But, fear not, Wales is poised to take the lead with a fabulous alternative UK road trip. That's because from most of the UK, getting to the start-off point of the North Coast 500 is a mission in itself. But Wales, although often perceived as some kind of remote outpost, is actually geographically very well placed to provide a sublimely beautiful and convenient getaway. And it's all accessible from the UK's most populous regions such as Greater Manchester, Cheshire, Birmingham, Shropshire and the West Midlands.
We've long been led to believe that Scotland's North Coast 500 (NC500) is the UK's finest summer road trip and it's pretty difficult to argue the point. There's absolutely no question that it's a wondrous odyssey complete with magical coastal vistas, lochs, mountains, enormous skies and breathtaking landscapes that reach far into the distance. But the realities of summer motoring often mean endless miles spent caught behind crawling motorhomes, traffic jams and despite the glorious vistas you'll often find yourself frustrated by not being able to find anywhere to park.
However, Wales provides an equally stunning alternative. The Welsh tourist board have put their heads together and compiled three spectacular driving routes. One of them, (the Coastal Way) takes us from dizzying summits to breathtaking sea views. The route tracks from my home patch on the Llyn Peninsula (Penllyn) to the mountains of the Eryri National Park, along Cardigan Bay (Bae Ceredigion) to the fabulously beautiful 'city' of St Davids (Tyddewi).
This is not a route to be rushed. For the sake of relaxation and conviviality, I suggest that this road trip ought to be savoured over a period of a week or ten days. There are plenty of interesting detours along the way. I always seem to find something interesting off the designated route. A decent road trip requires an adventurous heart so you can be bestowed with some unexpected little jewels along the way. For example, we found lovely accommodation and superb eateries in Lampeter (Llanbedr Pont Steffan) - a delightfully Welsh-speaking town in the very heart of Wales.
Our trip starts from my home in Morfa Nefyn which is fast becoming a very popular destination amidst hordes of tourists who pack the beaches each summer. Morfa Nefyn is well known for the delights of Porthdinllaen and its famous 'Pub on the beach' Tŷ Coch (Red House) which was recently voted as one of the top ten beach bars in the world (if you excuse the Clarksonism). Indeed Morfa Nefyn is blessed with two very popular hostelries, the aforementioned Tŷ Coch as well as The Cliffs Inn overlooking the bay. Both are extremely busy throughout the holiday season.
As we head (past Pwllheli and Criccieth) towards Porthmadog (where I went to Ysgol Eifionydd secondary school), I realise how the town has become such a busy tourist Mecca. Located on the Eryri foothills, the bustling town boasts the nearby expansive Black Rock Sands beach, the Eryri National Park and the Ffestiniog Railway (now running steam trains from Blaenau Ffestiniog to Caernarfon). These are just some of the many magnets that attract tourists by the thousands each year. Porthmadog has come a very long way since my school days!
Picture postcard town
From here, our route takes us past the pretty town of Dolgellau as the road snakes its way southbound. You can opt to take the A470 towards Cardiff or peel off, as I did, and take the A487 towards Machynlleth. This is yet another picture postcard town, this time with a 24-meter-high central clocktower to welcome visitors and locals alike. There's a fine gallery and many interesting local shops to browse through. Just on the outskirts, you can even visit the Centre for Alternative Technology which showcases new ideas regarding sustainable living. These days, the Machynlleth area is predominantly an agricultural region but the town is always proud to declare its status as being Wales’s first capital; having been home to the Welsh Parliament way back in the 15th Century.
If all this isn't enough, those with deep pockets can dine at the nearby Michelin-starred Ynyshir restaurant which has won a top prize at the National Restaurant Awards in 2022. The restaurant is located close to an oak forest, marshlands and an estuary which is home to the RSPB Ynys-hir nature reserve (and Osprey Project).
As we motor southward, we will drop by the University town of Aberystwyth which has yielded many notable alumni including none other than King Charles lll. It's a beautiful seaside town with far too many attributes to note. Worth investing a day to explore.
Just a few miles further south we arrive at the colourful harbour town of Aberaeron. This really is a pristine little place that looks just a little like a Welsh Tobermory. Here we have plenty of lovely cafés, a gelateria and yet another full-on gastronomy establishment which comes in the form of the 13-room Harbourmaster Hotel. This establishment has definitely put this little town on the map and is known to have inspired many other small Welsh hotels. The Harbourmaster is delightfully decorative inside as the proprietors have lovingly showcased some fine woven Welsh fabrics. It feels so cosy, inviting and very friendly with the added benefit of its excellent restaurant. This is the very best of Ceredigion.
Next, we explore New Quay and, to me, this is a little piece of Welsh heaven. It really is a stunning place to be. It's not huge, but that only adds to the charm of this gorgeous seaside town. It's a blend of scenic coastal beauty with facilities that would satisfy even the most demanding tourist. A stroll along New Quay's impressive stone-built harbour wall often yields glimpses of Cardigan Bay's extensive population of bottlenose dolphins. You can even book a boat trip in the hope of getting an even closer dolphin encounter! One thing's for sure, New Quay has something for everyone.
On our way to our final stop St David's, I often enjoy taking a little detour to Mwnt. Mwnt is a grassy mound alongside a beautiful sandy cove, also well known for dolphin sightings. If Mwnt was located in the West Country, it would be described as a tor. Getting there involves taking a narrow, winding lane that leads to the National Trust car park overlooking Mwnt's tiny white church. Inside the church smells of candle wax and lavender. This tiny church has been a place of worship for many generations.
St Davids is really a village but technically the cathedral makes it a city. The UK's smallest city, as it happens. It's a place frequented by dog walkers and hikers who tramp through the village in their finest walking attire. There are galleries, gift shops and ice cream parlours dotted amidst medieval streets which are alive with the sound of chirping swallows, crying seagulls and lots of mad cackling jackdaws.
Although this drive only covers around 180 miles, it still lives up to its promise of seasides, summits and much else besides. You'll see Snowdon and Cadair Idris as they touch clouds and provide some of the UK's most magical views.
I think you'll love it.
Douglas Hughes is a UK-based writer producing general interest articles ranging from travel pieces to classic motoring.