Croeso i Gymru - welcome to Wales

Date Posted: 24/12/2011

Jeannine Williamson turns the spotlight on a small country that’s big on group attractions.

With 641 castles - more than anywhere else in Europe - two languages, a distinct Celtic culture, 750 miles of beautiful coastline and 11 million sheep, Wales is a unique country.

All of this, and more, can be found in a land that’s only 170 miles from north to south, 60 miles from east to west and just two hours from London. In Wales your group can travel through the dramatic and famously green and hilly countryside, discover a fascinating industrial heritage, explore the vibrant capital Cardiff, ride on one of 14 scenic railways and find out about a long and colourful history that has influenced literature, music and food.

Marvellous museums

National Museum Wales provides benefits for group visits to its seven museums. Featuring wonderful collections on Welsh history and culture they are the National Museum Cardiff, St Fagans: National History Museum, Big Pit: National Coal Museum, National Roman Legion Museum, National Wool Museum, National Waterfront Museum and the National Slate Museum. Admission to all museums is free and benefits for pre-booked groups include reductions in cafes, restaurants and shops.

Free guided tours are also available at most of the sites and behind-the-scenes tours are offered at Big Pit, the Roman Legion, Waterfront and National Slate museums. There is also the National Collections Centre, eight miles from Cardiff, which offers groups exclusive access to see museum objects not on public display.

New attractions include the brand new National Museum of Art housed at the National Museum Cardiff. The biggest space of its kind in Wales, in addition to the much loved historic, modern and impressionist art collections, there are six new galleries focusing on contemporary art. The natural history galleries have also been reopened, bringing the animals, bird and insects back on display after a period of refurbishment.

An exciting £20 million project has been announced at St Fagans, the open-air museum charting Welsh life over the past 500 years and recently named the UK’s Favourite Tourist Attraction by consumer champions Which? Plans include extending the timeline back thousands of years to the first human inhabitants and creating an all-weather attraction.

Dinefwr’s historic herd

Their history is steeped in mystery and legend, making the eye-catching herd of White Park Cattle a much-loved attraction at the National Trust’s Dinefwr Park and Castle in Carmarthenshire. The ancestral home of the rare cattle, with links stretching back 1,000 years, the 34-strong herd can be seen grazing in the park and numbers will be swelled in the spring as several of the cows are expecting calves. The trust reintroduced the cattle to the park and special walks are organised so visitors can find out how they help to manage the parkland and hear stories about them from the ancient past to the present day.

Newton House, standing in the heart of the 800- acre estate, provides your travellers with fantastic views over the surrounding landscape and exhibitions on the first floor tell the story of the castle and park.

Bedwellty reopens

After a £3.6 million restoration lasting nearly three years, Bedwellty House and Park are once again open to the public. Playing a major part in the social history of industrial Wales, Bedwellty was once the home of the local iron and coal baron whose industries dominated the area. It has also been home to the local town council where a young Aneurin Bevan, the subsequent driving force behind the NHS, took his first steps into politics.

The house is set in 26 acres of attractive parkland which includes a bandstand, water features and the biggest single block of coal ever excavated, weighing in at a mighty 15 tons. The renovation has seen the house restored to its former glory, with new exhibitions and films on its history and a new tea room. In the park a nature conservation area has been opened up, historic structures have been refurbished and ponds have been repaired and restocked.

National Trust news

Tudor Merchant’s House, a three-storey town house in the heart of the walled town of Tenby, is offering groups the chance to book a special guided tour on Tuesdays, with the exception of bank holiday weeks and school holidays, when the house is closed to the public. The fascinating 90-minute tour covers the daily life of the merchant and his family, and is available for groups of 15 to 30 people.

This year the merchant’s shop and working kitchen have been presented as they might have looked in 1500 when the house was newly built and the merchant was doing a thriving trade. In 2012 the first floor hall will be given an historic makeover and groups will be able to see its colourful wall hangings and Tudor furniture.

Stackpole Rediscovered is a £3 million investment at a beautiful stretch of coastline renowned for its sandy beaches, wooded valleys and lily ponds. Stackpole covers 2,000 acres and latest developments include a new exhibition space in the old brewery at the site of Stackpole Court. The former woodland pleasure grounds of Stackpole Court, a grand mansion demolished before the trust owned the area, are being replanted to restore them to their historic appearance.

Caught on film

The birthplace of famous actors such as Richard Burton, Anthony Hopkins and Catherine Zeta-Jones, the stunning scenery of Wales has also starred as the setting for many films and television programmes including Sherlock Holmes, Robin Hood and Captain America: The First Avenger. One of the latest is the 70s high school musical Hunky Dory, starring Minnie Driver, which was filmed in and around Swansea last spring and will be released next summer.

Group travel organisers who want to plan a film-themed itinerary will find a useful section on the Visit Wales travel trade website that lists the locations used for everything from old classics to star-studded Hollywood blockbusters.

Five wonderful Welsh castles

Beaumaris Castle: Built as one of the ‘iron ring’ castles by Edward I to stamp his authority on the Welsh, Beaumaris, with its new visitor centre and gift shop, is an unfinished masterpiece.

Caernarfon Castle: One of the most impressive castles, also built by Edward I, this imposing fortress is set on a peninsula bounded by the Menai Strait.

Caerphilly Castle: Covering 30 acres, and just seven miles north of Cardiff, Caerphilly is one of the greatest surviving medieval castles.

Castell Coch: In his day the 3rd Marquess of Bute was the world’s richest man and his indulgences included this fairtytale fancy built in the 19th century.

Powis Castle: Perched high on a rock above its famous Italian and French-style gardens, Powis contains one of the finest collections of paintings and furniture in Wales.

Five great group attractions

Bridgend Designer Outlet: Conveniently situated on junction 36 of the M4, with 90 designer and high street stores selling goods at discounted prices, pre-booked groups benefit from an information pack featuring additional savings and special offers.

National Botanic Garden of Wales: The first national garden to be created in the new millennium, admire more than 8,000 plant varieties spread across 560 acres of countryside.

Pembrokeshire Coast National Park: Covering 260 miles of stunning coastline, which includes 11 Blue Flag beaches, Britain’s only coastal national park is celebrating its 60th anniversary.

Portmeirion: The setting for The Prisoner television series, this fascinating Italian-style fantasy village is also famous for its pottery and there is discounted entry for groups of 12 or more.

Snowdon Mountain Railway: Embark on a breathtaking ride to the rooftop of Wales on board Britain’s highest rack railway and enjoy group benefits such as a free film show explaining the incredible history of the railway.

Useful contact:

Visit Wales:
029-2047 5356
www.traveltrade.visitwales.com

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