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Honeymoon in Wales
If you’re contemplating a European honeymoon or romantic getaway, consider Wales: Along with England and Scotland, wee Wales -- it’s just 160 miles long by 60 miles wide -- makes up the three countries of Great Britain.
Like its sister countries, Wales boasts spectacular natural scenery, ancient castles and charming towns but what you won’t find are crowds—other than perhaps a flock of sheep crowding the road. Additionally, you’ll find that Wales also has a growing foodie movement with plenty of organic farms and gourmet restaurants.
Most honeymoon couples and other visitors start off in the capital of Cardiff, set along Cardiff Bay, which recently completed a major waterfront renovation. Though compact, the city has plenty to offer, from museums and performing arts centers to shopping in pretty Victorian-style arcades—there’s even a castle in the center of town. The beautiful countryside starts almost immediately out of Cardiff, and within an hour’s drive are glorious national parks... with windswept mountains and wildflower-filled meadows.
All along the English border are historic little market towns, many nestled among the emerald hills of the Clwydian Range, where couples can overnight, stopping along the way in local pubs for a pint and some conversation. If the locals you meet are speaking Welsh, you won’t understand much; it’s a tongue-twisting Celtic language. Fortunately, English is spoken everywhere.
The best way to see Wales is by car. Although road signs are in English and Welsh, driving can be confusing, especially if you’re not used to driving on the left-hand side of the road—not to mention the narrow country lanes and numerous roundabouts. So it’s a good idea to hire a local guide. Country Lane Tours is a locally- owned company whose guides not only know the roads inside out but can recommend the most romantic towns and inns for couples on a honeymoon or getaway.
Though Wales may not attract as many visitors as England and Scotland, it’s on the verge of becoming the next European hotspot. Prince William, living in North Wales while he becoming a pilot with the Royal Air Force, was spotted with Kate Middletown in Snowdonia National Park. In 2010, Wales hosted golf’s prestigious Ryder Cup for the first time (at Celtic Manor Resort in Newport). So enjoy your honeymoon or romantic getaway here before everyone else finds out about it!Continue to 2 of 10 below.
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Cardiff HoneymoonStart or end your honeymoon or romantic getaway in the capital of Cardiff (or Caerdydd, as it’s known in Welsh). Though compact, with a population just topping 305,000, Cardiff is a modern city with a fun, cosmopolitan edge.
The crown jewel of Cardiff is its revitalized waterfront, which sat derelict for years but now teems with activity, especially along Mermaid Quay, lined with bars and restaurants.
Architecture buffs will appreciate Cardiff Bay’s Millennium Centre, a futuristic-looking armadillo-shaped building that’s home to several performing arts companies including the prestigious Welsh National Opera as well as the historic Pierhead Building, a French Gothic landmark made from glazed terracotta that’s part of the Welsh Parliament complex. Its clock tower is known as Baby Big Ben.
North of the bay, smack dab in the city center, is Cardiff Castle. Originally a Roman fort, the bulk of the structure dates from Norman times. Romantic couples can roam the complex with its peaceful lawns... and climb the lookout tower’s steep stone steps for sweeping views. Nearby is the state-of-the-art Millennium Stadium, a 75,000-seat facility with a retractable roof that provides a modern setting for rugby and soccer matches and live concerts.
Like to shop? Pedestrian-only Queen Street is where you’ll find Marks & Spencer and John Lewis department stores as well as other high-end stores. Be sure to check out the Victorian-style shopping arcades near the castle that sell vintage clothes, costume jewelry, and gourmet foods.
Cardiff also offers couples on a honeymoon or romantic holiday plenty of things to do at night, from having a beer in a historic pub to dining in a fashionable restaurant helmed by an award-winning chef to nightclubs and music venues. As taxis are plentiful, it’s easy to get around.Continue to 3 of 10 below.
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St. David’s Hotel & Spa in WalesFor a great place to kick off a honeymoon, book a room at the St. David’s Hotel & Spa . This is Cardiff’s top hotel—it sits in a prominent spot right on Cardiff Bay, a quick walk to Mermaid Quay and the launch point for harbor cruises.
Ultra-modern St. David’s Hotel, with a steel and glass façade and a large interior atrium, is a favorite of visiting celebrities including Welsh-born Catherine Zeta Jones as well as Beyonce and Lady Gaga. The 132 rooms feature contemporary leather chairs, Art Deco-style mirrors, flatscreen TVs and king-sized beds as well as balconies with sweeping views of the harbor and the city skyline.
The restaurant, Tides Bar and Grill, is one of the city’s top dining spots. In nice weather, the hottest table in town is on the harbor-facing outdoor deck. Toast each other with a glass of Champagne, then settle in for a meal of roast rack of Welsh lamb with a turnip puree or seared wild salmon with wilted spinach.
And when you retreat from exploring the city, enjoy a... couples’ massage or a hydrotherapy treatment in the Marine Spa at St. David’s Hotel.Continue to 4 of 10 below.
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In the Vale of Clywd in North Wales is Ruthin, a postcard-perfect town, where honeymoon couples and other romantics will find several historical attractions of note including castle ruins, 700 year old St. Peter’s Church, and Nantclwyd, the oldest timbered townhouse in Wales.
On the Nantclwyd tour, you’ll see different architectural styles dating from medieval times (the original part of the house dates to 1435). Over the centuries, it’s been occupied by medieval weavers, Elizabethan doctors, and Georgian gentry. There is also a 17th century gaol (jail) that sits in the shadow of the Clwydian hills that’s been turned into a museum. You can take a peek into the stark cells that held men, women and children for often-petty crimes.
For a taste of the modern, visit the Ruthin Crafts Centre, one of foremost Welsh galleries showcasing contemporary applied arts. Though the center has been around since the ‘80s, this new building by Sergison Bates architects is just two years old. Surrounding a... central courtyard are artists’ studios, a large exhibition space, and a gift shop. Six artists including jewelrymaker Beverley Edwards and weaver Kevin Burgess have studios, and the center stages some ten exhibitions a year. After watching the artists’ work, savor tea and Welsh cake in the courtyard café.
One romantic place to stay is the Manorhaus, a stylish eight-room inn in a restored Georgian mansion. Each room was designed by a different Welsh artist, though all feature a flatscreen TV, internet access, and Egyptian cotton linens. The bar, with contemporary furnishings and a small fireplace, is nice spot for cocktails before heading into the restaurant, housed in a small conservatory overlooking a garden enclosed by 18th century walls. Locally sourced ingredients are used in the dishes, which might include Welsh lamb shank with Savoy cabbage and Gressingham duck breast with a port-and-rhubarb jus. There’s also a tempting after-dinner wine and single-malt selection. Owners Gavin Harris and Christopher Frost are on hand to answer questions and share their pride in the area.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
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Llongollen on the River Dee is another charming North Wales town. Couples on a honeymoon can shop in the small craft shops selling traditional Welsh items such as ceramics and lovespoons, carved wooden spoons dating from the 17th century traditionally given for engagements and weddings. Do pause along the way for toffee-flavored ice cream.
By the wharf, take a leisurely boat ride along the man-made canals built more than 200 years ago to transport slate from nearby quarries to England; the railways made them obsolete so now they are used for pleasure cruises. The highlight is the engineering marvel of the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, the tallest navigable aqueduct in the world—a cast-iron trough mounted on stone pillars 126 feet above the River Dee. An engineering feat created by William Jessop and Thomas Telford, the aqueduct high above the River Dee is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Just outside of town is Plas Newydd, home to Eleanor Butler and Miss Sarah Ponsonby from 1780-1820, the... so-called Ladies of Llangollen. They fled their restrictive homes in Ireland as young women to live the way they wanted. They opened their Tutor-style mansion to artists, poets, politicians and free-thinkers. The Duke of Wellington, Sir Walter Scott, and Lord Byron all passed through here and William Wordsworth wrote sonnets on the window seat in the upstairs bedroom. Now, that’s romantic!
A good place for lunch is the Corn Mill , in a former mill founded by monks from the nearby Valle Crucis Abbey in 1786. Couples can sit on the wooden deck overlooking the River Dee and dine on local dishes like the ploughman’s platter and sausages with mashed potatoes and a pint of ale.Continue to 6 of 10 below.
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Food of Wales
The cuisine of Wales is rooted in its local lamb, Welsh black beef, pork, and seafood (salmon, monkfish oysters, cockles, etc.). Leeks and cabbage are commonly used vegetables (do try the delicious leek soup) and Welsh cheeses, especially cheddar and the cow’s milk caerphilly are also popular. You’ll also find bara brith, a sweet bread with raisins and currants, and Welsh cakes, a tasty scone-like snack.
A great way to start the day is with foods in a traditional Welsh breakfast, which includes fried eggs, thick bacon, grilled mushrooms, and tomatoes, pork sausage, blood pudding, brown bread and marmalade, and a freshly brewed pot of tea.
Many Welsh farmers are now selling their produce out of farm shops. One of the best is the Farm Shop at Hawarden Estate in North Wales. The 20-acre organic farm sits on the sprawling estate owned by Charlie Gladstone (a descendant of the former English prime minister). Charlie, along with his sister Vicky, grow all manner of fruit including raspberries,... gooseberries, currants and vegetables including rhubarb, leeks and sweet corn that they sell in the shop/cafe. There is also a butcher shop that has won awards for its leek-and-chile sausages and a deli with traditional Welsh cheeses and racks of homemade chutneys.
In addition to the Tides at St. David’s Hotel, other popular Cardiff restaurants include Mimosa Kitchen for modern Welsh cuisine and Bellini for Italian. An hour from Cardiff in Abergavenny is the romantic Angel Hotel, whose restaurant serves dishes such as pork loin with sage mash and crayfish risotto in a candlelit courtyard. It also hosts events related to the Abergavenny Food Festival, an annual two-day event attracting food lovers and chefs from London.Continue to 7 of 10 below.
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Wales CastlesIt is said that Wales has more than 600 castles. Though some are in various states of decay, many are actually in very good condition, especially considering that many of them date back to the 12th century or earlier.
One of the country’s best-preserved medieval castles, Caerphilly, is less than an hour’s drive from Cardiff. It’s the largest castle in Wales, built in 1268 for one of Henry III’s barons, Lord Glamorgan. With its thick stone walls, moat and drawbridge, turrets and crenellated walls, visitors truly feel as if they’ve stepped back to ancient times. Climb the narrow winding stone steps for great countryside views.
Another 13th century castle is Chirk, in the town in Chirk in North Wales. Built in 1295 by Roger Mortimer, an earl under Edward I, the imposing structure is now owned and operated by the National Trust. Couples can can take a tour of the various galleries, halls, and dungeons and have a bite to eat in the Tea Room.
Powis in Mid Wales is an imposing red sandstone... building that sits regally atop a hill. This 12th-century military stronghold is also a National Trust property. Highlights include the Long Gallery with ornate plasterwork and Renaissance busts and the 26-acre Baroque gardens with Italianate terraces, a 30-foot yew hedge and herbaceous borders.Continue to 8 of 10 below.
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Wales National Parks
Wales is known for its natural beauty, and this can best be viewed from its three national parks. As British national parks also encompass small towns and restaurants and inns within their borders, they are a bit different from our perception of a natural park with limited amenities.
One of the national parks on the northwestern coast is Snowdonia, home of some of Britain’s most spectacular scenery and the tallest mountain in Wales, 3,560-foot Mount Snowdon. Legend has it that King Arthur had a duel here with an ogre. Arthur won, whereupon he buried his foe at the summit. Snowdonia also has Llyn Tegid, the largest natural lake in Wales, and plenty of picturesque towns such as Betws y Coed and Beddgelert. See the area best by hiking, biking, and kayaking.
In the center of the country is 500 square mile Brecon Beacons National Park, established in 1957. A couple on a honeymoon could easily spend the day hiking through mountain passes (look out for wild Welsh ponies and sheep along the... hillsides and meadows), woodlands, waterfalls, and caves. There are also medieval castles and churches such as Llanthony Abbey, where portions date back to 1108.
The third national park is Pembrokeshire Coast, Wales’ only coastal national park. It boasts sandy beaches such as Barafundle Bay and Broad Haven South, towering rugged cliffs, and hidden coves. After a day swimming, unwind in a seafront restaurant with a bowl of mussels and a nice bottle of white wine; you might spot a dolphin frolicking offshore.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
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Culture in WalesWales has a deep and rich cultural heritage, particularly in regard to music. The country is known around the world for its choral tradition, which dates back to the 19th century.
Even the smallest towns have a choir, who usually practice once a week in churches and town halls. For the most part, they are open to the public and afterward there might be a sing-along in the local pub.
Larger and more professional choirs (most tend to be male) such as the Morriston Orpheus perform in cultural venues around the country including St. David’s Hall in Cardiff. The choirs sing everything from traditional folk songs to religious hymns.
Of course, Wales also has a strong literary heritage. The country’s most famous poet was Dylan Thomas (1914-1953) who came from the costal town of Swansea in South Wales.
Culture-loving honeymoon couples can visit the Dylan Thomas Centre on Somerset Place in Swansea. It maintains a permanent collection on Thomas’ life including writings and personal artifacts. It’s... also home to the organizing committee of the Dylan Thomas Festival, which takes place from late October to early November annually.
You can also tour Thomas' boathouse, a small cottage on an estuary in the coastal village of Laugharne where he wrote such well-known works as Under Milk Wood.Continue to 10 of 10 below.
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Pubs in Wales
Pubs are a time-honored British tradition. Many are very historic, especially in the small towns and villages, where the pub often served as the social hub. Today, couples can still find the same friendly atmosphere throughout Wales.
The City Arms pub is across from Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. This traditional pub is a popular spot for rugby fans to quaff a pint before or after a match. Even when it’s not match day, an after-work crowd typically gathers. It’s open late on the weekends, there’s a good selection of the local Brains beer, and the walls are lined with football and boxing photographs.
The Skirrid Mountain Inn near the town of Abergavenny is said to be the oldest pub in Wales. Supposedly its history be can traced all the way back to 1066. In medieval times, it was used as a courthouse; more than 100 people were condemned to death here. Today, it’s a less macabre scene with cozy wooden tables surrounding a large fireplace and plenty of local beers on tap.
The tiny village of... Llanarmon Dyffryn Ceiriog is a short drive from Llongollen. If you blink, you’ll miss it. It consists of just two country inns and a white-steepled church and is surrounded on all sides by the beautiful sheep-covered Berwyn Mountains—no use in trying to use your cell phone, there’s no service.
One of the inns is the West Arms Inn, which once catered to cattle and sheep drovers. Order a Bragdy Conwy beer in the wood-beamed bar, then step out to the backyard to enjoy it at a picnic table. You can’t imagine a more peaceful and idyllic scene. Little wonder it’s a popular spot for weddings and anniversaries.