The handsome stone market town of Brecon stands at the meeting of the River Usk and the River Honddu. For centuries the town thrived as a centre of wool production and weaving; today it's the main hub of the national park and a natural base for exploring the surrounding countryside.
Against a background of pastel-painted Georgian prosperity, the compact market town of Monmouth bustles and thrives. It sits at the confluence of the Rivers Wye and Monnow, and has hopped in and out of Wales over the centuries as the border shifted back and forth. Today it feels more English than Welsh.
Hay-on-Wye (Y Gelli Gandryll)
Hay-on-Wye, a pretty little town on the banks of the River Wye, just inside the Welsh border, has developed a reputation disproportionate to its size. First came the explosion in secondhand bookshops, a charge led by the charismatic and forthright local maverick Richard Booth.
Chepstow (Cas Gwent)
Chepstow is an attractive market town nestled in a great S-bend in the River Wye, with a splendid Norman castle perched dramatically on a cliff above the water. The town is also home to one of Britain's best known racecourses. Chepstow was first developed as a base for the Norman conquest of southeast Wales, later prospering as a port for the timber and wine trades.
Black Mountains (Y Mynyddoedd Duon)
The hills that stretch northward from Abergavenny to Hay-on-Wye, bordered by the A479 road to the west and the English border to the east, are known as the Black Mountains (not to be confused with the Black Mountain, singular, at the western end of the national park).
Fforest Fawr & Black Mountain
West of the A470, this entire half of the national park is sparsely inhabited, without any towns of note. Fforest Fawr (Great Forest), once a Norman hunting ground, is now a Unesco geopark famous for its varied landscapes, ranging from bleak moorland to flower-flecked limestone pavement and lush wooded ravines choked with moss and greenery.
Merthyr Tydfil (mur-thir tid-vil) occupies a spectacular site, sprawled across a bowl at the head of the Taff Valley, ringed and pocked with quarries and spoil heaps. It was even more spectacular 200 years ago when the town was at the heart of the Industrial Revolution, and this bowl was a crucible filled with the fire and smoke of the world's biggest ironworks.
The cone-shaped pinnacle of Sugar Loaf (596m) is a 9-mile return trip from the centre of Abergavenny via heath, woodland and the superb viewpoint of Mynydd Llanwenarth. You can cheat by driving to a car park about halfway up on Mynydd Llanwenarth; from here it's a 4-mile round trip.
Of all the valley towns that were decimated by the demise of heavy industry, the one-time coal and iron town of Blaenavon shows the greenest shoots of regrowth. This rejuvenation is helped to a large part by the awarding of Unesco World Heritage status in 2000 to its unique conglomeration of industrial sites.