The most heavily populated part of Wales, and by far the most anglicized, is the south. This is a region of distinct character, whether in the resurgent seaport cities of Cardiff and Swansea, the mining-scarred Valleys or the dramatically beautiful Glamorgan and Pembrokeshire coasts. Monmouthshire, Wales’s easternmost county, abuts the English border and contains the bucolic charms of the River Wye and Tintern Abbey. To the west and north, although the coal mines no longer operate, the world-famous Valleys retain their tight-knit towns and a rich working-class heritage, and some excellent museums and colliery tours, including Big Pit at Blaenafon and the Rhondda Heritage Park in Trehafod.
The Valleys course down to the great ports of the coast, which once shipped Wales’s products all over the world. The greatest of them all was Cardiff, now Wales’s upbeat capital and an essential stop. Further west is Wales’s second city, Swansea – rougher, tougher and less anglicized than Cardiff, it sits on an impressive arc of coast that shelves round to the delightful Gower Peninsula, replete with grand beaches, rocky headlands, bracken heaths and ruined castles.
Carmarthenshire, often missed out, is well worth visiting: of all the routes radiating from the county town of Carmarthen, the most glorious is the winding road to Llandeilo along the Tywi Valley, past ruined hilltop forts and two of the country’s finest gardens. Immediately east sits Wales’s most impressively sited castle at Carreg Cennen, high on a dizzy rock-plug on the edge of the Black Mountain. The wide sands fringing Carmarthen Bay stretch towards the popular seaside resort of Tenby, a major stop on the 186-mile Pembrokeshire Coast Path. The rutted coastline of St Bride’s Bay is the most glorious part of the coastal walk, which leads north to brush past the impeccable mini-city of St Davids, whose exquisite cathedral shelters in a protective hollow. Nearby are plenty of opportunities for spectacular coast and hill walks, boat crossings to nearby islands, wildlife-watching and numerous outdoor activities.