Snowdonia on a budget: a five-star hostel in the heart of the national park | Holidays in Snowdonia

“You get one of the best views of Snowdonia from Capel Curig,” Christian told me as he welcomed me to The Rocks.

Of course, this is something you might expect to hear from the co-owner of a Capel Curig hostel. However, even an old Snowdonia hand like me had to admit that the view from the Snowdon Horseshoe Inn, the ridges on the east side of the mountain, is indeed quite spectacular.

It is now 70 years since Snowdonia in North Wales became a national park. To celebrate this milestone, I cycled five miles from Betws-y-Coed station to spend a few nights in an even older hostel. The building served as a hostel for 75 years and was a YHA property until 2010. Now billing itself as Snowdonia’s only five-star hostel, The Rocks at Plas Curig was taken over by Christian and Annie three years ago. They revamped the place extensively and added many decorative touches such as Annie’s eye-catching semi-abstract landscape paintings.

The Rocks Hostel in Plas Curig

There are 59 beds in 14 rooms, although all dorms are booked as private rooms while Covid prevails. So I had a four-berth all to myself. The cubby beds, arranged in two bunks, each had a practical little shelf and a reading lamp and formed four cozy cocoons. This is not a party hostel, so the blissful silence of the night was broken only by the cry of a lone tawny owl. The room also had quite a nice view of the Clogwyn Mawr steeple, with rabbits feeding on buttercups in the field below my window.

Downstairs, I found two living rooms and a large, airy dining room filled with plenty of board games. A small shop in reception sells Welsh goods including soaps, spirits, beers and ciders (I invested in a small bottle of Blue Slate gin from the Dinorwig distillery in Bala). There is a shelter for bicycles and a fire pit for barbecue lovers. Meanwhile, Covid measures include a four-person limit in the enormous, fully equipped and sparkling clean communal kitchen; each bathroom being assigned to two specific rooms; wearing a mask indoors; and plenty of hand sanitizer.

An area near Llyn Crafnant.
An area near Llyn Crafnant. Photograph: Philip Smith/Alamy

Spent my first full day cycling in Gwydir Forest Park. A few miles from the hostel, on the west side of the Conwy Valley, it contains two mountain bike trails that are said to be excellent. However, on my flimsy road bike, I stuck to the quiet, single-track trails that weave their way above this rolling forest. I sniffed around Llanrhychwyn Church, a cool, dark cave of a building often considered the oldest place of worship in Wales. Near Llyn Crafnant, I sat amid the cries of cuckoo clocks, as a redstart leapt from tree to tree nearby, its orange tail quivering. Having acquired a picnic in the small market town of Llanrwst, I ate it in the company of a little egret chasing its own tea in the Afon Conwy. And when I returned to base in the early evening, fellow hostels Claire and Karen regaled me with the story of their sighting of the day: a golden eagle above Snowdon. Claire had stayed at the hostel back in the days of AJ – “It was a lot more austere back then” – and said she was more than happy with the current upgrade.

Hero Douglas with Tryfan in the background.
Hero Douglas with Tryfan in the background. Photography: Dixie Wills

The second morning, I went on foot abroad. My guide for the day, Hero Douglas, was born and raised in Capel Curig and is launching a local micro-adventure service this summer. As we hiked from the hostel to the foot of Tryfan (917m), she filled me in on tormentils, “map lichen” and local lore. “Around here they say ‘Snowdon is for walkers but Tryfan is for climbers’ because you have to use your hands no matter which way you’re climbing.”

Berths in the old YHA hostel.
Berths in the old YHA hostel.

George Mallory and Sir Edmund Hillary trained on Tryfan before tackling Everest. However, as a freshman scramble (the easiest level), it also serves as a great test of the beginner’s brain, eyes, and feet. There are myriad possible paths on the north face and, had it not been for Hero’s guidance, I’m sure I would have accidentally climbed up one of the ravines from which jammers are frequently rescued by the rescue team in local mountain. At the top, Hero scaled one of the two 3m-high rock monoliths – named Siôn and Siân – and fearlessly jumped onto the other, thus gaining the freedom of the mountain, according to tradition. More in love with intact legs than freedom, I declined his offer to give it a try.

Rocks Hostel Library.
Library at Rocks Hostel

After a satisfyingly extended ridge walk, we descended to swim in the surprisingly warm (well, not cold) Llynnau Mymbyr before returning to the nearby hostel to drop off my soaked clothes in the drying room and my soaked body in a hot shower.

For those wanting a wider exploration of Snowdonia, Christian at The Rocks now offers bespoke ‘slow and immersive’ people-carrying excursions for groups of up to eight people. But there’s so much to see and do within easy reach that you might just be content to walk or ride from the hostel’s doorstep.

Accommodation was provided by The Rocks at Plas Curig. Private double room £60 a night. The train journey was provided by Transport for Walesmove forward alone £18 from From Birmingham New Street to Betws-y-Coed

A caption for the image has been edited on 22 July 2021 because the image depicts the area around Llyn Crafnant and not the lake itself as an earlier version implied.

Linda G. Ibarra