Destination Guide: Wales Characterised by an ancient Celtic culture, an abundance of archetypal medieval castles and outstanding natural beauty, Wales is just waiting to be discovered
Wales is a small country with a big personality. Best-known for her outstanding natural beauty, Wales is home to craggy coastlines and towering mountain ranges but offers much more besides. The Welsh culture and its fiercely proud people are something to behold whilst the rich history has populated the nation with more ancient castles per square mile than anywhere else in the world. With the recent flourishing of Cardiff as a lively modern capital city, Wales has something for everyone.
Wales is the smallest nation of Britain by both land mass and population (just 3 million). But with two thirds of the people residing in the busy South East corner of the country, vast swathes of Wales remain largely untouched. In fact, the three designated National Parks recognise and protect the outstanding natural beauty of more than a fifth of the Welsh countryside. In the South West Pembrokeshire remains Britain’s only coastal National Park home to hundreds of miles of sweeping bays, dramatic cliffs, off-shore sea-stacks and small islands populated with sea-birds and other wildlife. Central Wales is characterised by the sweeping moorlands of the Brecon Beacons inland and remote fishing communities on the west coast whilst the Northern territory suitably provides Wales’ crowning glory in the Snowdonia National Park. This sprawling mountainous region offers a glorious combination of barren peaks, lush river valleys and thick forests.
Besides its breath-taking beauty, Wales is home to an ancient Celtic culture and language; a language which is still widely spoken today. When speaking English, the Welsh accent offers an instantly recognisable melodic lilt. Often referred to as the “Land of Song” the Welsh are passionate about music; Wales is renowned for the enchanting sounds of its male-voice choirs and the melancholy music of the harp (the national instrument). It’s little wonder that the Welsh boom out their National Anthem loud and proud before their international rugby matches; rugby is considered the national game and is supported fiercely across the nation even by those with no sporting interest. Ultimately, Welsh people are unashamedly proud of their heritage and thus are enduringly welcoming to visitors to their small country; you will experience no greater hospitality, than in Wales.
As a small and sparsely populated nation, Wales has relatively few large towns and cities. Cardiff is known as Europe’s youngest capital city (crowned in 1955) and is undoubtedly the hub of contemporary Welsh culture, commerce and politics. However, its modern reputation belies an intriguing history which can be seen at Cardiff Castle and the city’s elegant Victorian architecture. Also in the south are Wales’ second and third largest cities in Swansea and Newport, the latter of which was the home of 2010’s Ryder Cup. However, Wales is better characterised by its small rural towns, villages and communities. St Davids (namesake of the Welsh Patron Saint) is just a tiny village in Pembrokeshire but was granted city status by Queen Elizabeth II due to its glorious cathedral. Throughout the country lies a host of lesser known gems including medieval market towns such as Conwy, ancient harbour towns such as Tenby or elegant seaside resorts such as Llandudno. Wherever you visit you are never far from the next of hill-top fortress or ancient monastic ruin.
Whether its meeting the Welsh people, experiencing the remote natural beauty or exploring one of her ancient towns or castles, Wales offers a completely unique side of Britain just waiting to be discovered.