Monday, February 27th, 2017

A Dreamy Trip to South Wales

34

Kate in Wales

Wales is a bit of a peculiar destination. It doesn’t have the fame or glory of England or Scotland, but it’s brimming with just as many treasures. So many people want to visit Wales — but they’re not sure where to begin. Why is that?

I think part of it is that Wales doesn’t have a signature attraction. Scotland has Edinburgh and the Highlands and Loch Ness. England has London and Stonehenge and Liverpool. Wales’s destinations tend to be lesser-known to the general traveling population.

And yet something about Wales captures people’s imagination, even if it’s just the idea of rolling hills and castles.

I recently went on a food-themed trip through South Wales and I feel like it would work for so many travelers! Here I’m going to break it down so you can get a better idea of what Wales has to offer.

Laugharne Castle

South Wales: Trip Guidelines

Stick to just the south if you have one week or less. If you have longer, feel free to venture to the north. I’ve been to parts of North Wales and particularly enjoyed Conwy, Llangollen, and climbing Mount Snowdon, but this post will concentrate on the south.

Driving is best. The joy of driving around Wales is seeing little villages that public transportation doesn’t cover — or covers minimally. You’ll get to see much more this way. And just like the rest of Britain, you drive on the left.

You may want to fly into Bristol, England, and rent a car from there. Cardiff does have an airport, but it’s tiny and doesn’t fly to many places. (Virtually every Cardiff local said the same thing to me: “Yes, it’s small, but at least we have KLM and can fly anywhere from Amsterdam!”) Bristol Airport is much bigger and it’s only about 50 minutes from Cardiff by car. Alternatively, if you’re spending time elsewhere in the UK, you could take a train to Cardiff and rent a car from there.

The Welsh language is everywhere — but everyone speaks English. As part of efforts to protect Welsh language and culture, the Welsh language was placed on equal footing with English in 1993. As a result, Welsh is taught in schools and all government signs are in both English and Welsh. Some Welsh are more comfortable speaking Welsh; others are more comfortable speaking English. That said, today everyone speaks English.

IT IS SO CHEAP RIGHT NOW. Post-Brexit, the British pound has fallen significantly in value. While this is a horrible situation for my British friends, as well as myself (some of my contracts pay me in British pounds), it’s good news for foreign visitors. The UK has not been this cheap to visit in decades — take advantage and go ASAP.

Haye-on-Wye

South Wales Bases: Where to Stay and Spend Your Time

When I do a road trip, I like to stay in a few different places for 2-3 nights at a time and do day trips from there, thus minimizing the amount of packing and unpacking I have to do each day. Wales, thankfully, is perfectly set up for this.

Here are three very different destinations that I think would make good bases for a South Wales trip:

Cardiff Waterfront

Cardiff

Wales’s capital is an ideal spot to start your journey. Cardiff is beautiful, conveniently connected by transportation, highly walkable, and feels like a small town while having the amenities of a larger city.

Cardiff CastleCardiff WaterfrontCardiff Market

My favorite experience, and one that I recommend to all Cardiff visitors, is a food tour with Loving Welsh Food. On the Cardiff Tasting tour I sampled everything from local cheeses to local beers, fresh cockles, and creatively flavored Welsh cakes hot off the griddle!

This tour, led by Sian Roberts (fun fact: Sian is the Welsh version of Jane), infuses food with history and culture, the way the best food tours do.

Even if you don’t do the tour, there are two places visited on the tour that I would recommend checking out: the revitalized waterfront at Cardiff Bay (a great place to take pictures), and Cardiff’s central market, home to dozens of terrific food vendors.

Haye-on-Wye

Hay-on-Wye

I had never heard of Hay-on-Wye before this trip, but I fell in love with it immediately, and I think you will, too. Why? It’s the used bookstore capital of the world! More than 30 shops are in this small town. You could spend days perusing the offerings (and I honestly think I could happily spend five days here).

Hay-on-WyeUsed Bookstore Hay-on-WyeHaye-on-Wye

Hay-on-Wye is home to the Hay Festival, a world-famous literary festival. Bill Clinton visited and called it “The Woodstock of the Mind.” Junot Díaz, one of my favorite authors, visited and described it as, “One of the finest, most thought-provoking literary gatherings I’ve ever attended.”

Beyond books, Hay-on-Wye has an antique map store (where I purchased a gorgeous antique map of northern Italy for my apartment) and several cafes, antique shops, ice cream shops, and restaurants. There’s also a castle, because it’s Wales.

Tenby

Tenby

I was shocked when I caught my first glimpse of Tenby — it looked like it belonged in Liguria, Italy, or maybe the French Riviera. Definitely not Wales!

The Pembrokeshire Coast is one of Wales’s greatest draws. There are excellent coastal walking paths and each town has its own flavor. Tenby makes a convenient base to visit. Just be prepared for less-than-perfect weather — in my brief visit I had both sunshine and downpours.

TenbyPembrokeshire CoastTenby

It’s also easy to explore the Pembrokeshire Coast with Tenby as a base. Also, I was shocked to learn that trains come here!

South Wales Side Trips

Once you’ve decided on where to base, fill in your days with little side trips. Most of these places could be visited in 1-2 hours; some of them could be used for a longer stay if you wanted to take it super-slow.

Penarth

Penarth

Penarth is a small seaside town so close to Cardiff that it’s practically part of the city. If you’re in Cardiff, take time to stop here in the evening and check out the pier. Not only is it perfect for sunset photos, but one of the best restaurants in Wales, Restaurant James Sommerin, is across the street. They have a Michelin star and I adored everything on the menu!

Tintern Abbey

Tintern

Tintern is a tiny town, but it’s home to Tintern Abbey — an incredible complex worth visiting. Tintern Abbey was founded in the 12th century and went into ruin by the 16th century, making it a beautiful place to explore and photograph. It’s also been immortalized in numerous poems.

Tintern is on the England border and it’s a short distance from Cardiff, on the way to Haye-on-Wye.

Laugharne Castle

Laugherne

Laugherne (pronounced “Larn” — gotta love those Welsh consonants!) has two claims to fame: it’s home to a castle (Laugherne Castle) and it’s the home of poet Dylan Thomas. In fact, you can stand in front of the castle and photograph it simultaneously with Thomas’s house and his writing shack in the background! (The house is white; the shack is a little black dot.)

Llandailo

Llandailo

Llandailo is a lovely little town with an oft-photographed row of pastel houses. It’s a nice place to have a quick wander, as there are several local shops worth perusing. I loved Heavenly Chocolate, a bakery and pastry shop.

Garlic in Wales

Abergavenny

Abergavenny is a small town home to a famous food festival in September — but I visited to attend a Welsh cooking class at The Culinary Cottage. Chef Penny Lewis has cooked for THE QUEEN (and it took her about 90 minutes to reveal that — if I had done that, I’d be telling strangers on the street!) and she led us in a group lesson making lamb meatball stroganoff, leeks with smoked salmon, and a meringue with blackberries, all served with Welsh wines.

This class was a lot of fun and I feel like I got to know the mystery that is Welsh cuisine a lot better!

Kate in Three Cocks

Three Cocks

I’m not sure what there is to do in Three Cocks, but seriously, that sign was made for selfies.

Jabajak Winery

Jabajak Vineyard

“If you’re going to drink Welsh wine, you’ll need three other men: one to hold his arms down, one to hold his legs down, and one to pour it down his throat.” Ha. But seriously, Wales has a wine scene and some of their wines are surprisingly good, especially the whites.

Jabajak Vineyard is a bit out of the way, but I enjoyed tasting their local blends. It’s also an exceedingly comfortable place to stay overnight — great rooms, great food, great wine! And the vineyards are lovely to wander (keep an eye out for the Shetland ponies).

Swansea Belly Rings

Swansea and the Mumbles

Swansea, Wales’s second-largest city, doesn’t get included in itineraries very often, and I don’t think it would appeal to a lot of travelers if you’re limited on time. It was heavily bombed during World War II and it’s not the prettiest city to look at. That said, I took a quick wander around the central market and I loved it — it was much more working class and local than everywhere else I’d been in Wales and I found it very interesting to explore.

Alternatively, head out to The Mumbles, a beach community just outside the city. The beaches are lovely and Catherine Zeta-Jones, a Swansea native, has a house here. They also have a famous pub crawl challenge where you get a beer in every bar along the boardwalk.

Fun fact: “mumbles” is Welsh slang for boobs. The town gets its name for a pair of rocks rising out of the water.

Happiness is a Warm Welsh Cake

What to Eat in Wales

My trip to South Wales was all about the culinary treasures! Here’s what you should keep an eye out for in Wales.

Welsh Cakes

Welsh Cakes

Welsh cakes are everywhere in Wales — you’ll eat a lot of them! They’re like a cross between a cookie and a scone, usually packed with currents for flavor. They’re great with tea.

I had a lot of Welsh cakes on my trip, but the absolute best ones were from Fabulous Welsh Cakes near Cardiff Bay. You can get them hot off the griddle! There is a world of difference between a fresh Welsh cake and a stale one.

Lamb Meatball Stroganoff

Lamb

Wales is the land of sheep and not surprisingly, lamb is on almost every menu. It’s tender and juicy in almost every form. (Just be sure to pace yourself, as lamb is intense; after a few days, I didn’t want to touch it again!)

Cockles Heart

Cockles

Cockles, or tiny clams, are one of the most popular kinds of seafood in Wales. It sounds like a funny name until you realize that coquilles is the word for scallops in French!

Also popular: laverbread, a seaweed puree popular in Wales. Pair it with some cockles on bread or a savory biscuit, pictured above.

Smoked salmon and leeks

Leeks

Leeks are the official vegetable of Wales! Try them however you can. I was never into leeks until I lived in the UK; I quickly became obsessed. Especially with creamed leeks — so bad for you, but so good in the moment. I now cook with leeks all the time at home.

Faggots in Cardiff

Faggots

Uh, yeah. I feel uncomfortable typing that, but that’s the actual name. If Scotland has haggis, Wales has faggots: a creative way to use up the leftover bits of meat. They are essentially pork meatballs made primarily from offal and served with gravy. Like haggis, faggots are delicious if you don’t think about exactly what you’re eating.

Kate and Welsh Cheese

Snowdonia Cheeses

I first discovered the Snowdonia Cheese Company in Chester in 2011 and immediately became a fan. I was delighted to reacquaint myself with these cheeses on this trip. The Black Bomber, their signature cheddar, is fabulous, but I love their crazy flavors too.

I also got the best news ever on this trip: THEY NOW HAVE THEM IN THE UNITED STATES! You can get them at some Whole Foods markets. I’ll be on the lookout in New York.

 

Tenby

The Magic of Wales

For me, the highlight of Wales was simply exploring the countryside, on foot or by car, and admiring the scenery, stopping for great food, and seeing all the little towns along the way. Wales is so beautiful, and I feel like it’s ripe for exploration — a little bit more off the beaten path than the popular tours of England and Scotland.

Come to Wales — and come hungry — and you’ll have a wonderful time.

David Hasselhoff in Cardiff

I Only Ask One Thing

I beg you, if you happen to be visiting Wales between December 10, 2016, and January 8, 2017, PLEASE GO TO CARDIFF AND SEE DAVID HASSELHOFF PLAY CAPTAIN HOOK AND THEN GET ON SKYPE AND TELL ME EVERY. SINGLE. DETAIL.

Essential Info: The Loving Welsh Food tour in Cardiff has a variety of options. I went on the Cardiff Tasting Tour, which costs £35 ($43 USD); see all the options here.

In Cardiff I stayed at the Park Plaza Cardiff, a luxury property I loved, set in an ideal location in the center of town. Rates from £89 ($108).

I also stayed at Jabajak Vinyard, which had beautiful rooms and wonderful food and wine. Rates start at £65 ($79) for singles and £110 ($134) for couples.

Admission to Tintern Abbey is £6 ($7) for adults.

Admission to Laugharne Castle is £4 ($5) for adults.

The Culinary Cottage offers cooking demonstrations starting at £55 ($67), cooking lessons starting at £65 ($79), and multi-day lessons with a boarding option as well.

On this trip my colleagues and I traveled with Mike Davies of Dragon Tours, who also drove us. Mike is a wonderful tour guide, he has his Ph.D in medieval history, and if you’re in the market for a private guide and driver, you will have a great time with him!

I visited Wales as a guest of Visit Britain. All opinions, as always, are my own.

Comments

34 Responses to “A Dreamy Trip to South Wales”
  1. Amanda says:

    My adventure-filled trip to North Wales was just as magical – I can’t believe 2016 was my very first visit to Wales! I’m definitely going to be telling more people to go, and to go now (and I totally want to go back again next year!).

  2. Hi Kate,

    Why do you recommend first-time visitors stick to southern Wales as opposed to northern Wales? I was considering a few days near Snowdonia, but that’s mainly because I hadn’t heard much about the south. Would probably do a few days to a week from London, with a car.

    Thanks!

    • You could have fun with either, but I think South Wales has a lot more variety. North Wales is great for seaside villages, small towns, and national parks, but in the South you get all that plus the Italianate villages and some cool cities, as well as an easier way to get in and out. With only a few days, I’d choose one or the other.

      • Anne says:

        Just to add to this … Wales might look tiny, but to get from one part to another often involves windy, hilly, narrow roads. The distances take a lot longer to cover than you might think. As Kate said, both north and south are nice, but unless you have plenty of time pick one or the other. The south is probably easier to get to from London, whereas the north is much easier from the cities in the north of England like Manchester and Liverpool.

  3. Noelle says:

    I visited Cardiff and Brecon Beacons and really enjoyed it – definitely would like to go to Tenby and Tintern!

  4. Rebecca says:

    Glad you had a great time in Wales and I’m sure you’re post will help many more people to see how beautiful it is. I’ve literally just got back from a weekend in Snowdonia: Visited the Italianesque village of Portmeirion, climbed Mt Snowdon and visited Zip World where we trampolined in some underground caves. Seriously- It’s the Welsh Tourism board’s Year of Adventure for very obvious reasons!

  5. Kate Storm says:

    I’ve been obsessed with the photo of the boats in Tenby since I saw it on Instagram–it looks nothing like I would expect from Wales!

    Wales looks delicious, too. I wouldn’t mind trying a Welsh cake!

  6. Dominique says:

    What a great comprehensive guide to south Wales! I have been on many trips to the UK and none have taken me to Wales. I guess it’s about time I visit!

  7. veena says:

    What great timing! I am just entering the planning stages for a trip to Wales with my parents next summer, and these tips will come in very handy for my process. Thanks for sharing! xx

  8. Danny says:

    That coastline looks amazing! I certainly wasn’t expecting something like that from Wales. You’re right – Tenby could definitely be a small town on the French Riviera!

  9. Audrey says:

    Wales is the one country I still have left to visit in the UK and I really don’t know what’s taken me so long because it looks beautiful! I love the sound of a road trip and I can already tell I would want to linger in Hay-on-Wye. Bookstore capital? Yes, please!

  10. Hayley says:

    Tenby looks ABSOLUTELY INCREDIBLE!!!!!! I have never considered Wales as a place I would want to visit – reconsidering now!

  11. Amazing trip and great images! thanks for the sharing.

  12. Caroline says:

    Lovely photos. Have you been to Portmeirion? I know it’s a bit overdone but I think non-UK tourists might not know it so well?

    🙂

  13. Stephanie says:

    What a great guide, thank you! I agree, Wales is not as famous as England or Scotland and that’s the reason why I really want to go there, ahaha!

  14. Jordanne M says:

    Looks like you had an amazing trip. I appreciated your honesty and bearing down to the best places to see. And you cheat sheet at the end of the post is very helpful as a quick recap. Your advice on where to stay and how to get place to place was helpful as well!

  15. Adrianna says:

    Oh my goodness, I will be in the U.K. in December! I didn’t plan on visiting Wales, but I feel it is a must now because of the play lol. If I see it, I will let you know how it is!

  16. Sian says:

    I loved following your journey through South Wales on snapchat, and the photographs in this post are stunning!

    I always appreciate how open and receptive you are to enjoying the places you visit, and how you treat all of them with equal respect and consideration. This is especially refreshing on the rare occasion I see Wales discussed in any context, because we’re often the butt of the joke even within the UK and it gets a bit tiring (especially our language and placenames! Thank you for pronouncing them so incredibly well in you snaps, without scoffing or ridiculing them as jibberish!)
    Thank you especially for mentioning North Wales, I know you have experience of it from living across the border for a while (the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town in the archive post is even my hometown!) and if Wales is neglected then North Wales is practically unknown! Though I’ll definitely concede that first-time visitors that aren’t obsessed with countryside-walking, solitude, and national parks and can’t rent a car will probably get more out of the more populated ‘cosmopolitan’ South lol!

    This blog has helped fan the flames of travel in me and made me feel a bit more adventurous after a pretty low period, and your Florence posts were invaluable when I visited recently, especially the food post! So thanks a million, I’ll continue to enjoy the snaps and blogposts 🙂

    • Sian, thank you so much for such a kind comment! I’m glad I pronounced the Welsh names correctly (it wasn’t the same in Australia; I got corrected CONSTANTLY there!). The UK and I have an interesting relationship and I’m always glad to show more of it off. Thanks for reading and I’m glad you had fun in Florence!

  17. Elen says:

    Oh my gosh, it’s so nice seeing a blog post about South Wales. Being Welsh, it’s so nice to see my home getting some love! And your mention of Fabulous Welsh Cakes has made me desperate to go there – I always try to pop in there whenever I’m down the bay.

  18. I’ve wanted to go to Wales since watching Gavin & Stacy back in the day. One of my favorite tv shows ever. James Cordon should have just written that show forever.

  19. Vanessa @ Blushing Geek says:

    Oh wow! I really hope I could save to go there. Lovely photos as always Kate!

  20. Alys says:

    I absolutely loved this post, being from South Wales myself, it’s so nice to see other people enjoying my hometown and surrounding areas. Penarth and Tenby are definitely hidden gems, and Fabulous Welshcakes is always the place that I recommend to people visiting Cardiff Bay!

  21. Audrey says:

    I absolutely love your pictures! Wales seems like such a beautiful place to visit…

  22. Karin says:

    I enjoyed your website! I am also a woman who travels solo. I’ve taken a few trips to Europe and went on some horseback riding vacations. I’ve been through Wales on the train but never stayed there. I love Scotland! I went horseback riding in the Orkney Islands in 2014. I am a horse riding enthusiast and I will not give up riding while on vacation! I recently started a blog of my own, focusing on horseback riding vacations. I hope to be able to raise funds so I can travel more and add more to my blog!

  23. Anne says:

    This is a really timely post for me. I’ll be at conference in Cardiff at Easter and want to add some extra days exploring more of the south of Wales. I’ve been to South Wales a few times, but don’t know it particularly well. You’ve given me some great ideas here.

  24. Lini Antony says:

    Lovely photos and interesting post. My wishlist has been updated. I wanna go there. Really awesome.

  25. liz santos says:

    Lovely photos. Have you been to Portmeirion? I know it’s a bit overdone but I think non-UK tourists might not know it so well?

  26. Kev says:

    One thing you’re not quite right on is that Wales has a deep and rich history as the oldest inhabited part of Britain the Island. We’re not ‘trendy’ in the USA and you don’t get Welsh characters in US movies I suppose. One interesting thing to know is that Welsh was spoken in the West of Scotland less than three hundred years ago and Glasgow, Perth and Aberdeen to name but three, are Welsh names.
    Lots of history, but not the fame 🙂

    A shame you didn’t see Snowdonia, absolutely breathtaking.

  27. Rhian Cook says:

    As a proud Welsh girl (Valleys) I think you covered some great things to do in Wales on your trip!
    If I could recommend anything to add to this I would say to check out all the stunning beaches the Gower in Swansea has to offer – properly magical, Blue Lagoon in Pembroke, Waterfall County in Glynneath, Portmeirion, The many Castles we have on offer, The Brecon Beacons is an absolute must and so many more but i’m having a mind blank!
    Wales is magical and we are all so friendly so there really isn’t any reason not to visit 🙂

Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!


three + = six