Review: Plas Isa Guesthouse, Dolgellau

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I’m lost in the middle of Dolgellau, if that’s possible. Dolgellau is a teeny dolls’ town on the southern edge of Eryri, crammed with buildings so characterful you expect the frontages to swing open on a hinge, like a doll’s house, to reveal warming scenes within. In Lion Street, no frontage swings open but, within about 45 seconds of me phoning my destination to get bearings, a hearty ‘croeso’ is being waved in my direction by a man who springs seemingly from nowhere. Welcome to Plas Isa.

The man is Ian and his partner, Hanneke, is smiling in the doorway. I instantly feel like I’ve known them forever and, in some ways, I have, as I’ve followed their Instagram account for a long time and I recognise a couple of kindred spirits when I read their lively, outdoorsy updates. I’ve wanted to stay at Plas Isa for ages and now here I am, on an unseasonably warm October weekend, backpack and boots at the ready for two glorious days’ hiking and plenty of Rn’R in between.

Plas Isa Guesthouse Dolgellau

And what a place to rest and recouperate. Plas Isa is billed as ‘a comfortable home-away-from-home for people who love the outdoors’, which it is – and then some. Hanneke and Ian, who took the helm in 2018 after many years of managing hostels around the world, have lovingly and very expertly crafted a paradise for hikers, bikers and general outdoors likers. It definitely errs on the sumptuous side of comfortable; far above a basic place to lay your head in between adventures. In fact, not long after my stay another guest asks the question: ‘Is Plas Isa a guesthouse, a bunkhouse or a B&B?’ and decides it’s a ‘poshtel’. It sums up perfectly the laid-back luxury of this charming place. 

Plas Isa Guesthouse Dolgellau

I’m ushered into the dining room, which manages simultaneously to be spacious and cosy thanks to a large communal table and a gorgeous, seated nook. There are folders packed with local info and walking routes, and maps on the wall – always a sign I’m at home. In the kitchen I’m allocated my own shelf and storage box, as well as full use of the gleaming clean fridge, cooker and utensils. Plas Isa has a serious recycling game going on and sound sustainability credentials (which takes us back to those Instagram posts and Hanneke’s frustration at the food and plastic that some guests have been found to waste). 

Plas Isa Guesthouse Dolgellau

My attic bedroom is bliss, with a pitched, beamed ceiling and three crisp single beds to choose from. There is no TV (heaven) and I read a 300-page book in two nights, climbing under the covers by 8.30pm and turning pages to the tap of an early autumn rain on the Velux window. If you do want to watch TV, there’s a generous and tasteful lounge on the ground floor (but I’d recommend the book and the bed and the tapping rain more). I have my own loo and washbasin on the landing, whilst two immaculate guest shower rooms offer steaming water after days well spent in the stunning Snowdonia landscape. There is also plenty of space downstairs to store and clean your bike and to dry clothes and boots.

Dolgellau is charming, just a quick turn off the A470 and resting in the shadow of mighty Cadair Idris. It’s full of independent businesses, including a well-stocked outdoor gear shop, and a good ratio of pubs and restaurants (I eat in the Royal Ship, which is lively, friendly and serves excellent fish n’ chips). To the west, the Mawddwch Estuary eases its way to the sea, whilst a few miles north is the popular Coed y Brenin mountain bike park. My perpetual Rightmove search for ‘houses for sale in west Wales’ quickly shifts 100 miles north.

The reason I’m in north Wales is to join a group hike along Crib Goch. In true north Wales fashion, the unseasonably warm October weekend changes gear abruptly, with 50+mph winds putting paid to Plan A. It’s a shame, but this is Eryri, and I’ve brought all the maps. I console myself with a loop around my favourite place on Earth, Cwm Idwal, on the Saturday, whilst the next day I venture up Aran Fawddwy, a new route for me and an absolutely worthy one. On a whistling summit I nestle down in the shelter of rocks and trace my descent on the map. Give me the clarity of orange contour lines and scree slopes any day; it’s just the navigation of teeny, tumbling streets I need to work on.

Aran Fawddwy

Get Outside, Hiking, Reviews, Travel Writing, Wales, Where to stay, Winter wellness

Plas Isa Guesthouse Dolgellau