In early October, I had the pleasure of embarking on my first familiarisation trip to Southern Wales, courtesy of Discover Wales / Darganfod Cymru 2023. Throughout the visit, I uncovered the charm of Wales – from captivating landscapes to hidden cultural gems, not least the warm hospitality. In the course of my exploration, it became clear to me that the country holds a wealth of experiences for travellers from all walks of life.
Day one began with a visit to Newport Transporter Bridge, a true symbol of the industrial heritage of the area. As one of only three designed to carry vehicles in the UK, this transporter bridge is currently undergoing a significant transformation since its completion in 1906. The new visitor centre, set to open in Summer 2024, welcomes tourists by enhancing the experience to provide a deeper understanding of this historic landmark.
The journey continued to Tredegar House and Park, once the residence of the influential Morgan Family, the region’s most prominent landowners. The estate reflects the luxurious lifestyle of the family, boasting 90 acres of picturesque gardens and parklands. For devoted Doctor Who fans, including this visit to your itinerary is essential! Afterall, Tredegar House is the most common Doctor Who filming site owned by the National Trust, having been visited by every Doctor since David Tennant. Whether arriving by vehicle or TARDIS, there are ample parking spaces, and the Brewhouse Cafe provides both indoor and outdoor seating for you to refuel.
Later that day, we travelled back in time to the year 1645 at Llancaiach Fawr Manor. Here, the servants provided a guided tour, unveiling the history that lies within the building and detailing a day in the life of the Pritchard family. Upon entering the manor, you feel completely immersed, leaving behind the present day. Next stop, the impressive Caerphilly Castle, the largest castle in Wales. No authentic tour of Wales would be complete without a visit to one of its magnificent castles. This castle stands out for its unique feature – the leaning tower on the left side adds a distinctive touch to its architectural character.
The final visit of day one was to Nantgarw China Works Museum, a haven for pottery enthusiasts. We learned about the rediscovery of the original porcelain recipe, which lead to the creation of modern versions of this refined craftsmanship. The museum provides regular workshops for adults and children where the artists share their pottery skills. To top it off, the idyllic surroundings and quaint buildings add an extra layer of beauty. We spent the night at Heronston Hotel and Spa, where we indulged in a meal featuring a flavoursome lamb dish for the main, followed by a classic Welsh cake for dessert.
On the second day, we ventured to Hensol Castle Distillery for our first visit. Upon arrival, you are greeted with a carefully tended garden landscape before reaching the impressive 17th-century castle. The inside effortlessly combines modern decor with a backdrop steeped in history. We delved into the art of gin making, taking a guided tour of the distillery that included the interesting botanical room. It would be rude not to enjoy a refreshing gin and tonic, even at the unconventional hour of 10am. Rest assured, if a cocktail is your preferred beverage of choice at this scandalous hour, they’ve got you covered with cocktail masterclasses as well.
With a touch of gin to energise us for the day ahead, we continued to Rhondda Heritage Park for a Welsh mining experience. Guided by a former miner, we revisited the history and challenges faced by the mining community, gaining a profound appreciation for their contributions. To add the perfect finishing touch, we took a simulated ride through the coal mines, which the rest of the group thoroughly enjoyed. Before making our way to Cardiff, we made a stop at St Fagans, the most popular heritage attraction in Wales. The grounds and gardens of the open-air museum showcase reconstructed historical buildings, transporting you through the ages. The medieval church is particularly interesting with intricate carvings and vibrant paintings covering the walls.
In Cardiff, we explored the gothic Cardiff Castle, a testament to the wealth and influence of the Bute Family. Roman stonework embellishes the castle’s exterior, while detailed walls and furnishings in the Victorian Apartments bring to life tales from old nursey rhymes. Cardiff Castle’s architectural beauty alone makes it a must-see landmark. The Royal Mint hosted us for an evening tour and provided Welsh cuisine. Here, we had the opportunity to craft our own JRR Tolkien two-pound coin, a truly personalised souvenir to take home. Our final overnight stay was a touch of luxury at The Parkgate Hotel and Spa, providing the perfect conclusion to our Welsh adventure.
A notable takeaway from my trip to Wales is the local’s connection to their cultural heritage, expressed through genuine warmth and pride in sharing it. Ultimately, enhancing the country’s charm and establishing a welcoming atmosphere for visitors.