THE trendy Danish concept of ‘hygge’ – a cozy, memorable, charming feeling of being utterly at ease – might have peaked as the big conceptual winter fashion, but it remains a wonderful concept.
Here’s why a trip to the hills of Wales is full of just the right kind of hygge-like, cuddly charm…
Somewhere between Anglesea’s expansively named Llanfairpwllgwyngyll… (yes, I cut off two thirds of the name, it is that long) and the Brecon Beacons National Park, you hit the winding hillside roads of Snowdonia.
You cruise gently under tunnels of trees, the climate seemingly changing as you cross through each little hillside pass and rugged, three-house village.
The land has that soggy green depth that feels like it hasn’t been dry in months; the texture reminiscent of an ancient realm of Hobbits.
It’s the kind of place you almost drift through, giving re-emerging onto a dual carriageway the air of a post-dream slap around the face.
If Snowdonia is the realm of Hobbits, the Brecons feel more like they belong to the giants.
The southern park is all expansive sweeping valleys, soaring hillsides and picture box villages that look unchanged in generations. The main draw of the Brecons, then, is the scenery.
In Winter, the slow rising roads lead you through tiny clusters of ageing houses, the pathways edging above the treelines until they burst out suddenly into great soaring valleys.
In the Summer, this is a hiking hub. In Winter you’d need to be more hardy to hit the upper slopes, but the delicate stone of the tiny towns comes into its own, lit up in slanting light and offering cozy corners next to fires to envelop guests.
For somewhere to stop over, the award-winning Angel Hotel in Abergavenny delivers casual class.
Tucked in behind a fairly innocuous looking facade is something of a community hub, bustling with activity.
You can grab a tiny electric car to roam the hills in (provided on the house), or explore local artists’ work in the hotel shop.
It’s the social side of the hotel that stands out, though: it’s unobtrusively welcoming, popular as a conversation-driven night out as well as in its capacity as a hotel, with plenty of little corners in which to plant yourself.
Naturally, there’s also an oak-clad bar crammed with heady local brews, while the afternoon tea (a Tea Guild delicacy, no less, featuring ample scones and pastries) and top-tier restaurant (crab, scallops and succulent local venison, as well as local beef and cheese) are both sublime.
They’ve even opened an in-house bakery, specialising in delicate pastries and flavoured breads, and expanded the hotel outwards into various utterly luxurious buildings around its outskirts, including a wedding venue-meets-organic cafe.
You’re similarly treated in the hills, where many semi-rural restaurants – both walker stop-offs, and Sunday drive-tos for locals – have grown to produce some genuinely memorable food in fireside pub settings.
You can learn more about every aspect of the Brecon Beacons via the tourism website at breconbeacons.org.
RYANAIR fly (usually cheaply, though watch out for rugby weekends) to Cardiff, just over an hour from Abergavenny. Given its outstanding scenery and quirky stop-offs, however, we far prefer making a day of it with the longer drive down from the Holyhead Ferry.
If you’re hiring a car, it’s worth noting the evening ferry arrival isn’t much good (or at least you’ll need to stay in Holyhead overnight), as the car hire companies close their doors by six. They do, however, allow return trip drop-offs when they’re closed.
THE Angel in Abergavenny is the kind of enticing rural hotel it would feel utterly opulent to lounge in for the weekend without ever passing the porch. That said, the many nearby hill walks give the place an air of ‘earnt luxury’, and add to the feel of the Welsh hotel of the year.