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Natural wonders and ancient castles in the shadow of Great Britian

September, 2010

Wales was never on our radar as a vacation destination. It is overshadowed by its giant neighbour, Great Britain. However, we discovered it is the perfect place to vacation when you are feeling stressed out.

Wales is a small country, so it doesn’t take much time or energy to cover the major sites, and there are not so many that you are overwhelmed with having to get to all of them. You can combine the historical aspects with a lot of down time at spas and beaches. Wales has tons of coastline to explore and they won’t be overrun with hordes of people.

Who would have ever thought of Wales as a beach resort? Catherine Zeta Jones. She and hubby Mike Douglas have a home in Mumbles, a postcard version of a colourful crescent town around a bay. And wouldn’t you just love to tell your friends you vactioned in ... Mumbles? Welsh poet Dylan Thomas also lived here.

Rest your head in luxury

Patrick With Rooms is on the waterfront and offers Hollywood-like rooms with giant bathrooms overlooking the sea.

The business started out as a restaurant, so food is really yummy. Two sisters and their husbands run this like a cozy family business – the lads from the kitchen carried our bags down the street and up to our huge rooms. They offer a gym and fun thoughts: 20 minutes of gym time earns you a brownie.

Rhossili Bay boasts a lonely, un-spoiled stretch of sandy beach.

Anti-anxiety elixirs

Combine beach stops with fabulous spas to relax, read or play. Sitting on 20 hectares of parkland, Lake Country House in Powys, Mid Wales, has an air of romantic elegance and informality. You can de-stress at the Kingfisher spa and learn fly fishing, croquet or walk or hike in Brecon Beacons National Park. Sitting in the parlour of the two-rosette restaurant with its roaring fire and English antique furniture, you can imagine yourself in the midst of an Agatha Christie novel.

Vale of Glamorgan Resort & Spa is in Hensol Park, which is about 10 kilometres from Cardiff, and is the training headquarters of Wales’s national Cardiff Blues rugby and Cardiff City football teams. You never know who might be exercising near you on the gym’s 80 machines.

The resort sits on 260 hectares of stunning Welsh countryside, yet is only 15 minutes from the bright lights and action of Cardiff. There are two championship golf courses and Wales’ largest spa, with19 treatment rooms, including three doubles. Caviar facial or chocolate massage, anyone? It is a family-friendly hotel, with a big kiddie area. All that working out is necessary because you must leave room for the best dessert of our trip, a coconut crème brulé with pineapple ice cream.

In Cardiff’s port area, the architecturally gorgeous St. David’s Hotel & Spa has an amazing pool in their Marine Spa. They have hydrotherapy pools, a vast whirlpool and a fun shower pool. In the spa area, there’s a take-off on Scandinavian baths, where you go from hot to cold pools: There are hot rooms including a sauna or an aromatherapy room and then a cold room with snow!

In Saundersfoot, St. Brides Spa Hotel is on a headland overlooking the harbour, with spectacular elevated views of Carmarthen Bay. This was voted the Best UK Shoreline Hotel of 2010. Perched on a clifftop, you can dine in the Cliff Restaurant or hang out in the relaxation pool overlooking the bay. They offer treatments using marine products like seaweed, mud and clay, using the natural healing properties of the sea to aid relaxation.

A beach on every edge We didn’t expect to be blown away by the number and grandeur of beaches, but the entire western and southern edges of Wales, making up the snout of Britain’s pig-shaped land mass, pokes deep into the Bristol Channel.

From Pembrokeshire National Park in the West to St. Bride’s Bay and on to the Gower Peninsula, it’s almost continuous beach. Tenby and Saundersfoot are mounted atop bluffs overlooking enormous expanses of sand, and Pendine, just north of that, boasts an 11-kilometre beach. The Gower peninsula, which juts into the channel with Swansea at its eastern end, is the home of Rhossili Bay, with a lonely, unspoiled stretch of sandy beach where one could spend hours.

If castles are your cup of Welsh tea, try Ogmore Castle

Along the coast you will find many historic castles, from Ogmore to Margam and then the one at Laugharne, just beside the boathouse where Thomas did much of his work.

One of the highlights of our time in Wales was a hike along the Ceredigion Coast Walk. This path runs along the western coast of Wales for more than 100 kilometres, from Cardigan to Ynys-las. It has been broken into seven manageable bites, so you can walk for an hour or two or for a week, depending on your stamina and interest. It was created through a partnership of the county and the Welsh government to celebrate the heritage of this part of Wales, and most of the paths were built by volunteers.

There are sea-caves to be explored and natural arches and tunnels – every turn reveals a new wonder. This is not a walk for the timid – wear good walking shoes and bring a walking stick and water bottle, and you will be rewarded with breathtaking views. If you’re lucky, you might see the bottle-nose dolphins or grey seals that ply the coastal waters.

We hiked about eight kilometres between Cardigan Bay near Aberporth and Mwnt (pronounced “Munt”) in a group and by the end we were definitely ready to relax in our hotel with a large glass of beer. It was exhilarating and exhausting.

While traveling through Wales, the views are calming – you are never overstimulated by the action outside your window. You’re passing vales and valleys, beaches and bluffs with every hillside dotted with sheep. Counting them makes it so easy to fall asleep in Wales.

ERRATUM: A previous Travelsmart column on Manchester, England, carried an incomplete byline. The article was written by Sandra Phillips and Stan Posner. The Senior Times regrets the omission.

Find your peace

Vale of Glamorgan Resort & Spa, Hensol Park, Hensol, Nr Cardiff. Tel: 01443 667 800 Patricks With Rooms, 636-638 Mumbles Rd., Swansea Tel: 01792 360 199, Lake Country House & Spa, Llangamarch. Tel: 01591 620 202, St. David’s Hotel & Spa, Havannah Street, Cardiff. Tel: 02920 454 045, St. Brides Spa Hotel, St. Brides Hill, Saundersfoot, Pembrokeshire. Tel: 01834 812 304, More on Wales:



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