Wales // South Wales //

The Valleys

No other part of Wales is as instantly recognizable as the Valleys, a generic name for the strings of settlements packed into the narrow gashes in the mountainous terrain to the north of Newport and Cardiff. Each of the Valleys depended almost solely on coal mining which, although nearly defunct as an industry, has left its mark on the staunchly working-class towns: row upon row of brightly painted terraced housing, tipped along the slopes at incredible angles, are broken only by austere chapels, the occasional remaining pithead and the dignified memorials to those who died underground.

This may not be traditional tourist country, but it’s one of the most interesting and distinctive corners of Wales, with a rich social history. Some former mines have reopened as gutsy museums – Big Pit at Blaenafon and the Rhondda Heritage Park at Trehafod are the best – while other excellent civic museums include those at Pontypridd and Aberdare. Meanwhile, there’s a more traditional visitor attraction in the form of Llancaiach Fawr Manor.