Londoners who head out of town for weekend breaks, or sorties into the countryside to seek out holiday homes, know they must reluctantly leave behind their (bad) shopping habits.
But if they head for the Welsh hills, 25 miles north of Swansea, they will hit Llandeilo, a small town of no more than 2,000 inhabitants who share in the feel-good factor of shopping high-end and smart.
Where, did you say? Llandeilo, a picturesque place with a winding high street of multi-coloured buildings that has reinvented itself over the past five years as a smart, shoppers paradise of independent shops run by enterprising local people.
And they don’t come more enterprising than cult fashion label entrepreneurs Jamie Seaton, and his wife Jessica, owners of Toast, who settled post-university in the area and never left.
Home for the couple is a farmhouse in the Cothi Valley a few miles north of Llandeilo, where the first stand-alone Toast shop opened six years ago. For the Toast catalogue, visit www.toast.co.uk.
'Llandeilo's 2,000 inhabitants share in the feel-good factor of high-end shopping'
Llandeilo high street, sharing in this air of enterprise, now has the unnerving distinction of not so much attracting ramblers in walking boots as a community of high-heeled and immaculately highlighted young women, who depart laden with designer carrier bags a la Carrie Bradshaw.
The town started with a number of natural advantages. It is in the middle of the beautiful Towy Valley, close to a number of leading Welsh tourist attractions, and is on the scenic Heart of Wales railway line with sprinter trains running regularly between Shrewsbury and Swansea.
Of course, no fashionable high street can survive without a chocolatier, so stand up Tracey and Paul Kindred, of the Angel Hotel and Brasserie. Three years ago, after training as a chocolatier and ice-cream maker, Tracey opened Heavenly. Here she tempts shoppers with chocolate stiletto-heeled shoes for £2.50 or her award-winning marsala wine and tiramisu ice cream.
Tracey and Paul moved to Llandeilo from Swansea 15 years ago. “Llandeilo has always had nice shops but over the past few years the interesting independent shops have mushroomed. Before people came from Swansea for a day out, now they come from all over the country.”
For the shoe fetishists, there is killer-heels shop Heel Appeal; for gardeners there is Pinc, which sells flowers and everything for the garden from smart outdoor clothing to cutting-edge tools from Burgon & Ball. Bellissimo sells gorgeously seductive underwear; Rig Out stocks Dutch fashion label Sandwich; while Mela specialises in new, lesser-known designers.
Cooks flock to Peppercorn, which offers a huge collection of pots and pans, plus ceramics by Emma Bridgewater. Scorpio is interiors heaven in a fine building overlooking the church, with, among other lovely things, beautiful woven wool blankets and cushions from Welsh design favourite Melin Tregwynt.
Two years ago, the town got its first boutique hotel. The Cawdor - named after a local family - occupies an old coaching inn in the high street. A large bow-fronted building, in a striking deep terracotta red with black paintwork and, its sleek dark-wood dining room, lounge and bar, give it a very metropolitan feel.
'Llandeilo sits on the western edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park, with its majestic hills and ruined castles'
When you are shopped out and in need of calm, head for a house-hunting trip in the beautiful Carmarthenshire countryside. Llandeilo sits on the western edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park, with its majestic hills and ruined castles. Carreg Cennen Castle, a short walk from Llandeilo at Trapp, is one of the country’s most dramatically sited castles and dates from Edward I’s great castle-building period in the 13th Century.
The road between Llandeilo and Carmarthen follows the valley of the Towy. Here the river meanders and snakes through the valley, surrounded by wooded slopes and rocky outcrops. On one sit the romantic ruins of Dryslwyn Castle.
The National Botanic Garden of Wales at Llanarthne, with its iconic Norman Foster-designed domed and grass-covered glasshouse, is the big draw. Nearby Aberglasney House and Gardens is Wales’s equivalent of the Lost Gardens of Heligan.
The Gower Peninsula, just 30-minutes’ drive away, is an area of outstanding natural beauty, while Laugharne, a few miles west of Carmarthen, is where poet Dylan Thomas wrote many of his best-known works in the boathouse, now a museum.
Local authorities: Llandeilo town council (01558 823850); Carmarthenshire County Council (01267 234567).
Shopping: Toast (01558 824330); Rig Out (01558 822853); Mela (01558 824377); Heel Appeal (01558 823294); Bellissimo (01558 824140); Pinc (01558 824515); Peppercorn (01558 822410); Heavenly (01558 822800).
Eating out: Y Polyn (01267 290000) at Nantgaredig uses locally sourced ingredients; Cawdor Hotel (0800 988 3002); Capel Bach brasserie (01558 822765).
Visitor attractions: Llyn Llech Owain country park (01269 832229) has a lake, walks and cycle rides. Carreg Cennen Castle (01267 231557); Paxton’s Tower (01558 824512).
Pictures by Nick Seaton