During our last trip to Wales, my family and I bundled up to explore four cool winter gardens: Chirk Castle, Penrhyn Castle, the National Botanic Garden of Wales, and Aberglasney House and Gardens. These gardens are a great way for travelers of all ages to enjoy the stark beauty of the winter season.
Seated on a strategic hilltop seven miles southeast of Llangollen, near the English border, Chirk Castle is over 700 years old. It has been beautifully renovated over the centuries and is one of the only medieval castles in Wales that is still lived in to this day.
Originally landscaped in the 18th century by William Emes, Chirk Castle’s grounds now include five acres of award-winning gardens and seven acres of woodlands. We walk around the frost-tipped gardens, admiring the impressive 19th century yew topiary as well as bright clusters of snowdrops.
The castle and its grounds are maintained by the National Trust. Note: the gardens usually close in mid-December and open up again in February. Check the National Trust’s website for current events, hours, and admission fees.
About two miles east of Bangor between the mountains of Snowdonia and the Menai Staits lays Penrhyn Castle. Designed in the 19th century by Thomas Hopper, the castle is surrounded by 60 acres of grounds, including a lovely Victorian Walled Garden, rolling lawns, wooded paths, and even a picturesque chapel. On a cold but clear afternoon we enjoy a lengthy stroll around Penrhyn’s grounds, marveling at the mountain views while spotting blooming witch-hazel, magnolias, and snowdrops. Afterwards we pop into the tea room for hot beverages.
Penrhyn Castle and its grounds are maintained by the National Trust. Note: the gardens usually close in mid-December and open up again in February. Check the National Trust’s website for current events, hours, and admission fees.
National Botanic Garden of Wales
Opened in May 2000 on the grounds of a former aristocratic estate eight miles east of Carmarthen, the sprawling National Botanic Garden of Wales is home to hundreds of acres of various plant habitats, gardens, lakes, and the largest single-span glasshouse in the world.
We arrive in the morning and enter through the Gatehouse, walking down the Broadwalk dotted with snowdrops, hellebores, witch-hazels, and various winter shrubs in bloom. After quick stops to admire the Japanese Garden and the Double Walled Garden, we head to the must-see Great Glasshouse, where rare and endangered plants from Mediterranean climates flourish throughout winter.
The National Botanic Garden of Wales is open daily, year round. Check their website for current events, hours, and admission fees.
Aberglasney House and Gardens
Aberglasney is another great winter garden and lies only six or seven miles from the National Botanic Garden, between Carmarthen and Llandeilo. Little is known about the original mansion and gardens, but one of the earliest references is in a 15th century ode.
We are absolutely enchanted by Aberglasney’s grounds. The frosty ground crunches beneath our feet as we explore the formal 17th century cloister garden and the 250-year-old yew tunnel. Afterwards we duck inside the award-winning Ninfarium, an Italian-inspired garden located in a heated atrium converted from several of the mansion’s derelict rooms, warming up as we enjoy the pink orchids and bright orange calathea crocata.
Aberglasney House and Gardens are open daily, year round. Check their website for current events, hours, and admission fees.
Transportation to Wales: For North Wales, Manchester International Airport is closest, about an hour drive from the English-Welsh border. For South Wales, Cardiff International Airport is the most convenient.
Train/Bus: Trains run from Manchester and Cardiff to stations in Chirk, Bangor, and Carmarthen. Check current times and fares at the National Rail.
If you decide to stay in Chirk, The Hand Hotel, located near the railway station, has moderately priced rooms and a relaxed atmosphere. In Bangor, you can enjoy lovely views of the Menai Straights and Snowdonia mountains in one of the Eryl Mor Hotel’s comfortable en-suite bedrooms. If you’re looking for something more rustic where you can tuck into a delicious Welsh breakfast, try the award-winning B&B Allt y Golua Farmhouse, a ten minute drive from both the National Botanic Gardens and Aberglasney House. If not, the 4-star Cawdor Hotel in Llandeilo is a stylish inn with bright rooms and a good restaurant.
If you’re looking for a bite to eat or a hot beverage to warm you up, the tea-rooms at Chirk and Penrhyn Castles serve fresh, locally-sourced foods. At the National Botanic Garden, both the Gatehouse Café and Seasons Restaurant offers local and organic goodies. Aberglasney House’s Gardeners’ Café is located near a tranquil pool, also serves local and seasonal foods.
Written by Carrie Uffindell for EuropeUpClose.com