Welcome to Wales. You know, the place just west of England with the dragon on the flag and “Prince of …” fame. No nerdy neighbor status here; Celts have cool, homegrown, and whole-hearted DNA.
The 21st century has made its mark on wild, green Cymru (that’s Welsh for “Wales” and it’s pronounced “Kumree”) in the form of hot kite-surfing hangouts; the world’s coolest music festival; and new eats, sleeps, and beats. Innocent seaside resorts and uncontrived boozers keep the old-school appeal.
Rub your cheek against the fine woollen blankets (maybe buy one first) at Melin Tregwynt (26 Royal Arcade; +44-29-2022-4997). And order pizza topped with Welsh seaweed at Topo Gigio (12 Church Street; +44-29-2034-4794).
Sleep sweetly after thalassotherapy at five-star St. David’s Hotel & Spa (Havannah Street; +44-29-2045-4045). Or curl up among the squashy sofas of townhouse boutique hotel Jolyon’s (5 Bute Crescent; +44-29-2048-8775), whose cellar bar is a low-key celeb hangout. Cardiff boys and girls play hard. See if you can keep up until the wee hours at Iota (7 Mill Lane; +44-29-2034-4688; now closed) and Clwb Ifor Bach (11 Womanby Street; +44-29-2023-2199).
The Dyffryn Arms (Pontfaen; +44-13-4888-1305) has been owned by landlady Bessie for more than 35 years. She keeps it real by serving beer from jugs through a hatch. Dress down.
Summer crowds are mellow at the Green Man Festival, where bands and fans get folked up around campfires and on stages. Gastro pioneer Felin Fach Griffin (Brecon; +44-18-7462-0111) is a lovable modern inn within landmark pink walls. Hurst House (East Marsh; +44-19-9442-7417) is a tiny boutique hotel whose sexy styling belies the middle-of-nowhere feel. The gorgeous Pembrokeshire coast has big, fun waves. Try Big Blue Kitesurfing for quality instruction in the riders’ art.
Pull up a chair at Penhelig Arms (Terrace Road, Aberdovey; +44-16-5476-7215) for a chat, fine wine, and fresh fish. Eat in the bar; it’s more fun.
Llety Bodfor (Bodfor Terrace, Aberdovey; +44-16-5476-7475) is a fab seafront B&B with Led Zep records in the breakfast room. The Harbourmaster Hotel (Pen Cei, Aberaeron; +44-15-4557-0755) eschews nauticalia for a contemporary, cozy feel. The food is terrific: Welsh Black beef, Aberaeron mackerel, and homemade bread.
And, yes, okay, you can say it (once): This was a wale of a good time.