60 minutes from… Cardiff
Wales’ vibrant capital city Cardiff is hosting one of the country’s biggest festivals between 3-11 August – the Eisteddfod – which brings with it a raft of concerts, carnivals and the chance to embrace Welsh culture and language. Once you’ve enjoyed the celebrations and explored Cardiff itself, an hour or less away from the city are some spectacular destinations that offer an alternative, yet equally exciting, vibe to Cardiff’s.
When a destination is packed with award-winning beaches, charming villages, historic castles and is the birthplace of legendary Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, you know a visit to it is going to be a fulfilling one. An hour by train or road from Cardiff will take you to Swansea Bay; here, you can spend time walking in Dylan Thomas’ footsteps, by visiting his birthplace and childhood home on a guided tour at 5 Cwmdonkin Drive, which has been fully restored to its 1914 condition, before heading to the Dylan Thomas Centre for a fascinating exhibition about his life and works. Stroll around the attractive Swansea Marina, head down to the National Waterfront Museum to discover 300 years of Welsh innovation and industry, and sample local foodie favourites such as cockles, laverbread, fine Welsh cheeses and scrumptious Welsh cakes at the largest indoor market in Wales, Swansea Indoor Market. This is all before you’ve even had the chance to set off on a scenic walk along its promenade down to the pretty coastal village of Mumbles and explore the ruins of Oystermouth Castle (not forgetting to stop off for a mouth-watering ice-cream at either Verdi’s or Joe’s Ice Cream). You’ll have fallen in love with these picturesque coastal views by then, but even more stunning, award-winning beaches await you around the corner on the Gower Peninsula – Britain’s first-ever Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It’s a haven for walkers, surfers, kayakers and sailors alike.
Set in a picturesque location at the foot of the Black Mountains and the edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park, Abergavenny is close to some outstanding walking trails. But this attractive small town is also a foodie heaven – it hosts the must-visit Abergavenny Food Festival each September. This year marks the 20th year since it first took place and, as well as hundreds of stalls selling the freshest Welsh produce and cookery demonstrations, there’s a diverse selection of forages and tours operating as part of the festival, taking advantage of the bountiful Welsh countryside nearby. Yet the town is worth a visit year-round; from castles to Roman remains and standing stones, you’ll find Abergavenny is a heritage gem of south Wales. Raglan Castle may have been built more as a ‘show’ castle rather than as a defensive fortress yet it’s an equally impressive site. Just a 20-minute drive away is the mesmerising Blaenavon World Heritage site – across 33 sqkm you’ll discover Wales’ industrial past through fascinating attractions such as the Big Pit National Coal Museum (a must-do is the Underground Tour for an insight into what life was like at the coal face) and the Blaenavon Ironworks.
Just 30 minutes from Cardiff is a Welsh city, located close to the English border, that has bags of history and is a familiar name on the world stage of politics and sport, as a former host of the NATO Summit and the Ryder Cup. Explore the city’s long and varied history through Newport Cathedral and the diverse collections at Newport Museum and Art Gallery, before heading to the glorious 17th-century mansion Tredegar House. Set in acres of beautiful grounds, it was built by the Morgan family, the same family who, in 1906, built the nearby Transporter Bridge, a fine feat of early 20th-century engineering and one of just seven working Transporter Bridges in the world. Go back further in time as just a few miles from Newport is the National Roman Legion Museum in Caerleon, located inside the remains of one of only three permanent fortresses in Roman Britain. There are some incredible finds here – the only remains of a Roman Legionary barracks on view in Europe and the ruins of the most complete amphitheatre in Britain.
History aside, this is also a golfers’ paradise – 15 minutes’ drive from the city centre is the five-star Celtic Manor Resort, its six restaurants, five bars and two spas…and three world-class championship courses, a golf academy featuring a floodlit driving range and two golf clubhouses!
A charming market town on the Wales/England border, Chepstow is a hotspot for walkers; not only is it part of the Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and at the very start of the Wales Coast Path that then stretches 870 miles up to north Wales, it’s also the home to an annual walking festival. This five-day walking event takes you through Chepstow and the jaw-droppingly beautiful countryside of the Lower Wye Valley. Walking is also the best way to explore the town itself, home to Britain’s oldest remaining Roman stone castle, Chepstow Castle, where you’ll find the oldest surviving castle doors in Europe, as well as home to Chepstow Museum and its fine collection of local artefacts and 18th- and 19th-cenutry paintings of the Wye Valley. Just a 15-minute drive away is the magnificent Tintern Abbey, one of the best examples of Gothic architecture in Britain and one of Wales’ most-well preserved medieval abbeys. Sports fan? Head to Chepstow Racecourse to enjoy exciting race meets at the home of the Welsh National.
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