Dylan Thomas is the favourite literary son of Wales, born in Swansea and much celebrated before his untimely death at the age of 39. Even if you don’t know his poetry, my driving tour of the places he lived and loved will show you some of the most beautiful scenery in South Wales and give you a fascinating insight into the times that Dylan lived through.
Let’s start in Swansea
Let’s start our driving tour in Swansea, where Dylan Thomas was born, the place he spoke of as “an ugly, lovely town” since it was heavily bombed in the blitz and lost much of the charm of its pre-war Victorian architecture. If arriving in Wales by public transport, you can easily pick up a hire car in Cardiff, Swansea or Newport as the places on our tour are most easily visited by car. (Check out Alamo Rent A Car if you need a rental car)
In recent years Swansea has undergone a regeneration and in the Maritime Quarter surrounded by new apartments and restaurants, you’ll find a statue of the city’s most famous son, in front of the Dylan Thomas Theatre.
Dylan was a member of the local amateur dramatics society, the Swansea Little Theatre, who met in Mumbles and the theatre now provides a permanent home for the theatre group. All kinds of productions are put on here but it’s worth checking in advance whether there are any preformances related to Dylan Thomas. If not, you can still enjoy the murals on the walls of the theatre, depicting many of the characters that Dylan wrote about in his famous radio play, Under Milkwood. Dylan Thomas Theatre Website
The Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea
Nearby is the Dylan Thomas Centre, which provides a permanent exhibition about Dylan’s life and work. On the walls are large photo murals of Dylan, his friends from the Swansea literary scene and a portrait of his wife Caitlin painted by Augustus John. You can hear the voice of Dylan himself, from the radio broadcasts he made to read his poetry and radio plays.
What comes through above all else is Dylan’s love of words which he used like colours in a paint box to create each scene, making lists of the words he might use on scraps of paper to keep by his desk. He wrote; “I wanted to write poetry in the beginning because I had fallen in love with words, I cared for the colours the words cast on my eyes”.
Dylan Thomas Centre, Somerset Place, Swansea, SA1 1RR
Let’s visit the Dylan Thomas Birthplace in Swansea
Dylan was born in 1914 into an upper middle class family and inherited a love of literature from his father, DJ Thomas, who was Head of English at Swansea Grammar School. The house at 5 Cwmdonkin Drive where Dylan was born and where he grew up has been restored in the same character as when the family lived there and is open to the public, as well as being available to rent as a place to stay. It’s just a short drive from the Maritime Quarter in the residential neighbourhood of Uplands.
The dark green and red colour scheme of the sitting room is just as Dylan described in “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” when aunts and uncles gather in front of the fire after Christmas lunch. Owner Geoff Haden restored and furnished the house from auctions and car boot sales, using information in family letters and Dylan’s own descriptions to recreate the house as it might have looked when Dylan was growing up, right down to the old gramophone player.
Upstairs Dylan’s tiny bedroom has been left just as if he had been living there now, with a messy desk covered with books, a packet of woodbines and a bottle of Hancock’s local ale, posters of Shakespeare next to Greta Garbo. At this tiny, crowded desk, Dylan would write poetry until he left home at the age of 20, doted on by his mother Florence who would bring him breakfast in bed.
Visit the Dylan Thomas Birthplace at 5 Cwmdonkin Drive, Uplands, Swansea for a guided tour – check the website for times, events or to book an overnight stay.
Cwmdonkin Park – where the young Dylan played
The Dylan Thomas birthplace looks out to Cwmdonkin Park where Dylan would play as a boy. In Dylan’s day there was a reservoir with swans which has now been filled in for a children’s playground, but the bowling green and pavilion look much as they did in Dylan’s childhood. The pavilion is open as a tea room with a pleasingly retro feel, serving ice creams, tea and welsh cakes on 1950s style china.
Where to stay in Swansea
Morgans Hotel was once the Harbour Trust Office, a grand Edwardian building from the era when Swansea was a major port and industrial city known as “Copperopolis” due to the large amount of copper smelted there.
The bedrooms, with mahogany doors, high ceilings and plaster mouldings, are individually named after the Swansea ships of the period. Downstairs is a stylish bar for evening drinks and breakfast is taken in the former banking hall of the Harbour Port Office, with original murals and copper globe lamps recalling Swansea’s industrial heyday. Morgans Hotel makes a luxurious base for exploring Swansea and the Dylan Thomas trail.
Morgans Hotel, Somerset Place, Swansea, SA1 1RR.
Mumbles and the Gower beaches where Dylan loved to walk
Let’s take a short drive to the seaside village of Mumbles, just outside Swansea, a place Dylan came to regularly to rehearse with the local amateur dramatics group, the Swansea Little Theatre. Afterwards the group would go for a drink at the Antelope pub where Dylan was known to enjoy a few pints.
From his home in Uplands Dylan could take the bus with friends to Mumbles and the beaches of the Gower peninsula, where they would go walking and camp overnight. Caswell beach which can be easily walked to from Mumbles, still has a retro air with the green painted beach huts and the cafe on the promenade.
A couple of his short stories were set on Rhossili beach and Dylan enjoyed long walks along the cliff path. Read my article about walking the coastal paths of the Gower.
Mumbles is a good place to base yourself for a night or two to explore some of these same beaches, either walking direct from Mumbles along the cliff path or driving to the stunning beaches of Caswell, Langland and Rhossilli.
Where to stay in Mumbles
Promenade View is a stylish 3 bedroom holiday home set right on the promende at Mumbles and an ideal place to base yourself to explore Mumbles, the Gower peninsula and be within easy reach of Swansea. The house has 3 en suite bedrooms with views over Swansea bay and the cyclists, walkers and sailing boats on their stands along the promenade, as well as being a short stroll from plenty of pubs, restaurants and the Mumbles pier where the coastal path begins. Read my review of Promenade View here.
The Boathouse at Laugharne in Carmarthenshire
From Mumbles you can drive to Laugharne, the village in Carmarthenshire that Dylan made his family home in the final years of his life. The Boathouse is set just below the cliff path with striking views across the Taf Estuary from the windows and was described by Dylan as “my sea shaken house on a breakneck of rocks“.
Here Dylan lived with his wife Cailin and children until his untimely death in 1953 and it’s furnished partly as it was when he lived there, partly as a museum in the attic room that would have been their bedroom.
A little further along the path is Dylan’s writing shed where he worked, with desk with cigarette stubs, as if he had just popped out for a walk. The window looks over the Taf estuary, where the sandbanks are exposed at low tide and wading seabirds pick their way through the shallows, described by Dylan as “the mussel pooled and the heron priested shore.”
When he lived here, Dylan would walk along to Browns bar to read the papers, or drop in to see his parents who lived opposite, before working in his writing shed in the afternoon and returning in the evening to Browns with his wife Caitlin for a few more beers.
The Dylan Thomas Boathouse, Dylan’s Walk, Laugharne, Carmarthenshire, SA33 4SD
Overlooking the estuary is Laugharne Castle, which was built in the 13th century and came under siege in the English Civil War after which it was partly dismantled. When Dylan first came to Laugharne, the castle and house next door were owned by his friends the writers Richard and Frances Hughes. Dylan was allowed the use of the gazebo in the garden which overlooks the estuary and it was here that he wrote the short stories “Portrait of the artist as a Young Dog”.
The castle is now open to the public and there’s a writing desk and old typewriter within the summerhouse to recreate how it would have looked when Dylan worked there. Laugharne Castle website.
Where to stay in Laugharne
Brown’s Hotel where Dylan went for a drink is now a stylish pub with rooms that have a retro feel with stripy carpets and modern oak furniture. They only serve snacks in the evenings but there are several places to eat when you are staying there including the Three Mariners pub next door. Brown’s Hotel, King Street, Laugharne, Carmarthenshire.
A tour of South Wales taking in the places associated with Dylan Thomas is easily done in 2-4 days but of course there are plenty more things to enjoy in Wales if you’d like to extend your stay. If you are planning a driving holiday in Wales, check out Alamo Rent A Car for your car rental.
Useful information for visiting Wales
For more information on everything to see and do in Wales check the official website at Visit Wales
For more information about Dylan Thomas on the official Dylan Thomas Website
For more information about things to do in and around Swansea including the Dylan Thomas attractions visit the Visit Swansea Bay website
This article was brought to you in partnership with Alamo Rent A Car
With more than 120 active volcanoes, Indonesia is a hive of seismic activity. An archipelago dotted across an area the width of the United States, every vista is backed by the profile of a nearby volcano. Audley Travel specialist Mat Hall shares his memories of hiking some of these volcanoes and experiencing the volcanic geology first-hand.
After first visiting Indonesia, I compared my photos to a friend’s pictures, taken a few years before. They both showed the same landscapes, but their features differed dramatically. For me, this really piqued my fascination with a country that is continuously being altered by volcanic activity.
Why go volcano hiking in Indonesia?
It’s possible to see volcanic peaks all over Indonesia. Rather than simply enjoying the scenery, I’d argue that you can’t fully appreciate them without setting foot on one. Standing on volcanic lava rocks, surrounded by scattered ash, you can sometimes feel the movement of the earth below. Up close, the rumbling of a volcano sounds like a million old cars trying to start up at once.
Each volcano has its own unique geological features, so I’d suggest combining a few. For example, there’s a stark contrast in topography between the sprawling volcanic complex at Ijen and the perfect cone of Krakatoa. The calderas (volcanic craters caused by a collapsing magna chamber) can vary in size from a few metres, to hundreds of miles.
The smoking crater of Mount Bromo
Waking up at 3am, my guide picked me up in a 4×4 and drove me into Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park on the island of Java. En route we passed a checkpoint informing us there was no volcanic activity occurring. We were safe to continue. Driving up to a viewpoint, we find a position and wait for the sun rise over the four volcanic peaks of the park. Semeru, the highest peak, erupts every ten minutes, almost to the clock, with a puff of smoke.
From here, I began the one hour hike up to the rim of Bromo. The volcano itself lies in a vast sandy plain known as the sea of sands. Walking along this dusty grey moonscape, the side of the volcano looms up ahead, with steps cut into the side of the rock. On reaching the rim, I could see right down onto the smoking plateau of white ash. The smoke continuously billows from its depths and some of the rumbles were so loud they startled fellow visitors.
Nearby is a simple Hindu temple. It’s easy to miss – built out of volcanic rock, it blends into the landscape beyond. The volcano is worshipped by local Hindus who celebrate Yadnya Kasada each year in June. Pilgrims line the edge of the crater, throwing offerings into its depths to appease the god of the mountain.
Visit the highest acidic lake in the world at Mount Ijen
Perched right on the eastern point of Java, on a clear day you can see Bali from Mount Ijen’s peak. Part of an extensive volcanic landscape, Mount Ijen is the active volcano within the Ijen caldera, the largest on Java.
It was another early start. I woke at 5am and my guide drove me to ‘base camp’, nestled at the base of the volcano. Climbing at full moon, the path was so well lit I didn’t turn my torch on. I’d suggest planning a trip around the full moon if you have the flexibility: hiking by the cool light of the moon is quite surreal.
After an hour’s climb, you’ll come to a group of enterprising locals who have set up a camp offering tea, coffee and biscuits. You can refuel here before heading on to the rim. A final push to the top takes another hour before you’re on a narrow ridge overlooking the tumult below.
On my visit, smoke covered the caldera completely, making for a very spooky atmosphere. If you’re lucky, the smoke will clear and you’ll be able to see the turquoise lake filling the crater. Its unreal shade is caused by its acidity levels. The extreme acidity, sometimes with a pH as low as 0.5, is caused by hydrothermal waters rising from the magma chambers below.
The most unique feature is the lake-side solfatara. This is a geological phenomenon where sulphurous gasses emerge from vents in the caldera and, on meeting oxygen, burn with a neon blue light.
I thought my wake-up call was early, but my guide explained that sulphur miners arrive at 2am to begin work. Descending steep paths right down into the volcano, they hew chunks of sulphur before carrying it away in baskets on their shoulders. It’s dangerous work. Many miners carry more than their own bodyweight in sulphur on the return leg.
Hiking back down the volcano in daylight, I surveyed the surrounding landscape. It was covered in a lush blanket of trees and shrubs. Mineral-rich volcanic ash breaks down into the soil creating some of the most fertile land on earth.
Enjoy a volcano-cooked dinner at Mount Batur
On the island of Bali, Mount Batur juts above a landscape pockmarked with craters from countless previous eruptions. It currently sits between two merged calderas containing a crescent-shaped lake. From the viewpoint you can see numerous small villages and roads weaving their way around the lake, drawn by the populous fish and clean water.
Bali attracts more visitors than any other Indonesian island, so Batur can get quite busy. My guide suggested we visit at sunset rather than sunrise. The volcano also steams more in the evening, adding to the ambience. The climb is more gentle than other peaks, taking about two hours to reach the summit along well marked paths. From the top you can see the lake and villages stretching across the caldera – a real contrast to more desolate volcanoes.
Whilst waiting for the sun to set, my guide prepared a meal. Gathering handfuls of grass, he placed them into a nearby vent, creating a traditional oven. Gingerly putting my hand in, I could feel the heat from the earth below. A couple of eggs were popped in and, in minutes, we were enjoying hard boiled eggs with our pre-cooked rice and noodles. For dessert we enjoyed cooked bananas served with chocolate.
Sleep at the foot of an active volcano on Krakatoa
In my opinion, Krakatoa is the most unique volcano you can visit. On the hour and a half boat journey from Java’s mainland, my guide explained the history of the volcano. Once a large island, in 1883 a massive eruption split the island of Krakatoa into four small islands. The noise of the eruption is considered the loudest sound recorded in human history, and the pressure waves were recorded on barometers all over the world.
We were in fact visiting Anak Krakatoa, the ‘little child’ of the original Krakatoa volcano. As we rounded Rakata, another island fragment of the original volcano, Anak Krakatoa came into view. For me, it’s the very image of a stereotypical volcano – a neat cone shape jutting straight up from the sea.
Pulling up onto the beach, my guide began setting up camp. The island is completely undeveloped so we were staying in tents on the coast. Most of the island is covered in barren black volcanic rock but on the east side of the island, a small forest has managed to grow.
Hiking up the side of the volcano, we followed a safe, set route. Aside from a few scraggly trees at the base, we walked through a desolate wasteland. Volcanic rock changes shade with age, scarring the sides of the volcano with lines, marking each eruption. About halfway up, we stopped. We’d reached a viewpoint, the highest we could safely go. Any further, my guide tells me, and my shoes would melt.
We stopped with the smoking peak in the distance, steam coming off the ground a little way in front. For me, the view is one of the best I’ve seen – a completely undisturbed panorama of Anak Krakatoa’s sister fragments dotted in the ocean, with no signs of life.
A worthwhile addition to hiking the volcano, the nearby island of Rakata shelters some dazzling coral. Taking a short boat ride from Anak Krakatoa, we pulled up to the coast of Rakata, which is edged with steep maroon lava walls. Above the water, the lava rock is barren – below the surface, the contrast is stunning. Lava is particularly nutritious for coral, encouraging the vibrant array of coral hiding underwater. Turtles glide over the coral whilst neon stripped angel fish dart in-between.
Add a visit to Singapore
It’s possible to fly straight into Indonesia’s capital Jakarta, but I’d suggest flying into Singapore. The array of flight options make it more convenient for most, but it also makes a wonderful introduction to southeast Asia. A modern, English-speaking city with a slick transport system, it’s an easy place to explore. If this makes it sound a little sterile – it isn’t.
It’s a city I’m particularly fond of. Singapore may be a modern metropolis, but its skyscrapers are intertwined with temples and colonial architecture. Visit the pastel rows of restored colonial mansions, wander the botanical gardens or sample some of the local dishes in food halls nicknamed ‘hawker markets’.
Visit one of Indonesia’s beaches
I’d recommend finishing a volcano hiking trip to Indonesia with a few nights on the beach. The beach of Sanur, in the south of Bali, is sheltered by a reef, creating a calm cove. This feeds into the area’s general ambience, with relaxed beach bars and some serene sunsets. The food stands out for me, with freshly caught fish sold on tiny stalls dotted along the coast.
If you’re looking for a longer beach stay, I’d suggest islands hopping to Lombok, to the east of Bali, with quieter beaches and some luxe hotels.
When is the best time of year for hiking volcanoes?
For the best experience, late April through to October works well as the skies will be clear and there’s little rain. The months of July and August can be quite busy, especially at weekends when locals take day trips out to the volcanoes.
What do you need to bring?
When visiting a volcano for sunrise, it can be chilly first thing in the morning, with temperatures dipping to 5C (41F). I’d recommend a warm jacket and lots of layers – it gets warmer quite quickly once the sun is up. A scarf or balaclava is also handy to protect your face from ash in the air if it’s windy.
Lava rock is very smooth so can be a little slippery. I would suggest walking shoes with a good grip, and climbing poles to help with steep, uphill sections.
Of course, having your camera close to hand is vital as you’ll have the opportunity to capture some incredible images.
Mat Hall is a Travel Specialist for Audley Travel. Audley trips don’t come off the shelf – they’re tailor-made down to the finest detail. When planning a trip with us, you will speak to a destination specialist who has either lived or travelled extensively within the country or region that you are visiting. They will create a bespoke trip based on your tastes, interests and budget and with an absolute commitment to providing quality travel experiences.
This article was brought to you in partnership with Audley Travel
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At Ottley’s Plantation Inn, I felt I was stepping back in time, into a luxurious Caribbean lifestyle. The last remaining plantation inn on St Kitts, the hotel is a haven to relax in the elegance of the Great House, surrounded by beautifully kept gardens, flower filled borders and avenues of royal palms. The hotel is close to the rainforest that clothes the slopes of Mount Liamuiga, where you can take nature walks, with open views towards the ocean. Read on for more about this special hotel.
The history of Ottley’s Plantation Inn
The hotel is named after the first owners, the Ottley family who arrived from Yorkshire in the 18th century to establish a sugar plantation. Over the years the house and estate has passed through many different hands and was a private home when the parents of the present owners took it over in 1988 to reopen as an inn. The original building was enlarged by adding a second storey while maintaining the traditional style, to create the pretty yellow-painted Great House with white verandahs that you find today. Backed by forest trees and the extinct volcano beyond, with beautifully kept lawns stretching out towards the sea, Ottleys looks as if it might have been a wealthy plantation owner’s home for ever.
Traditional Caribbean hospitality
These days guests can share in a little piece of plantation history. With only 24 rooms spread between the Great House and stone cottages in the grounds, it feels as if you might be staying at the home of a rather grand friend. The hotel is very much a family affair, run on a day to day basis by sisters Nancy and Karen, together with Nancy’s husband Marty and their father who although retired still lives on the estate. In the evenings, the family mingle with guests, adding to the feeling of traditional hospitality, and Marty gives regular nature walks around the grounds explaining about the different trees and flowering plants.
My Classic Caribbean bedroom
My gorgeous bedroom was in one of the stone cottages in the grounds, with cream tiled floor and walls, contrasting with the dark mahogany plantation shutters and furniture. Throwing open the shutters and looking out towards the ocean, I felt like a heroine in Gone With The Wind, who might any moment be dressing for dinner to catch the eye of a favourite beau. Dark wood and rattan chairs, pretty floral quilts, porcelain lamps and traditional woven mats completed the romantic old-style Caribbean atmosphere.
The spacious cream bathroom had a large mirror and stone-effect double sinks with gold taps. There was a large jacuzzi bath as well as a shower and I enjoyed the little personal touches like a vase of flowers from the garden, as if the mistress of the house had cut a few of her favourite flowers for me specially.
Just outside the cottage was a private area to sit and doze in the shade or read, with a plunge pool to take a refreshing dip.
Ottley’s Plantation Inn is on the Atlantic coast of St Kitts, set on the lower slopes of Mount Liamuiga, a little above the road that encircles the island. As you turn off the main road and up the long, tree-lined drive, it feels as if you are entering a private hideaway, where the sea breeze ruffles the tops of the palms. From the verandah of the Great House or the window of my bungalow I could just see the Atlantic ocean across the beautifully manicured gardens filled with fragrant frangipani and bougainvillea. Although the hotel transports you to an elegant world of the old Caribbean, it’s only a 10-15 minute drive from the island’s capital of Basseterre and the airport.
I ventured into the Great House where the luxurious plantation style continued in the guest sitting room with traditional dark wood furniture, comfortable flowery sofas and the paintings of local artists on the walls. At the back of the room was a bar, for evening drinks and a small library and reading area.
The Royal Palm Restaurant
Dinner is taken in the Royal Palm Restaurant which is open to the garden on one side, within the walls of the plantation’s old boiling house. With elegant wrought iron furniture, pink table cloths and arrangements of flowers from the garden, the restaurant offers a fusion menu that draws on the best of Mediterranean inspiration combined with Caribbean flavours. With the fairy lights and candles on the table, the restaurant takes on a very romantic feel as darkness falls and you are surrounded by the chirping of the tree frogs in the garden. As the food is excellent and there are no other restaurants close by, many guests book a package that includes dinner for their stay.
On the other side of the black volcanic stone wall is the spring fed swimming pool looking out over the garden at one end and adjoining the bar, where they make an excellent rum punch.
After my restful night’s stay I enjoyed a hearty breakfast of Caribbean style eggs and fresh orange juice from the breakfast menu. Breakfast is served in another informal dining room within the boiling house, with open sides overlooking the garden.
The Mango Orchard Spa
Nancy showed me around the Mango Orchard Spa, in a pretty wooden cabin under the trees, overlooking the wooded nature walk, where the vervet monkeys play in the branches. You can book a very special facial treatment or soothing massage here surrounded by sounds of the rainforest.
A beautiful Caribbean wedding setting
The idyllic location, traditional character and beautifully kept gardens make Ottley’s a popular setting for Caribbean weddings which can be held in different parts of the grounds, in either the woodland area or on the rolling lawns. The circular base of the old sugar mill near the Great House is often used as a stage for the wedding ceremony, surrounded by the dappled green of the forest with pink flower petals scattered over the old brick floor.
Who is Ottley’s Plantation Inn best suited for?
We think you will love Ottley’s Plantation Inn if you are looking for the old-world charm of the historic plantation inn and a place to relax and unwind. The hotel is best suited to couples looking for tranquility or a romantic break and travellers aged 40+ will feel at home.
Good to know
Getting around the island’s beaches and sights by taxi can be expensive, although the hotel runs a daily shuttle into Basseterre and the main beaches such as Cockleshell and Frigates Bay. However if you are interested in a more active holiday of watersports, sightseeing and eating in different restaurants you could combine a few days relaxing at Ottleys with a stay at one of the other hotels that are closer to the beach or town.
To Book Ottley’s Plantation Inn
Book your stay at Ottley’s Plantation Inn on their website at Ottleys.com and follow them on Facebook. To compare prices and book for hotels on St Kitts use my Hotels Combined Booking comparison page.
Visitor Information for St Kitts
To plan your visit to St Kitts check out the tourism board website at www.stkittstourism.kn or follow their social media channels: Twitter @StKittsTourism | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | Pinterest |
British Airways flies to St Kitts from London Gatwick twice a week on Saturdays and Wednesdays with the flight going on to nearby Antigua. There are regular ferries every day to Nevis, with a journey time of 45 minutes from Basseterre, making it easy to plan a combined stay on both islands.
To start and end your holiday on St Kitts in style, the YU Lounge offers a private terminal at the airport. A private car will meet you from the plane and whisk you to the luxurious lounge where snacks and drinks are available. While you are waiting your luggage will be picked up and you’ll be cleared through security by the YU Lounge staff.
Thanks to Ottley’s Plantation Inn who hosted Heather’s 1 night hotel stay and to the St Kitts tourism board who provided Heather’s visit to St Kitts.