Snowdonia may be one of the UK’s wildest regions, but it’s also the setting for some of Wales’ most beautiful formal gardens, parks and managed forests. In Snowdonia, the natural history of countless epochs meets the man-made history of recent centuries, resulting in a harmonious marriage of awe-inspiring creations and spectacular scenery.
With its mile upon mile of scrubland, farmland, mountains and rugged coast, you might think that Snowdonia is an untamed wilderness. While this may be true of many of the region’s open spaces, Snowdonia is also home to a number of well-tended parks, gardens and woodlands, many of which are open to the public.
From formal gardens and pristine parks to nature gardens and managed forests, Snowdonia’s managed open spaces offer something for everyone, and in many cases provide a fascinating glimpse into the region’s past; indeed, many of Snowdonia’s historic houses and castles are just as famous for their gardens as they are for their architecture.
A triumphant experiment in creating man-made beauty in a setting already made beautiful by nature, Portmeirion’s acres of formal gardens and managed woodland meld effortlessly into the rocky backdrop of a site carved out of the landscape by the elements over millions of years. Ponds, fountains, exotic plants and to-die-for views across a wide, sandy estuary add to the photogenic brilliance of Sir Clough Williams-Ellis’ Italianate architecture, making Portmeirion one of Snowdonia’s favourite visitor attractions.
2. Brondanw Estate
The historic home of Portmeirion’s creator Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, Brondanw is one of Snowdonia’s best-kept secrets. Entering the gardens is like stepping into the pages of Alice in Wonderland; formal topiaries, lawns and avenues of trees sit alongside wild woodlands and a rocky outcrop topped with a ruined lookout tower. Meticulously and sympathetically designed (like Portmeirion) to slot into the Snowdonia landscape and look as if it’s always been there, the whimsical, fairytale feel of Brondanw is absolutely delightful.
3. Parc Glynllifon
Another site with a rather whimsical feel, Parc Glynllifon has a bit of everything; a historic mansion with a restaurant serving oh-so-British cream teas; peaceful forests where all you’ll hear is the rustling of leaves and endless birdsong; Victorian follies including a little pond-side hermitage; and a contemporary slate amphitheatre with a shallow river running through its middle, separating the stage from the audience in a way that children in particular seem to find satisfying.
4. Bodnant Garden
Sitting above the River Conwy in 80 acres of grounds, Bodnant Garden is one of the UK’s most beautiful gardens and one of Snowdonia’s best-loved attractions. The garden is split into two parts; terraced gardens with informal lawns, and a wild garden set in a river valley. Bodnant is planted with exotic plants from all over the world, particularly Chinese and Japanese plants which are well suited to Snowdonia’s climate.
5. Coed Y Brenin
Coed Y Brenin, in the south of the Snowdonia region, is a vast forest that’s ideal for mountain biking and walking. Routes are waymarked so it’s easy to find the one that’s most suited to your party’s abilities, and there’s a wonderful tiered children’s play area to keep your little ones happy.
6. Conwy Valley Maze
Conwy Valley Maze is the world’s largest garden maze, covering over two acres. The maze is constructed from English Yew, and uniquely contains themed gardens including a rose garden planted with 200 roses, a Japanese Zen garden, tropical garden and butterfly garden. The maze is open for most of the year, but may close during bad weather – call 01492 660 900 before you visit, to avoid disappointment.
7. Plas Tan Y Bwlch Gardens
Picturesque 13-acre Victorian garden in the Vale of Ffestiniog. Plas Tan Y Bwlch is a large Victorian mansion used as a training and study centre, with largely wooded gardens open to the public for free. Wonderful sweeping lawns and ornamental pond, a variety of rhododendrons and azaleas, and a beautiful water garden combine to make Plas Tan Y Bwlch a great spot for peace, tranquillity and wildlife watching.
8. Plas Yn Rhiw
Plas Yn Rhiw is a small 16th century manor house on the Llyn Peninsula, with ornamental gardens and spectacular views across Cardigan Bay. Rescued from neglect in 1938 by three sisters, who lovingly restored Plas Yn Rhiw and then donated it to the National Trust who continue to care for the property today.
9. Gwydir Castle
Allegedly one of the most haunted houses in Wales, Gwydir Castle is a Tudor courtyard house set in historic gardens incorporating 16th century arches and walls. Gwydir’s gardens are among a very small number of gardens in Wales with Grade I Listed status, and a fine example of Tudor and Stuart formal gardens – complete with peacocks.
10. Penrhyn Castle
Penrhyn Castle is a 19th century, neo-Norman castellated mansion set in 60 acres of beautiful grounds. Parkland, a Victorian walled garden, exotic trees and shrubs together make this one of the region’s most popular gardens – but of course the house itself, the priceless art collection, the railway museum and doll museum also contribute to Penrhyn’s popularity.