The mountains of Snowdonia provide the most dramatic and alluring of all Welsh scenery, a compact, barren land of tortured ridges dividing glacial valleys, whose sheer faces belie the fact that the tallest peaks only just top 3000ft. It was to this mountain fastness that Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the last true prince of Wales, retreated in 1277 after his first war with Edward I; it was also here that Owain Glyndŵr held on most tenaciously to his dream of regaining for the Welsh the title of Prince of Wales. Centuries later, the English came to remove the mountains: slate barons built huge fortunes from Welsh toil and reshaped the patterns of Snowdonian life forever, as men looking for steady work in the quarries left the hills and became town dwellers.
Thousands of hikers arrive every weekend to hike up Snowdon massif (Eryri) over steep, exacting and constantly varying terrain. Several of the ascent routes are superb, and you can always take the cog railway up to the summit café from Llanberis. But the other mountains are as good, and far less busy, and give unsurpassed views of Snowdon. The Glyderau and Tryfan – best tackled from the Ogwen Valley – are particular favourites for more experienced walkers.
But Snowdonia isn’t all about walking. Small settlements are dotted in the valleys, usually coinciding with some enormous mine or quarry. Foremost among these are Blaenau Ffestiniog, where a mine opens its slate caverns for underground tours, and Beddgelert, whose former copper mines are also open to the public. The only place of any size not associated with slate mining is Betws-y-Coed, a largely Victorian resort away from the higher peaks.