Despite a population of barely 3 million people, Wales packs an extraordinary mix of natural and cultural attractions into a small area. Gillian Thornton shares her favourite Welsh wonders.
Almost every bend in the road delivers a fabulous new vista with three National Parks protecting one-fifth of the Welsh countryside – Snowdonia in the north, the Brecon Beacons and Pembrokeshire Coast in the south. There’s a huge choice of outdoor activities from hiking and biking to birdwatching and water sports, but as a keen walker living inland, I’m repeatedly drawn to the shoreline.
The Wales Coast Path runs for 870-miles and includes the island of Anglesey, as well as passing through the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, Britain’s only truly coastal National Park. Download short circular routes or take a linear seaside ramble. For family-friendly beaches, check out Abersoch on the Llyn Peninsula, Barmouth in southern Snowdonia, and Caswell and Port Eynon on the Gower Peninsula.
Once home to over 600 castles, Wales has more than 400 fortresses still standing or in ruins. With its high walls and polygonal towers, Caernarfon Castle in North Wales is a stunner, built for Edward I along with town walls and a quayside. Nearby Conwy was also part of Edward’s chain of defences against the Welsh princes.
In South Wales, Pembroke Castle ticks all my boxes for atmosphere, location and stirring stories. Birthplace of Henry Tudor, future King VII of England, it offers commanding views from the ramparts and ruined keep over Milford Haven. And check out Caerphilly Castle, largest castle in Wales and the second largest in Britain, locked within water defences.
Great little trains
You don’t need to be a railway buff to enjoy a ride of one of Wale’s narrow gauge and miniature steam trains through mountain scenery, lush valleys and along the coast. Try the Ffestinog & Welsh Highland Railways that meet at Porthmadog, one line climbing into slate quarrying country at Blaenau Ffestiniog, the other steaming towards Caernarfon.
Head through an ancient forest and over two major viaducts before riding to the roof of Wales on the Snowdon Mountain Railway. I loved catching views of the distant sea on a clear day and waving to hardy pedestrians taking the walking trail beside the track! Mid Wales and the Brecon Beacons have their own light railways too.
Britain’s smallest city with barely 2000 inhabitants, St Davids in Pembrokeshire is a delight, its bijou cathedral nestled in a hollow beside the ruined bishop’s palace. And don’t miss Oriel y Parc, visitor centre for the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park.
Love a heritage seaside resort? Try historic Tenby on the south coast with its winding promenade and painted properties overlooking the harbour. Or Llandudno in the north with its broad bay and elegant seafront villas. The Welsh capital, Cardiff, offers a great waterfront city break too. See the largest collection of Impressionist art outside Paris, take in a show at Wales Millenium Centre, and visit the city centre castle.
Find out more:
Inspiration and information from www.visitwales.com. And our Silver Travel Advisors have more information and can book your trip to Wales: call 0800 412 5678.