In recent years, Wales has transformed into an eco-friendly hotspot popular with travellers keen to take a more sustainable approach to their holidays, and lured to the region by its wildlife reserves, biospheres and sustainable accommodation.
Planning on an eco-friendly Welsh getaway? We’ve got five fantastic destinations which should be on the radar of travellers who want to minimise their footprint. Chances are, you'll also want to read up on practical ways to travel better in Wales, and find out about places to stay in Wales for a sustainable trip.
The Llŷn Peninsula has it all. Head to this AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) and you’ll find everything from extinct volcanic peaks and wind-blasted stretches of coast to cosy seaside towns and iron age forts.
A great starting point for exploring the Llŷn Peninsula is Criccieth, a coastal town which was built in the thirteenth century and immortalised by English painter JMW Turner.
Blow away the cobwebs with a walk along the promenade, before checking out the town’s independent shops and cafés. We recommend Cadwaladers, for delicious, homemade Welsh ice cream.
Consider basing yourself at Nant Gwrtheyrn, a former quarry village which was purchased by the local community in the 1970s and transformed into the National Welsh Language and Heritage Centre. Its proximity to the Wales Coast Path is the reason its bed-and-breakfast accommodation is incredibly popular with hikers, although there are also plenty of reasons to stay put.
The on-site Heritage Centre contains displays about the history of the area, the development of the site to the present day and the history of the Welsh language. There are also residential language courses and a fantastic on-site café.
Love a good beach? You’re in luck, because the Llŷn Peninsula has some of the best in Wales. Standout stretches of coastline include Porth Ceiriad, a beautiful bay on the peninsula’s southern edge, and Porth Oer (otherwise known as Whistling Sands), an easily accessible beach famous for its squeaky sand, caused by the unique shape of the sand particles. It’s a great starting point for coastal walks, and offers a café to head to when energy levels wane.
The Wye Valley is named after the river which meanders through it—the fifth-longest in the UK. It’s another AONB and the area is especially popular with hikers, who come to walk the riverside paths. The valley has over 559 miles of marked trails.
Some of the best trails can be found near the Monmouthshire town of Chepstow. These include the Wye Valley Greenway: a 4.9-mile route which provides easy access to local attractions such as the Parva Farm Vineyard, Kingstone Brewery and Wye Valley Sculpture Garden, and the 5.5-mile Lancaut Loop route, which starts at Chepstow Castle and meanders along peregrine-dotted limestone cliffs.
Equally spectacular are the walks near Monmouth. Tackle the circular walk which weaves through Prisk Wood and you’ll see beautiful wildflower meadows and clusters of fragrant wild garlic. Look carefully and you’ll also see some of the wood’s abandoned millstone quarry workings. Restore energy levels at the 17th century Bush at Penallt, with its pretty beer garden—complete with an ancient cider millstone.
When it comes to accommodation, we recommend Hidden Valley Yurts—a brilliant option for visitors who love the great outdoors but don’t fancy spending their time tending to wayward tent pegs.
Stay in one of the five luxurious yurts and you’ll find king size beds, spacious patio areas and fantastic views over Monmouthshire. It’s an incredibly eco-friendly affair—the glampsite is part of Lower Glyn Farm, which is surrounded by wildflower meadows and designed to have minimal impact on the surrounding environment.
Keep an eye out for the wildlife. In addition to the friendly farm animals (which you’ll be invited to meet), the area has healthy populations of dormice, kingfishers, buzzards, badgers and pipistrelle bats. Stay here and you’ll be able to sign up for a wide range of activities, including archery lessons, clay pigeon shooting and falconry sessions.
Machynlleth is a beautiful market town with a quirky side. It’s home to residents with a serious passion for all things eco-friendly. Come here and you’ll meet people with a passion for sustainable living, local food, nature and art.
Don’t come here expecting to find Starbucks and chain stores. The high street, known as Heol Maengwyn and dominated by a Victorian clocktower, is lined with antique shops, galleries and alternative lifestyle stores founded by locals passionate about the area in which they live.
It’s also incredibly popular with fans of the arts. There’s a lively arts scene here, as well as an annual comedy festival—the Machynlleth Comedy Festival—on the last weekend of April. For an art fix, head to the MOMA Machynlleth, a modern art museum tucked inside a Victorian town house and a former Wesleyan chapel. To learn about the area’s history, head to the Owain Glyndŵr Centre, a heritage centre inside the building where Owain Glyndŵr was crowned Prince of Wales in 1404.
The town is part of the UNESCO Dyfi Biosphere (one of only six in the UK), a wider region which has several nature reserves of huge importance, ranging from lowland wet grasslands and salt marshes to ancient woodlands and lakes. There’s a huge network of walking routes in the local area. Visit Dyfi Biosphere to download a selection of walking routes and audio guides.
The passion for sustainability makes Machynlleth a fantastic place to learn more about how we can all play a role in reducing our footprint. One of the best places for budding eco-warriors is the Centre For Alternative Technology, or CAT, an educational charity which strives to find ways to reduce carbon emissions.
CAT runs a wide range of courses covering different subjects. Learn how to turn wooden pallets into furniture or how to build a pizza oven from clay. Other attractions include the Green Building, designed to demonstrate the importance of renewable and biodegradable building materials. There are also some brilliant interactive exhibits relating to wind, solar and hydropower.
Finally, for some feathered fun, consider a visit to the Dyfi Osprey Project, although it’s worth noting that the centre is closed until March 2022. The project, which was founded to safeguard osprey numbers in Wales, is based at Cors Dyfi Nature Reserve, which is a brilliant place to spot these beautiful birds, thanks to feeding platforms dotted across the site.
A stunning region with plenty of surprises in store (who knew that Ceredigion is an important cheese-producing region, for example?), Ceredigion is a wonderfully wild tangle of farmland, rocky coves, twisting country lanes and gorgeous market towns.
Partial to a spot eco-friendly retail therapy? Head to the Teifi Valley, where you’ll find pretty market towns such as Tregaron, Lampeter and Cardigan. They’re surrounded by farmland, so they’re great places to pick up seasonal, local produce, and towns here are also known for their galleries, set up to support the artists drawn to the region.
Another of Ceredigion’s biggest draws is the wildlife. Visitors flock to places like Cardigan Bay to spot dolphins and porpoises, or to the Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre to learn more about the marine creatures most likely to put in an appearance. Don’t miss the opportunity to join one of the centre’s 1.5-hour guided boat tours—species you’re likely to see include bottlenose dolphins, porpoises, seals and various seabirds.
There’s also a packed calendar of educational events, including Dolphin Survey Boat Trips, which provide a fantastic insight into the work of the centre’s researchers. For creatures which rank a little higher on the cuddliness scale, consider the Denmark Farm Conservation Centre, an eco-friendly centre with a self-catering eco-lodge and campsite, nature trails and courses focusing on sustainability.
Sustainability impacts every single aspect of the centre’s approach. Whether it’s the use of the Fair Booking scheme, set up to encourage visitors to book directly, and therefore ensure more money goes to the local community, or its Green Key accreditation: awarded to hospitality providers which adhere to strict sustainability criteria.
Another AONB, the Gower (or Gower Peninsula) is a wild, rugged region popular with hikers.
Highlights include Worm’s Head, a rocky promontory only accessible for two hours either side of low tide (the exact timings are displayed on a chalkboard); the walking trails (both the Wales Coast Path and the Gower Way cut across the peninsular); and its food scene, shaped by award-winning chefs such as Hywel Griffith at Oxwich Bay’s The Beach House.
The Beach House team has a passion for sustainability and a determination to reduce the footprint of the food they serve. The fish is brought to the restaurant by the boats bobbing just offshore, the cockles come from Penclawdd and the vegetables are grown by local farms.
The Gower is a magnet for adrenaline junkies. Thrill-seekers keen to minimise their impact on the environment should consider checking out Down to Earth, an organisation which was born from a passion for sustainable construction.
It has now evolved into one which offers activities, workshops and community outreach programmes. Head to its Gower site – a four-acre plot of land surrounding a building which relies entirely on renewable energy and has Gower’s first 50kw EV charge point – to sign up for masterclasses in everything from climbing and coasteering to wood carving and fire-making.
For eco-friendly accommodation, it’s hard to beat the Seren Retreat, a 23-acre site filled with ancient oak forests and wildflower meadows. The Retreat’s beautiful yurts have wood-burning stoves, kitchenettes and compost loos, and visitors can sign up for ayurvedic retreats, holistic therapies and yoga masterclasses. We’re feeling calmer just thinking about it…
Inspired? Learn more about eco-friendly trips to Wales - download our free ebook, the Rough Guide to Responsible Wales here.
Want to explore lesser-travelled roads? Wales has plenty of places to go green off-the-beaten-track.
Top image: Dyfi Biosphere, Mid Wales © Crown Copyright 2022 Visit Wales