Castles, ruins, history and, of course, food; today Adriana shares 10 reasons you should visit southern Wales.
“Wales? What is there to do in Wales?” friends asked when we told them we were about to go. As it turns out Wales is a great destination especially if you are outdoorsy and enjoy history.
For accommodation, we booked one of the two cottages offered by Brechfa Forest Barns, near Brechfa Forest, in the heart of the stunning Carmarthenshire countryside, in South Wales. Nikki and Jason (the owners) have transformed their barn into two beautiful mountain retreats. They offer all the modern amenities in a very cozy setting. The cottages are perfect for families, nature lovers, dog owners (they accept any number of dogs as long as everything is kept clean) and cyclists.
Their sister business, MudTrek, is an award winning company offering fully catered mountain biking adventures, guided by Jason, for both experienced and inexperienced cyclists.
From our experience, Jason and Nikki raised the bar when it comes to hospitality and making us feel welcome and right at home. I highly recommend them.
1. The Dylan Thomas Boathouse - The first thing I wanted to visit, in Wales, was the Dylan Thomas Boathouse. It’s a lovely house where the poet, writer, and broadcaster Dylan Thomas lived the last four years of his tragically short life. The upstairs exhibit is not extensive and it includes a 24-minute film about Dylan Thomas. Downstairs there is a lovely tearoom offering great tea and snacks. The shop sells books and other small mementos. The paintings around the house are also for sale. The Boathouse terrace offers wonderful views of the Taf estuary and beyond – a haven for egrets, lapwings, herons, oystercatchers, seals and otters.
2. Carreg Cennen Castle – One of the most spectacular Welsh ruins, Carreg Cennen Castle is located north of Swansea. The setting is unbelievable – rolling green hills, with sheep grazing everywhere. It’s a beautiful and tranquil sight.
The view from Carreg Cennen Castle takes your breath away. I could have stayed there forever. It’s so peaceful with not a soul around. Even though it’s winter, the hills are very green. The castle is open every day of the year and the entrance fee is minimal.
3. Laugharne Castle – Other notable ruins, worth visiting in South Wales, include Laugharne Castle, which was probably founded in the early 12th century as an earth and timber fortification. It was later adapted to provide stylish living accommodation. Within walking distance from the Dylan Thomas Boathouse, it makes for a great day trip.
4. Llansteffan Castle – Another beautiful ruin is Llansteffan Castle, which stands at the end of what may seem to be a never-ending pathway to the top of the heavens. Do not be daunted by the unsure footing or the grade of the path, for the castle is certainly worth the effort. While the castle originated in the early 12th century, built by the Normans, earlier civilizations also recognized the strategic value of building on the hilltop.
5. Cardiff Castle – As long as we are talking castles, one must not forget to visit Cardiff. Located in the heart of the capital city is Cardiff Castle, a truly remarkable site, with a history that spans over 2000 years. Roman soldiers slept here, noble knights held court here, and the Bute family, with extraordinary wealth and vision, transformed the castle into a romantic Victorian fantasy.
6. St. Davids Cathedral – Wales has something to offer for everybody. If you are like me and love to visit old churches and cathedrals then St. Davids Cathedral is the place for you. Located in the town of St. Davids, the smallest town in Britain, this 6th century marvel is beautiful and holds a rich past; raided by Vikings and visited and owned by kings. The entire area around St. Davids is peaceful. Everywhere you turn, you are surrounded by lush green.
7. National Botanic Garden of Wales – If nature is what you seek, apart from the countless nature walks you can do around Brechfa Forest Barns, visit the National Botanic Garden of Wales. To our surprise, January is free to enter and, even though it’s cold and not much is growing outside, the indoor area is beautiful and colorful. You can observe flora form around the world including South Africa, Australia, USA, and Chile.
8. Pentre Ifan – For history buffs, South Wales offers a plethora of ancient sites like Pentre Ifan. Dating from approximately 3,500 B.C. it was possibly used as a communal burial site. It is the largest and best-preserved Neolithic dolmen in Wales. It’s free to visit and open at all hours. Just push the little gate and enter.
9. Caerleon Roman Ruins – South Wales is also home to the largest Roman settlement in Britain. The remains of some 75 amphitheatres have been located in widely scattered areas of the Roman Empire. The amphitheatre in Caerleon is the best-preserved example in Britain. The remains at Caerleon provide a vivid picture of life in second-century Roman Britain. Caerleon has the finest remains of Roman barrack buildings in Europe.
The National Roman Legion Museum houses a superb display of artifacts found in the region, as well as having demonstration rooms and a reconstruction of legionaries’ quarters. Visiting the entire Roman site including the museum is free of charge.
10. Traditional Welsh food – I always want to try the traditional food in each country we visit. In Wales, two of the traditional dishes we tried were faggots and cawl.
Faggots are a traditional dish in the UK, especially south and mid Wales and the Midlands of England. A faggot is traditionally made from pig’s heart, liver, and fatty belly meat or bacon minced together, with herbs added for flavoring. Faggots originated as a traditional cheap food of ordinary country people in Western England. I enjoyed it but it’s definitely a meal I would not have all the time due to its richness.
Cawl is made with lamb and locally grown vegetables served with a crusty bread roll and locally produced cheese. It’s a delicious and hearty meal.
Wales is a wonderful country, worth visiting. The vastness of green, rolling hills, the forests, the ancient ruins and castles, are begging to be explored.