Rhayader (Rhaeadr Gwy)
Rhayader is a handsome small and fairly uneventful livestock-market town revolving around a central crossroads marked by a war-memorial clock. It's a place that appeals to walkers visiting the nearby Elan Valley and tackling the 136-mile Wye Valley Walk. Rhayader is deserted on Thursdays when businesses trade for only half a day, but market day on Wednesdays attracts a crowd.
Set around a market square lined with august houses in stone and brick, and overlooked by the ruins of a Norman castle, genteel Montgomery is one of the prettiest small towns in the country. A charming mixture of Georgian, Victorian and timber-framed houses line the streets and a choice of excellent places to eat combine to make it an unexpectedly rewarding place to stop.
Builth Wells (Llanfair-Ym-Muallt)
Builth (pronounced bilth) Wells is by far the liveliest of the former spa towns, with a bustling, workaday feel. Once the playground of the Welsh working classes, it has a pretty location on the River Wye. While there are no attractions per se, it's a handy base for walkers or cyclists tackling any of the long-distance paths that pass through.
Set within a commercial pine forest on the edge of Snowdonia National Park, Corris is a peaceful former slate village, 5 miles north of Machynlleth. With a steam railway, craft centre, theatre and two subterranean tours in the village's old slate mine and caves, it's well worth a stop.
Hilly Knighton (Tref-y-Clawdd; the town on the dyke) is a lively, handsome town of winding streets and half-timbered houses midway along the Offa's Dyke Path National Trail and at one end of the Glyndŵr's Way National Trail. A popular stopover for walkers, it is so close to the border that its train station is actually in England.
Shortly before the River Rhiw empties into the Severn it gurgles through this pretty village of black-and-white houses, grouped around an ancient oval churchyard. Tiny Berriew is the unlikely location for the Andrew Logan Museum of Sculpture, when the museum is closed there's not much to do here except stroll around and take in the scenery.
The Elan Valley is filled with strikingly beautiful countryside, split by impressive Edwardian impositions of grey stone on the landscape. In the early 19th century, dams were built on the River Elan (pronounced ellen), west of Rhayader, mainly to provide a reliable water supply for the English city of Birmingham.
At tiny Pilleth a whitewashed church on a hill overlooks the peaceful valley where 800 men were killed in the 1402 victory by Owain Glyndŵr over Edmund Mortimer (Mortimer was captured, switched sides and married Glyndŵr's daughter). Most of them were buried in mass graves in the churchyard.
Two miles before Builth Wells on the A483 is the place where Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the last Welsh Prince of Wales, was killed in a chance encounter with a lone English soldier in 1282. The spot is marked with a sad obelisk of Caernarfon granite. The site is often strewn with nationalist banners and pamphlets.