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With more castles per square mile than anywhere else in Europe, bountiful beaches and a knack for storytelling, it’s unsurprising that South Wales beguiles visitors.
An easy reach from London, begin your weekend in Cardiff, a cultural mecca. Once in the city centre, dominated by two distinctive monuments – the medieval Cardiff Castle and the Principality Stadium – spend an afternoon perusing everything from antiquities to Welsh cakes in the capital’s Victorian arcades. When you’re shopped out, stop for a bite to eat at one of the city’s innovative restaurants.
Compact and easy to travel around, a visit to South Wales is best navigated via rental car. From Cardiff, why not drive to Rhossili Beach on the Gower Peninsula, a stretch of sand lauded as one of the best around for surfers and swimmers. Tracing the shoreline, walkers can follow paths along the clifftops, taking in views of Worms Head.
With the freedom to roam, your travel itinerary can and should include endless spontaneous stopovers. Pull up in Broad Haven for an afternoon to discuss UFO sightings and conspiracy theories with locals (who doesn’t love a 70s throwback?) then work your way further along the Welsh coast. Seeking your next pitstop? Scroll through our pocket guide for our pick of the best – from romantic country piles to thriving market towns.
Grove of Narberth Narberth, Pembrokeshire
Blending modern luxe with country charm, escape with family or friends to this cosy Pembrokeshire country mansion for the weekend. Following an afternoon ramble around the property’s woodlands, stake your territory by the open fire with a classic novel and an old fashioned as companions. In keeping with its countryside surrounds, expect bedrooms filled with handmade furniture, local pottery and vintage Welsh lace. The hotel’s fine-dining restaurant, The Fernery, is also a big draw.
Hotel Indigo Cardiff
Situated on Cardiff’s pedestrianised Queen Street, Hotel Indigo is a laid-back neighbourhood hideaway in the thick of the action. Miner’s helmets masquerade as lampshades, framed pictures of Welsh legends such as Sir Tom Jones flank the corridors and a jumble of armchairs populate in communal spaces. Rooms vary in size, with the Welsh Industry room being the largest and most impressive on offer. Enjoy a steak dinner (and a side of rooftop views) at the hotel’s top-floor restaurant.
Twr Y Felin Hotel St Davids, Pembrokeshire
On the outskirts of St Davids, this art hotel is a moody, gothic delight. Internationally sourced artworks – from the fluorescent to the abstract – adorn the walls, while local ingredients grace the plates of the hotel’s formal restaurant, Blas, meaning “taste” in Welsh. After dinner, retire to the snug bar for a nightcap before retreating to your penthouse where a reading room and look-out tower are likely to keep you up later than expected.
Dine at Milkwood Cardiff
Cardiff’s dining scene is packed with flavour and variety, but ardent foodies willing to go the extra mile will get their just desserts at Milkwood. Dreamed up by three friends – Cerys, Tom and Gwyn – this Pontcanna-based neighbourhood bistro opened its doors in 2017. Their menu – stuffed with seasonal, locally sourced produce – is prepared simply, and its interiors (think forest green banquettes and wildflower table arrangements) are equally palatable. Best to book ahead; this spot is particularly popular with locals.
Sample local produce in Abergavenny Abergavenny
Sift your way through cheesemakers, bakers and lamb suppliers in this Welsh market town. An afternoon surveying Abergavenny’s robust offering of local, organically grown produce is enough to impress even the most discerning of foodies. It’s no surprise then that the most important gastronomic event in Wales, Abergavenny Food Festival, pops up here in September, attracting a major influx of hungry pilgrims.
Go Michelin at Restaurant James Sommerin Cardiff
BBC Great British Menu finalist James Sommerin’s eponymous restaurant is known for its sensational tasting menus. At this Michelin-starred darling, feast on a menu of butter-poached lobster, tender Welsh lamb cooked three ways and Sommerin’s signature pea ravioli, finishing with a raspberry parfait, should you have room. Ease digestion with a stroll along Cardiff Bay Barrage, a pedestrian walkway connecting the city to the seaside town of Penarth.
Go gin tasting at Chapel 1877 Cardiff
Turrets and towers make up the imposing facade at Chapel 1877, a refurbished 19th-century gothic church and an impressive spot to enjoy a drink. Sip on something strong – pick your poison from 1877’s extensive wine and cocktail list – beneath theatrical, oversized chandeliers in the convivial bar on the ground floor. Those with a predilection for gin should sign up for a tasting – tipples are accompanied by insider intel from your expert bartender.
Grab a pint of local ale at The Grange Cardiff
Run by the same gang as Milkwood, The Grange is a local pub, perfect for a fireside ale and a small bite – we’ve got our eye on Welsh rarebit. With not a single flat-screen TV in sight there’s little chance of the place being overrun with rugby fans, meaning passersby (usually locals) are left to their own devices. Think old-school pub games, taken to with competitive gusto.
Make a pitstop in Carmarthenshire Carmarthenshire
Carmarthenshire is one of the oldest towns in Wales. A great spot for a stopover, while away an afternoon in this Roman fort town – thought to have been built in 75 AD – flitting between a string of nostalgia-inducing gift shops. Stop for lunch at Y Polyn, where the likes of Welsh venison ragu and generous wedges of brownies will provide ample fuel for the next leg of your journey. Sip on tea (or a locally brewed ale – provided you’re not the one in the driver’s seat), by a roaring fire set against a backdrop of misshapen, whitewashed brick walls. Cosy 101.
Go bargain hunting in Victorian Arcades Cardiff
Cardiff’s bustling arcades promise a selection of clothing, homewares and edible delights. Stock up on local cheeses at Wally’s Delicatessen then forge onwards in the direction of Troutmark Books, where the walls are piled high with second-hand and rare tomes. Post-haul, continue through the Morgan Arcade to Spillers, said to be the oldest record shop in the world.
Explore the eccentric Tredegar House Newport
Wales’ third-largest city has a certain charm that draws the day-trippers in. Tredegar House, one of the National Trust flagship houses, is perhaps Newport’s most alluring offering. This majestic mansion dates to the mid-17th century and is awash with curious details – many rooms boast flamboyant, gilded fireplaces while in the King’s Room, keep an eye out for illustrations of Blue Boy, the potty-mouthed family parrot. The house also offers an excellent traditional cream tea, served in the converted stables.
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