Dolgellau (dol-ge-khlye) is a charming little market town, steeped in history and boasting the highest concentration of listed buildings in Wales (over 200). It was a regional centre for Wales’ prosperous wool industry in the 18th and early 19th centuries, and many of its finest buildings, sturdy and unadorned, were built at that time. Local mills failed to keep pace with mass mechanisation, however, and decline set in – preserving the town centre much as it was then. Pick up the Dolgellau Town Trail (£1) brochure from the tourist office to explore the unusual architecture in detail.
The region bounced back when the Romantic Revival made Wales' wild landscapes popular with genteel travellers. There was also, surprisingly, a minor gold rush here in the 19th century. Dolgellau gold, famous for its pink tinge, became associated with royalty (the gold for the the wedding rings of the current crop of senior royals was mined here). The mine has recently reopened, despite having been closed since 1988.
Today the town relies heavily on tourism. One of Snowdonia’s premier peaks, bulky Cader Idris, rises to the south, the lovely Mawddach Estuary lies to the west and, to the north, the Coed y Brenin Forest offers glorious mountain biking. Most of Dolgellau’s accommodation is plush and boutique, making it an appealing (if pricey) base from which to explore the national park.