Welsh castles: A self-drive guide through centuries of history

NEW YORK -- Wales is known for many things -- a rugged coast line, pristine national parks and medieval folklore among them. But the country also is famous for its castles, many of which are open to the public during the high season.

The following is a sampling of historical castles that retailers can recommend to clients who book self-drive tours through the Welsh countryside.

Detailed information about the properties mentioned here, including group booking contact information, can be found on the Web site at www.travel-search.co.uk. Click on Wales from the home page.

Armed with a map and a full tank of gas, travelers can consider these suggestions:

  • Chirk Castle, in Wrexham, is a fortress completed in 1310 and occupied by the Myddleton family for 400 years.
  • Its austere exterior belies the elegant state rooms inside, which have elaborate plasterwork, tapestries and portraits.

    In the formal gardens, visitors find clipped yews, roses and flowering shrubs.

    The 18th century parkland contains many mature trees as well as gates, made in 1719.

    The castle is open to the public from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays from March 27 to Sept. 30.

    Admission costs about $8 for adults; $4 for children, and $6.50 per person for booked parties of 15 or more.

  • Cilgerran Castle, near Cardigan in Pembrokeshire, is a 13th century ruin perched above the Teifi gorge.
  • It is open to visitors from 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Admission charges were not available.

  • Penrhyn Castle, in Gwynedd, is a neo-Norman castle that sits between Snowdonia and the Menai Strait.
  • It was built by Thomas Hopper between 1820 and 1845 for the wealthy Pennant family, who made their fortune from the local slate quarries.

    The castle's grand staircase and interior stone carvings create a cathedral-like atmosphere.

    The castle contains a collection of paintings and a Victorian-terraced walled garden.

    The property is open from noon to 5 p.m. daily, except on Tuesdays, from March 24 to Oct. 31.

    Audio tours are available.

    Adult admission is about $8.50 but is slightly less when booking groups of 15 or more.

  • Powis Castle and Garden, in Welshpool Powys, contains a world-famous garden overhung with enormous clipped yews. Laid out under the influence of Italian and French styles, the garden retains its original lead statues, an orangery and an aviary.
  • In the 18th century, an informal woodland wilderness was created on the opposing ridge.

    Perched on a rock above the garden terraces, the medieval castle was originally built around 1200 by Welsh princes.

    The castle and garden are open to the public daily from March 27 to June 30, and daily except Mondays and Tuesdays in July and August.

    Entry fees cost about $12 per adult, $6 per child.

  • Tudor Merchant's House, in Pembrokeshire, is a late 15th century townhouse, characteristic of the area and of the time when the nearby town of Tenby was a thriving trading port.
  • The remains of early frescos can be seen on three interior walls, and the house is furnished to re-create family life from the Tudor period onward.

    Hours of operation vary. It is open from March 27 to Sept. 30.

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