The car turns down a narrow, private road.
We drive on, skirting the lower slopes of the Great Orme Nature Reserve to the right and catching occasional glimpses of the sea to the left.
The road narrows but the local mountain goats make way, ushering us towards a large private property set back from the road. As we approach, the hefty electronic gate swings gently back and we descend a steep drive to get our first real view of the house.
Then it strikes me. Should the villain from a James Bond film ever be looking for a stately seaside escape in North Wales, this place is ideal.
I’ve come to Plas Eithin, a spacious, four-bedroom bungalow in Llandudno’s West Shore district, not for a private audience with Blofeld, but for a look around a property on the most expensive road in Wales.
Llandudno’s Llys Helyg Drive recently beat Cardiff’s Cefn Coed Road to the top spot in a survey compiled by the property website mouseprice.com.
With individual properties, large plots, sea frontage and panoramic views across to the Snowdonia National Park, the average house price is £830,200. Plas Eithin is expected to sell for around £750,000.
“The location would even surpass than the French Riviera if only the weather was better,” smiles Bryan Davies, MD of local agents Bryan Davies & Associates, as he shows me round.
“Llys Helyg Drive has one of the most outstanding coastal locations in Wales.”
The Victorian seaside resort of Llandudno is an attractive town with a fantastic natural location and a sweeping promenade fringed by elegant, period architecture.
It’s a busy resort in summer but still retains a dignified air, thanks primarily to the efforts of freeholders Mostyn Estates, who ensure the resort’s Victorian features are carefully maintained.
The American-born travel writer Bill Bryson enjoyed his visit so much, he was moved to describe Llandudno as his “favourite seaside resort”.
The town traditionally appealed to young families and retired day-trippers but has made great strides in recent years to broaden its appeal with the opening of the Venue Cymru arts centre, a major new retail park, Parc Llandudno, and a slew of smart new places to eat and stay.
The Welsh Assembly is planning to open new offices at Llandudno Junction next year with around 300 staff relocating from Cardiff, while the extension to Oriel Mostyn Gallery, North Wales’ leading contemporary art gallery, opens later this year.
Bryan Davies identifies interest in three key types of property, reflecting the changing demographics of the town.
Three or four-bedroom family properties come with a price tag around £200,000, three-bedroom retirement bungalows are £180,000 and holiday-home apartments start from £150,00 with two bedrooms.
Llandudno offers good transport links via the A55 and M56 motorway, and regular train services connecting to London in three hours on the West Coast main line. Families are well served by two well-regarded private schools in the area, Rydal Penrhos at Colwyn Bay and St David’s College, Llandudno.
“We find people with children moving here and working in Chester or Manchester. We also have a lot of clients with connections to the area who are coming back from the Southeast, first as a holiday home but with a view to eventually retire here,” says Davies.
“We chose Llandudno for the location, the way it is managed as a unspoilt British seaside resort and for the ease of public transport connections,” says Roger Pomlett, a semi-retired company secretary, who now divides his time between a two-bedroom apartment in Llandudno and the family home in Nantwich.
“Llandudno has a good mix of generations these days as the traditional trade in pensioners and coach parties is, quite literally, dying off,” he explains, as we walk through the marble hallway at Bodlondeb Castle, leather sofas framing the elaborate staircase, which leads to his second-floor apartment.
Lancashire-based Beck Homes converted this erstwhile hotel into 15 homes, nine luxury apartments and six cottages. Pomlett was one of the first to move in, buying the apartment for £380,000. An additional charge of £2,000 per annum is levied for a comprehensive maintenance package.
“This is a million miles from your average holiday flat,” says Pomlett as we sink into twin leather chairs in the lounge, a view of the West Shore and Snowdon range from the large bay window.
“Each property has an individual feel, plus the building has secure parking, which is at a premium in Llandudno,” he adds, before showing me his favorite feature, an en-suite bathroom hidden behind a secret door in the master bedroom’s build-in wardrobe.
“Our investment decision was based on our belief that Llandudno will always be a great place to live,” he says.
Sam Nayar, the owner of Escape boutique B&B, is keen to see the resort build on work over the last few years to develop more high-end dining and accommodation options.
He moved the family from Congleton, Cheshire, five years ago, picking up a large but neglected property for £300,000. After a further £200,00 investment, he opened Escape as a nine-room guesthouse with a keen eye for design.
“Moving here was a purely lifestyle-driven choice for us. We liked the architecture and the unspoilt feel but, most of all, it felt like a great place to bring up children,” says Nayar, handling calls from a Terence Conran chair in the contemporary residents lounge.
“Unlike many seaside towns Llandudno is a year-round town with its cultural scene, its retail offer and a steady stream of business tourism with conferences at the Venue Cymru,” adds Nayar, who is now looking for another property in the area, especially as prices have fallen around five per cent since the 2007 peak.
Back at Plas Eithin, we’ve completed the viewing and I join Bryan in the garden to savior the view across to Anglesey and the fairytale turrets of Unesco-listed Conwy Castle. He looks along the headland to a neighbouring property that recently sold for over £1m.
“You can’t put a figure on what sea view adds to a property,” he smiles.
I may not have come face to face with a Bond villain on this trip, but a visit to a hidden gem in North Wales is still enough to leave me feeling both shaken and stirred.
What did you think of this story? Post your comments below.
This article was first published in the Weekend FT in 2009.
Liked this? Try also 150 years of Alice in Wonderland in Llandudno.