Abbey Cwm Hir Hall: Grade II* listed Victorian Gothic Revival mansion overlooking the ruins of the 12th century Cisterian Abbey
Aberconwy House – Conwy: The only medieval merchant’s house in Conwy to have survived the turbulent history of the walled town over nearly six centuries
Bodelwyddan Castle: Set in 260 acres of magnificent parkland, an historic house, museum and outstation of the National Portrait Gallery
Caernarfon Castle: Possibly the most famous of Wales’ castles – Caernarfon was constructed not only as a military stronghold but also as a seat of government and royal palace
Caerphilly Castle: One of the greatest medieval castles of Western Europe
Cardiff Castle: During 2000 years of history, the Castle has been a Roman Garrison, a Norman stronghold and in Victorian times was transformed into a gothic fairytale fantasy
Conwy Castle: One of the most imposing fortresses of all Europe with eight massive towers and a bow shaped hall
Erddig – Wrexham: Widely acclaimed as one of Britain’s finest historic houses, an early 18th-century country house reflecting the upstairs downstairs life of a gentry family over 250 years
Harlech Castle: A combination of magnificent medieval architecture and breathtaking location, with views across land and sea
Pembroke Castle: Idyllically set on the banks of the river estuary, this mighty fortress is largely intact, and its endless passages, tunnels and stairways are great fun to explore
Penrhyn Castle – Bangor: A 19th-century fantasy castle with spectacular contents and grounds, sitting between Snowdonia and the Menai Strait
Tredegar House – Newport: One of the best examples of a 17th century Charles II mansion in Britain
Llandaff Cathedral: A gothic cathedral on one of the oldest Christian sites in Britain beside the River Taff
Caldey Abbey – Caldey Island, Tenby: A grade II* listed building in traditional Italianate style located on a beautiful and fascinating island
Aberglasney Gardens – Llangathen: Spectacularly set in the beautiful Tywi valley of Carmarthenshire, an inspiration to poets since 1477
Bodnant Garden – Colwyn Bay: Famous for its magnificent collections of rhododendrons, camellias and magnolias
Cae Hir Gardens – Dyfed: For a garden created from four fields of Welsh farmland by one man and a series of old fashioned hand tools, this is nothing short of astonishing!
Clyne Gardens – Swansea: Internationally famous for its surperb collections of Rhododendrons, Pieris and Enkianthus
Dewstow Gardens and Grottoes – Caerwent: Built circa 1895 the gardens were buried just after WWII and rediscovered in 2000
Dinefwr Park and Castle – Llandeilo: Medieval deer and cattle park, perhaps landscaped by Capability Brown; restored ice house and Victorian Italianate garden
Powis Castle and Gardens – Welshpool: World famous terraced garden and medieval castle containing one of the finest collections of paintings and furniture in Wales
Dyffryn Gardens and Arboretum – Glamorgan: Edwardian garden including lily pond, Roman garden, round garden, Japanese garden, begonia garden, vine walk, arboretum, and cacti collection
National Botanic Garden of Wales – Dyfed: The centrepiece is the Great Glasshouse – the largest single span glasshouse in the world – 17,000 herbaceous plants run parallel to the wall of the 200-year-old double walled garden
Picton Castle Gardens – Haverfordwest: Forty acres of woodland gardens, walled garden, fountain
Plas Newydd Coutry House & Gardens – Llanfairpwll: Set amidst breathtakingly beautiful scenery on the Menai Strait, this elegant house was redesigned by James Wyatt in the 18th century
Plas Yn Rhiw – Gwynedd: Flowering shrubs and trees, with rhododendrons, azaleas, and magnolias, are separated by formal hedges and grassed pathways
Singleton Park – Swansea: The gardens contain fine specimens of rare and exotic plants from around the world
Big Pit – Blawnavon: A real coal mine and one of Britain’s leading mining museums. Go 300 feet underground and see what life was like for the thousands of men who worked at the coal face
Great Orme Mines – Llandudno: Walk deep into the hillside along passages and galleries which cross the Bronze Age working areas, including an enormous 3,500 year old underground chamber
Great Orme Tramway – Llandudno: Britain’s largest and most spectacular funicular tramway, which climbs to the Orme’s summit offering breathtaking views of Llandudno’s magnificent bays and beyond
Greenwood Forest Park – Y Felinheli: A huge range of experiences and rides, including the Green Dragon Roller Coaster and the Great Green Run, at 70 metres, the longest slide in Wales!
Llangollen Wharf: From the Wharf you can embark on a horse drawn or motorised canal boat trip along the beautiful Llangollen Canal
Llechwedd Slate Caverns – Blaenau Ffestiniog: Two spectacular underground tours to explore the underground world of the Victorian Slate Mine
Magic of Life Butterfly House – Aberystwyth: Free-flying tropical butterflies and rare, exotic plants. Also bug and giant caterpillar displays
National Woollen Museum – Dre-Fach Felindre: Forgotten skills, old ways of life and newly-woven traditional fabrics can all be seen and marvelled at
Oakwood Park – Haverfordwest: Wales’ premier theme park, including the world’s No 1 wooden rollercoaster Megafobia and Oakwood’s 50m high skycoaster Vertigo
St Fagans – Cardiff: An open air museum set in 100 acres of parkland, boasting a wide variety of authentic folk buildings, including farmhouses, cottages, a Celtic village, and a Tudor manor house
Techniquest – Cardiff: 160 exciting hands-on exhibits to enthuse and amuse! Then there’s a Planetarium, a Lab, a Discovery Room, and a hi-tech Science Theatre
Dinosaur Park – Tenby: Search for the 25 dinosaurs in the woodland setting. Many other activities to enjoy on the site.
Vale of Rheidol Railway – Aberystwyth: A narrow gauge heritage railway providing a spectacular journey pulled by steam engines
Llanrhystud Fantasy Farm Park – Aberystwyth: Something for all ages to enjoy from friendly animals to exciting adventure
Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) – Machynlleth: More than 7 acres of hands-on displays with practical examples, of sustainable living, renewable energy and organic gardening
Reillfford Talyllyn Railway – Tywyn: World’s first narrow gauge steam railway in Mid Wales. One of many in Wales built in Victorian times to carry mined slate
INFORMATION ABOUT THE AREA
Savage mountain grandeur; pastoral peace in wooded valleys; stunning coastlines of rugged cliffs and wild, wide beaches; a country of legend – the Land of the Red Dragon.
Let’s start our tour on Snowdon, the ‘king of the mountains’, set in the big, bold Snowdonia National Park, which stretches from Llanberis, in the north, to the Dovey estuary, on Cardigan Bay.
Here the Welsh turn their back on the dragons for a moment, dubbing the park ‘the land of the eagles.’
Snowdon stands at 1,085m (3,650 ft) the highest peak south of the Scottish border. Reaching the summit need not be a feat of mountaineering, there’s a railway all the way to the top.
Another favourite with hill walkers is Cader Idris, in the south of the park.
Before we travel too far south we visit the Isle of Anglesey, after crossing the Menai Straits on Victorian engineer Thomas Telford’s famous chain bridge. The island has 100 miles of varied coastline and the remains of civilisations dating back 4,000 years.
The northern hemisphere’s longest place-name is located on Anglesey. The town’s called Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch……….…..The church of St Mary in the hollow of white hazel trees near the rapid whirlpool by St Tysilio’s of the red cave.
Wales is justly proud of its national parks, although how the powers that be decided which of the country’s countless landscape gems should qualify is a puzzle.
Pembrokeshire has Britain’s only coastal-based park, with a 170 mile path following the cliffs and beaches. It was just inland, in the Presseli hills, that the Bluestones of Presseli were cut and transported, by the Welsh, to England’s Stonehenge.
Meanwhile, the Brecon Beacons National Park boasts the greenest of hills on its backbone of red sandstone, with its sheer precipices. Its caverns and underground lakes are popular with tourists, particularly the Dan-Yr-Ogof caves.
Wales is also fiercely proud of its separate identity, language and aspirations to independence. So it’s somewhat ironic that an Anglo-Saxon word ‘walas’ meaning ‘foreigners’ should have given the name to the country and its language.
The Land of the Dragon would also qualify as the Land of the Castle. Wales has literally hundreds of them. All can tell – or inspire – tales of wizards, princes, warriors and, yes, dragons.
They range from the magnificent Caernarfon, Conwy, Harlech and Beaumaris to hilltop fortresses such as Carreg Cennen, near Llandeilo. The mighty, medieval Caerphilly Castle, near the Welsh capital, Cardiff, is the largest of the Welsh castles. It was built in 1268 on the site of a Roman fort and boasts a unique double moat and a tower that out-leans Italy’s tower of Pisa.
Most were built to deal with recalcitrant princes. Edward I ordered a chain of them after defeating Llywelyn II. To soothe Welsh pride he promised them his son as Prince of Wales. The tradition has survived, with the investiture of Prince Charles, at Caernarfon, in 1969.
On to those dragons. The red Welsh dragon is said to originate from a serpent representing the Welsh God, Dewi. In a dream, Celtic King Arthur saw the red dragon slay a white dragon, seen as the Saxon invaders. Many scholars agree that Arthur held round table, or court, in Wales, along with his legendary magician, Merlin. And in later history, Welsh-born King Henry VII – Henry Tudor – unfurled the red dragon to rally his troops at the Battle of Bosworth Field.
The first game of lawn tennis was played in 1873 at Nantclwyd Hall, in Clwyd, north Wales.
The most highly populated part of Wales is the southwest. The people of its valleys played a leading role in the UK’s iron and coal industries, producing the raw materials of the Industrial Revolution. The Blaenarfon Industrial Landscape World Heritage Site tells the story from the mid 18th century.
Further north, Wales’ industrial past is also remembered in the now silent slate quarries at Blaenau Ffestiniog. The Ffestiniog railway, with its narrow gauge trains, follows the route that once took slate to Porthmadog harbour, to be shipped all over the world. This is one of Wales’ ‘Great Little Trains’ that puff and whistle their way to some of the loveliest corners of the country.
Back to the southwest, and the wild beauty of the Gower Peninsula, which culminates at Worms Head, guarding the sand dunes of Rhosili Bay.
To Cardiff, Europe’s youngest capital city. It’s cosmopolitan, cultural and vibrant, with the city-centre castle dominating its bright lights and stunning new waterfront.
In the 8th century, the English King Offa did his best to keep Wales separate with a massive earthwork, or dyke, running from the River Dee, in the north, to the Severn estuary, in the south. While remains of Offa’s Dyke can still be seen, the spirit behind it has long gone. Wales more than lives up to its own special greeting, croeso – welcome.