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City walls encircle the medieval town of ConwyFor a short break in Wales, it's worth sampling Welsh Rarebits. Even more so if you want something special for a family party or group. Reg Butler sampled a two-night taster, and ended up licking his lips for another sightseeing feast.

Welsh Rarebits is the name for a selection of 48 small hotels spread around Wales - each quite different in style and character. 

Emyr Griffith - formerly a top man in Welsh Tourism - told me how he launched Welsh Rarebits over twenty years ago. 

"I searched all over Wales for 'the best hotels of their kind'. They had to be privately owned. So I went for the best historic inns, the best restaurants with rooms, the best country house hotels, all serving good food. 

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For brochure: WELSH RAREBITS, Prince's Square, Montgomery SY15 6PZ, Wales. Tel: 01686-668030
Reservations should be made direct to the individual hotels.

More information: NORTH WALES TOURISM, 77 Conway Road, Colwyn Bay, LL29 7LN. Tel: 01492-539062. Bed bookings: 08705-168-767. 


Tel: 08708 300 306     

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"The smallest has five rooms and the largest has 40. Small is beautiful and very important. Unlike the big faceless chain hotels, they are small enough for the owner to run them in personalised style. Between them, the 48 Welsh Rarebits total about 800 rooms. 

"The cheapest rate is about 80 per double room including a full Welsh breakfast, and costs over twice that much for a top-grade country house property. 

"It has to be value for money. There are people who will happily pay 200 for a bedroom if it's good."

Our tour group exploring North Wales was too large to fit into one hotel, so we split between three out of the five Welsh Rarebits in the Llandudno area.

I stayed in the 28-room Castle Hotel in the centre of the medieval walled city of Conwy. As an old-time coaching inn it had the full works: panelled walls, antiques, and floorboards that have creaked ever since William Wordsworth or Samuel Johnson stayed there.

All the Welsh Rarebits take pride in cuisine based on fresh local produce. Our sea-food lunch at Castle Hotel typically featured local organic salmon, Conwy mussels and local crab. Nothing from a freezer. It didn't come cheap. But you'd pay three times as much for that quality in London. 

Elizabethan decorations in Plas MawrJust across the road was Plas Mawr, rated as Britain's best preserved Elizabethan Town House, built between 1576 and 1585. Its gatehouse, stepped gables and lookout tower dominate Conwy's narrow main street.

The interior with its decorated plaster ceilings and colourful coats of arms reflect the wealth and influence of its Tudor founder.

A joint entrance ticket for Plas Mawr and Conwy Castle costs 7, concession £6, or 22 for a family. You really need almost a whole day to explore medieval Conwy within its three-quarter miles of city walls.

Some of our tour group stayed at the 14-room Groes Inn, due south of Conwy on the B5106, with great views eastward across the Conwy Valley and west to the mountains of Snowdonia. 

The inn dates from the 15th century, and claims to be the first licensed house in Wales since 1573. It has all the traditional ingredients like low ceilings, exposed beams and roaring log fires during the chilly months. But the spacious bedrooms have all the usual modern comforts. 

In Bodnant GardensJust across the river is the National Trust property, Bodnant Garden, rated among the finest in Britain. From November it's closed until early spring when the daffodils are massed to welcome you. 

The 140 acres are tended by 18 staff under the command of third-generation head gardner Martin Puddle. It's a longish way down the terraces, and feels like longer coming back. During the season, it's one of the major tourist attractions in the Conwy Valley.

Just outside the Snowdonia National Park, the Valley offers gorgeous scenery with greener-than-green pastures dotted with sheep, and plentiful woodlands. A roadside sales sign for passing motorists said: "Fill your Boots with Logs."

The rest of our tour group was staying at Bodysgallen Hall, where we all had a celebration dinner with a harpist in the background.

Bodysgallen Hall is the priciest of the Welsh Rarebits, and doubles as a member of the Historic House Hotels group. It's located just on the outskirts of Llandudno, where another Welsh Rarebit - the 18-room St Tudno Hotel - stands on the promenade opposite Llandudno Pier.

As part of our touring programme around North Wales we stopped for sightseeing at the Italian-style coastal village of Portmeirion near Porthmadoc. 

Essentially the whole dazzling village operates as a hotel with 51 rooms and suites. There are 14 in the main hotel by the waterfront, 26 in the village itself and 11 in the renovated Castell Deudraeth above. 
In Portmeirion village
Like all the other Welsh Rarebits, there are special deals for short breaks that include dinner, bed and breakfast. They also feature all-inclusive Christmas and New Year packages, with all the proper trimmings for celebrating in time-honoured traditional style. 

Just pick the Welsh Rarebit you fancy!

Here are more ideas on where to go in Wales

CARDIFF - great to visit any time

CARDIGAN - Self-catering along the Heritage Coast

LLEYN PENINSULA - Go walking around the Edge of Wales

SWANSEA - On the Dylan Thomas trail around the Gower peninsula 

TENBY - along  Pembroke's coastline

WALES - Steam up for North Wales

WALES ALONG THE A5 - Follow the historic highway for great sightseeing

"Books to read - click on cover pictures" or click on the links below

Collins Rambler's Guide: Snowdonia and North Wales by Richard Sale - Covers many of the beautiful and dramatic walking areas which can also be reached by the steam trains.

Narrow Gauge Railways of North Wales by Andrew Wilson - Covers all of the steam railway lines

Favourite Welsh Choirs - A compilation on CD of top choirs in full voice, featuring the well-loved traditional songs.

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