A UK break in Monmouthshire: Tintern Abbey, Michelin-starred food and hiking

Hiking trails, electric boats and vineyard tours are just some of the reasons to visit the Welsh county famous for Tintern Abbey.

A hiker on Hatterrall Ridge, Offa's Dyke Path.

Photograph by Getty Images
By Stephanie Cavagnaro
Published 10 Mar 2023, 10:39 GMT

Monmouthshire is a stunner: this county in southeast Wales packs a punch with moody mountains, market towns, meandering rivers and Michelin-starred restaurants. It encompasses some of Britain’s best scenery, spanning the dramatic Black Mountains in the north to the Eden-esque Wye Valley, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty that sprawls over the border into England, making it an excellent getaway for lovers of the outdoors. 

The county’s length is stitched with walking trails — including the Wye Valley Greenway, which opened in 2021 — that take in pastoral fields, plump forested hills, scores of sleepy castles and the majestic monastic ruins of Tintern Abbey on the River Wye’s banks. Laid-back towns peppered across Monmouthshire include floral Usk, mediaeval Monmouth and the creative and culinary hub of Abergavenny. The latter is lined with indie shops selling art supplies, wild blooms, fermented sourdough loaves, Welsh-made children’s clothing and small-batch coffee. It’s also home to a clutch of celebrated restaurants that plate up knee-slappingly good grub — the town also hosts the renowned Abergavenny Food Festival each September.

What to do 

Tintern Abbey’s celestial stone arches sweep the sky. This 13th-century gothic masterpiece beside the River Wye was Wales’s first Cistercian abbey. A muse for the Romantics, the preserved abbey contains a sizable seven-lancet window and soaring nave, while kitchen and cloister ruins dot the grounds beyond. Climb to rocky outcrop the Devil’s Pulpit for aerial views of the abbey and Wye Valley. For something entirely different, visit artisanal Wales Perfumery to create a personalised 30ml bottle of eau de parfum. Weekly workshops are hosted by founder Louise Smith in her Monmouth lab overlooking a leafy Tudor walled garden, or opt to buy one of the brand’s three ready-made fine fragrances, launched in 2022: Coast, Country and Forest deftly capture the scent of the Welsh landscape. Find Wales’ fledgling wine scene at the award-winning White Castle Vineyard, which bottles a taste of Welsh terroir in a sunny microclimate in the shadow of The Skirrid mountain. Vinophiles Robb and Nicola Merchant grow grape varieties such as phoenix, cabernet franc and pinot noir across seven acres of gentle slopes and run weekend tours — learn about the vineyard, winemaking process and the Welsh grape harvest before sipping four still wines.

Where to eat 

In the Llanddewi Skirrid hills, Michelin-starred restaurant The Walnut Tree dishes up feel-good food such as twice-baked cheese souffle with Welsh black truffle. The homely, earth-toned space doubles as a contemporary art gallery, with works spanning weathered etchings and oil paintings. The Kitchen at The Chapel in Abergavenny is more casual, with an eclectic veggie-forward menu that includes plates such as beetroot feta borani with chickpea flatbread. Its larder shop is stocked with surprises such as pink grapefruit jam, while an upstairs event space hosts drawing workshops and author conversations. 

The ruins of Tintern Abbey.

The ruins of Tintern Abbey.

Photograph by Alamy

Don’t miss 

Monmouthshire is hiking heaven, and particularly alluring in autumn when woodland foliage turns russet, gold and cherry red. Take to the Wye Valley Greenway, linking Chepstow and Tintern via a disused railway line. The Wye Valley Walk, meanwhile, is a long-distance footpath that follows the course of the River Wye, rising to vertiginous viewpoints. Other trails include Offa’s Dyke Path, the circular 121-mile Monmouthshire Way, and climbs to local peaks such as The Skirrid, Blorenge and Sugar Loaf. 

Where to stay 

Caradog Cottages’ collection of sweet boltholes are clustered around Abergavenny. Book Ivy Cottage, which has views that crawl up The Skirrid’s hiker-pinpricked peak. Set east of town (a full-bellied waddle from The Walnut Tree), it comes with a sitting room fireplace, airy conservatory and exposed wooden beams, plus two king-size bedrooms and ensuite bathrooms with clawfoot tubs. The décor is playful, with antique wardrobes, a vintage green birdcage and splashy Andrew Martin-designed cushions. On arrival, the open-plan kitchen is stuffed with a stonking breakfast spread of smoked salmon, sourdough, freshly squeezed orange juice, Neal’s Yard yoghurt, strawberry jam and soft, ripe figs. Ivy Cottage from £422 per night, self-catering.

We like 

Cruise the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal aboard an electric-powered boat for a duck’s eye view of the Monmouthshire countryside. The canal traces the mountainside above the Usk Valley, where moorhens nest in reedbeds and squirrels scurry up oaks. The 28-seat Lord Raglan, built to transport coal from the valley to the Newport docks, and smaller 10-seat open-top Edith-Elizabeth are run by volunteers from the Monmouthshire, Brecon and Abergavenny Canals Trust (MBACT), a charity that’s protecting and restoring the waterway. Trips depart from Goytre Wharf, March to October.

Published in the April 2023 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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