Looking for some travel inspiration? Keen to visit a country with awe-inspiring scenery? World-class beaches? A rich cultural heritage? Then I’ve heard you should look no further than Wales. Now, it might not be top of everyone’s travel ‘to-do’ list – but perhaps it should be. Because it seems Cymru is a class act. So, forget the tired stereotypes. In fact, I’m told there’s much more to this Celtic country than male voice choirs and rugby (although, I hear, it still excels at both). Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie, a culture vulture, or simply in search of some R&R, it’s time to weigh up Wales holidays.
West is best
Wales is apparently home to some of the UK’s most beautiful beaches. Don’t believe me? Then head to Pembrokeshire and feed your eyes on miles of unspoilt coastline. I’ve heard Rhossili Bay is reasonably well known, having been voted Wales’s Best Beach in 2018. In fact, it also came third in the UK in the TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards. It’s so popular with water sports enthusiasts and sandcastle builders alike, it’s also frequented by basking seals and dolphins. But for those who are really in the know, the West Wales beach scene is all about Barafundle.
This crescent-shaped beach is truly a hidden slice of paradise (without the jet lag). Now managed by The National Trust, Barafundle Bay was historically the private beach of the Cawdor family. (Yes, descendants of that Thane of Cawdor, celebrated in Macbeth.) Featuring crystal clear waters and golden sand, Barafundle is backed by dunes and pine trees. Best of all, it’s accessible only by a half-mile walk from the nearest car park, which translates into tranquil isolation. Beach bliss if you’re not a fan of the holiday hordes!
If you’re looking for a something slightly more accessible – or perhaps some serious surf – try Freshwater West. This beach boasts some of the best waves in the area. It’s also popular with film crews and should be one on your Wales holidays wish-list. Think Dobby’s final resting place in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood.
Castles and cathedrals
Apparently, there’s a lot more to West Wales holidays than beautiful beaches. The Pembrokeshire landscape is liberally punctuated with medieval castles, prehistoric tombs and religious Celtic shrines. History buffs will undoubtedly enjoy a visit to Pembroke Castle. Did you know it’s the only castle in Britain to be built over a natural cavern? And don’t leave West Wales without seeing St David’s, Britain’s small city. Time your visit wisely and you could enjoy the annual St David’s Cathedral Festival, which has been bringing world class music to the heart of West Wales for 40 years.
I’m finding there’s so much to see and do in North Wales, it’s difficult to know where to begin. So, I suggest starting at the top and working your way down!
Snowdonia is the undisputed activity capital of Wales, offering no end of outdoor activities, from climbing to canyoning. If you’re happy to scale the heights, it’s 1,085m (3,550 feet) to the summit of Snowdon, Wales’s highest mountain. If the thought of a 6-8 hour challenging hike doesn’t delight you, take the Snowdon Mountain Railway instead.
Thrill seekers: look no further than the fastest zip wire in the world (and the longest zip wire in Europe). Velocity 2 at Penrhyn Quarry Bethesda is just one of the amazing adrenaline-fuelled experiences offered by Zip World. Others include Bounce Below (an underground net adventure), Zip Safari, Titan and Plummet (a 100ft-high trap door free-fall).
Potty about Portmeirion
North Wales holidays have plenty to interest enthusiasts of gentler pursuits, too. Portmeirion village, built by Welsh architect Clough Williams-Ellis, is a case in point. It’s a stunning setting that includes sub-tropical gardens, two hotels, a cluster of historic cottages and a spa.
Portmeirion shot to fame in the 1960s, providing the backdrop for the cult classic series The Prisoner. It’s also famous for Portmeirion Pottery. Today this is sold around the world, but its spiritual home is its namesake village in North Wales. The company was founded by Susan Williams-Ellis (daughter of Clough) to produce pottery souvenirs for the village shop. The iconic ‘Botanic Garden’ collection – based on prints from Thomas Green’s 19th century ‘Universal Herbal’ is still available to buy online.
The Beautiful South
Now, there’s no shortage of different things to see and do in South Wales, too. Enjoy a cosmopolitan city break in the capital, Cardiff – a hub of Welsh culture, sport and entertainment. The National Museum in Cardiff is home to Wales’s national art, natural history, archaeology and geology collections. Or go 300ft underground at the Big Pit National Coal Museum in Newport, one of Britain’s leading mining museums.
The Big Pit is an award-winning facility that shows what life was like for the thousands who toiled at the coal face. The museum’s industrial landscape was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2000, in recognition of its international importance.
Drop to the bottom of a pit in the morning – and stand on top of a mountain in the afternoon. South Wales really does incorporate endless versatility. Pen Y Fan, the highest peak in South Wales, is much more manageable than Snowdon, but still offers glorious views. It’s situated in the Brecon Beacons National Park, just a short drive from Cardiff. The area boasts an abundance of castles, caves, mountains and waterfalls – plus a sprinkling of pubs, cafes and restaurants.
Hit the Hay
The Brecon Beacons is not just for lovers of the outdoors. Every year the literati flock to Hay-on-Wye, on the edge of the National Park, for the world-famous Hay Festival. In 2019 it takes place from 23 May to 2 June. Each year, the event features writers, artists, academics, thinkers and performers. I really must go! New for 2019 is the Serious Reading Room, designed to offer a “comfortable space for contemplation between events”. Surprise, free readings and performances from star festival speakers will also feature. Confirmed guests to date include Jimmy Carr, Stacey Dooley, Michael Rosen, Julia Donaldson and Sandi Toksvig. Events sell out, and booking can be competitive. So don’t wait too long to book that trip to Wales!