The town is full of ramblers, mountaineers, cyclists, anglers, horse riders, cavers, gorge-walkers, sailors, windsurfers, hang-gliders and rock climbers – all getting ready to tackle the great outdoors on the doorstep.
But you might want to wait a day or two before you tug on those hiking boots or squeeze into your wetsuit. This town on the northern edge of the Brecon Beacons, at the magical spot where the rivers Usk and Honddu meet, isn’t just a gateway.
It’s a cultural hub. A foodie hotspot. An architectural and historical treasure trove. And every August it welcomes cool dudes and hipsters from around the world to the Brecon Jazz Festival.
In fact, Brecon has been a happening sort of place for more than 2,000 years. Iron Age people built the huge hillfort of Pen-y-Crug just 2km north of today’s town with spectacular views that more than justify the 331-metre climb. To the west lies the largest Roman fort of its type in Wales – Brecon y Gaer.
In the Dark Ages the area around Brecon was part of the ancient Welsh kingdom of Brycheiniog. And in 1093, the infamous Norman baron Bernard de Neufmarche built a stronghold that can still be seen in the grounds of the Castle Hotel.
He also put up the cash to found a Benedictine priory that eventually became the Cathedral Church of St John the Evangelist. Or Brecon Cathedral for short.
It’s quite small for a cathedral. And it was merely the town’s parish church until it received an ecclesiastical promotion in 1923. But this is, without doubt, one of the finest church buildings in Wales.
A Celtic font and Britain’s biggest cresset stone – a sort of medieval lighting system holding 30 candles – still remain from the original priory church. It’s all set in a unique walled close with a heritage centre, shop and tearooms.
One of the best places to discover more about Brecon’s two millennia of history is y Gaer, an exciting and inspirational cultural development, a major attraction for local people and visitors to Brecon and a spur to regeneration for the community of Powys. It unites the classical Shire Hall, containing the refurbished Brecknock Museum & Art Gallery and its remarkable Victorian court room, with a new Brecon Library, education and community rooms and a cafe. These complementary elements are harmonised in a unique and bold architectural development blending old and new, fully accessible and welcoming to all.
The Regimental Museum of the Royal Welsh is home to more than 3,000 medals – including 18 Victoria Crosses. Most of them are in the Zulu War Room devoted to the exploits of the 24th Regiment, or South Wales Borderers, in the heroic defence of Rorke’s Drift.
Paintings, letters, drums, guns, buttons and badges all combine to form a vivid image of life and death as a soldier. Your kids can even try on a red jacket and helmet to feel for themselves what it was like to serve in Victorian times.
You never know, it might teach them a bit of respect for authority. More likely they’ll simply have worked up an appetite.
Fortunately Brecon has three butchers, a fishmonger, a weekly indoor market, a monthly farmers’ market selling everything from venison to organic mushrooms – even an autumn food festival. And there are lots of pubs, cafês and restaurants serving all this fabulous local produce while it’s still in tip-top condition.
Brecon doesn’t really do food miles. Your beer won’t have come too far either. Not if it’s one of the award-winning “Ales from the Heart of Wales” by Breconshire Brewery.
Brecon Jazz Festival is home-grown too. It started life in 1984 on a budget of £100. Soon it was attracting all-time jazz greats such as Sonny Rollins, Stephane Grappelli, Gerry Mulligan and McCoy Tyner. Well, who wouldn’t want to swap the smoky dives of Paris and New York for the fresh mountain air of Mid Wales?
You’ll find the first solar-powered theatre in Wales on the waterfront at the very end of the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal. Create your own drama by hiring a narrowboat – or shoot the rapids of the River Usk by canoe on the Beacons Water Trail.
The Taff Trail to Cardiff and the Usk Valley Walk to Caerleon also start here. And if you’re feeling really energetic the immense sandstone mountains of the Brecon Beacons are rising up in front of you. It might be time for those walking boots.
The National Park’s “Mountain Centre” near Libanus south of Brecon will give you the low- down. Plus a great view of the biggest challenge of them all: Pen-y-Fan.
At 886 metres above sea level, this is the tallest peak in southern Britain. And not to be taken lightly. Look out for the obelisk on the way to the summit. It’s not just a handy landmark in misty conditions.
It’s also a heart-tugging memorial to five-year-old Tommy Jones, whose body was found atthis very spot in 1900 after a 29-day search.