It may be part of the British Isles but when it comes to visiting Wales, the small nation is often, unfairly, an afterthought to its English, Irish and Scottish neighbours. Geographically speaking, the size of Wales has become lazy shorthand for those seeking to make size comparisons, whilst the population-to-sheep ratio seems to be one of those pub facts that never fails to delight. But treat Wales as simply an add-on extension to England, and you’ll be missing a trick.
The Celtic nation has a character that’s very distinct, and it’s palpable as soon as you cross the River Severn. Visitors can’t fail to fall in love at the sight of picture postcard rural towns nestled deep in the valleys, the commanding peaks of Snowdon, surveying its mountainous kingdom, and a rugged coastal outline with sandy beaches to play on. Wales is a charming collage of all of these things.
While strong tradition rings proud in the valleys and villages, the buzzing capital city Cardiff is a thoroughly modern affair. Visitors can enjoy electric nightlife, world-class cuisine and a thriving music scene, and then take a breather in one of the city's wide green spaces. Still, if it’s just green spaces you want, then look to the country’s interior.
The landscape is speckled with ancient castles and quaint villages, and a proud national identity is laced with deep traditions and enchanting folklore. Sheep-strewn mountains and leafy conservation areas make up a large portion of the country, with national parks Snowdonia, the Pembrokeshire Coast and the Brecon Beacons offering beautiful rambling trails and mountain biking routes.
The Welsh coastline is some of the most attractive in the UK, and its beauty has now been recognised with the creation of the Wales Coastal Path in 2012. Broken up into eight stages, walkers can trek all 1400km (870 miles), from Holywell down and round to Chepstow. Cardigan Bay is a popular choice for sandy spots, while up and down the Welsh shore, deserted coves and secluded stretches are just around the corner for those willing to explore.
Look beyond the lovely landscape however, and you’ll discover other qualities, which set Wales apart from the rest of the UK. It’s not just the signposts in English and Welsh reminding you that Wales is its own place, with its own language, customs and heritage. With around a fifth of the country speaking Welsh, it’s an important part of maintaining national pride. The country’s burgeoning foodie heritage also echoes this celebration of all things Welsh – new pride in local ingredients, and the traditional production of cheeses, lamb and pastries unique to the land and the people, is reflected with menus that now look to these first for inspiration, rather than across the border. With the creation of the Welsh National Assembly in 1999, the country now has a greater hand in its own destiny, and there’s no doubt that the Celtic nation’s stock will continue to rise.