a bracing spring walk. 60 Rhosmaen Street
- Cawdor Hotel: The landmark Cawdor occupies a handsome strawberry jam red Georgian building dating from 1765. Expect good food in the hotel restaurant, and there is a cosy bar with open fire. Hang out in the exotically painted courtyard on a warm spring evening with a G&T, and enjoy one of the very comfortable modern rooms complete with Melin Tregwynt textiles. Rhosmaen Street
- No. 5 at Ginhaus: For the self-catering option, the two bedroom Ginhaus cottage is a great bet. It sits within an 18th century townhouse, and is elegantly furnished with vintage and quirky features. www.wales-cottages.info
Llandeilo with kids
- Pop into Ginhaus and pick up some takeaway food from the deli. Walk up to Penlan park for a run around in the bandstand and beautiful views of Llandeilo and the valley below. From here you can explore Castle Woods leading to the National Trust's Dinefwr Castle.
- For warm summer’s days, part near the station and cross the tracks at the level crossing. Take the footpath through the woods to the suspension foot bridge across the Tywi. The other side is a good shallow pebble beach for paddling and stone skimming.