Tuesday, 16 April 2019

A Weekend Guide to the Welsh Valleys

What to do in South Wales Caerphilly Castle Plus size travel blogger

Hey Owlets,

If you live in South West England then you'll already know about the Severn Bridge drama, but for those of you that don't allow me to catch you up. Wales is incredible - full of beautiful walks, stunning scenery and something for everyone to do; in fact my "Welsh Dad" as I called him spent the entire time I knew him trying to instill some Welsh pride into this "poor Englishman". But there was just one problem - a £6.70 barrier. Despite Wales and England only being separated by a 3 mile long bridge the toll was something of a mental barrier, and it always felt unfair because you had to pay to get in to Wales but not out (although honestly, it was worth it). 

However, the days of one-sided tolls are finally over having been abolished at the end of last year, so Love The Valleys invited me to take a look round.

How to Get Around

What to do in South Wales Caerphilly Castle Plus size travel blogger

Unfortunately you do need a car to be able to make the most of your time in the valleys. There are a few train stations dotted around, but you would be very limited on the places you can visit. Wales is loved for it's beautiful rolling hills and countryside, and unfortunately that doesn't include train stations and bus routes.

Where to Stay

What to do in South Wales Rhondda Valley Heritage Park Hotel Review

Heritage Park Hotel is a beautiful 3 star hotel, perfectly situated for just about everything that you could possibly want to do while you're in the valleys. It's just down the road from Porth station if you are coming by train, and it's perfect for a weekend getaway. It's one of those places where things aren't perfect but the staff do everything to make sure you're happy. If you'd like a full review come back in a few weeks as it's on my "to do" list!

What to Do


What to do in South Wales Rhondda Valley Heritage Park

Expecting to come to the valleys for a day and see plenty is unrealistic - there's so much to do that you probably won't get the most out of your trip. You could do a few day trips here if you live close enough, but I'd rather go for a weekend than worry about traffic and allowing time to get there and back. It's one of those places where you soak up the friendly atmosphere and relax into the beautiful scenery, and I don't think you can do that in a day.

We started the weekend with a trip down a coal mine at Rhondda Heritage Park - the museum stands on the site of an old coal mine that was so well known it used to supply fuel to the likes of Brunel himself. Nowadays three of the coal miners show visitors around the old machinery and take you to experience life underground. It's terrifying but it's so worth a visit.

What to do in South Wales Llantrisant The Royal Mint Experience

After Tom Jones one of the things the valleys is most famous for is the fact that it produces all UK coins at The Royal Mint in Llantrisant, as well as coins for several other countries around the world. Amazingly you're actually allowed inside to see how the coins are made (from the other side of some thick glass, of course). Unsurprisingly security is incredibly tight and we weren't allowed to take any photos or videos, so you'll just have to trust me on this that it's worth a visit! The tour itself wasn't actually very long and they don't have much to look at outside of the guided tour, so if you're planning to visit you might like to combine it with something else in the area. It is, however, one of those "must visit" places, just to see your currency being made.

What to do in South Wales Llantrisant Body positive travel blogger

While you're in Llantrisant make sure you drive down the road to visit the old town. At the top of the hill you can do a short loop around independent stores and quaint little streets, as well as stopping at the remains of the castle to see the most incredible view across the valleys. The town is absolutely tiny, but if you're already in the area to visit The Royal Mint, it's worth a little detour for the view alone.

What to do in South Wales Bridgend Body Positive Travel Blogger

When you mention visiting Wales the first image to appear in most people's' minds are rolling hills and fields as far as the eye can see, and that was definitely in abundance on our weekend away. On the Sunday we chose to go for a morning walk in the sunshine. Parc Slip is a nature reserve run by The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales and is home to 300 acres of beautiful views, as well as just about every flower, insect and animal you could hope to find in Wales. Incredibly the nature reserve is actually free to visit, running only on donations and money made from the on-site cafe. I honestly couldn't get my head around it being free to visit, because it's one of the most beautiful places I've seen in the UK and I would happily pay to enter. If you stop by, make sure to treat yourself in the cafe after your walk to support their work.

What to do in South Wales Caerphilly Castle Body Positive Travel Blogger

My last recommendation of what to do is the most touristy suggestion of them all, but every time I post a photo of a castle at least 3 of my readers from across the pond will message me saying "you're so lucky you live near things like this!". I like a good castle as much as the next person, but apparently there aren't any in America, so if you're one of those people that's jealous of our castle situation, this one's for you. Caerphilly Castle was constructed in the 13th century and despite a long history of it trying to be destroyed by citizens, invaders or wars, it's still standing today - one of the towers even leans as much as Pisa! The castle is the largest in the UK after Windsor, is full of history and holds a huge variety of events, so it's absolutely worth setting aside some time for a visit.

Where to Eat

What to do in South Wales Caerphilly Casa Mia Restaurant Review Body Positive Travel Blogger

Having worked up an appetite from your day of exploring I would tentatively recommend a trip to Casa Mia in Caerphilly. We visited on a Saturday night and at first I looked up and wondered why on Earth they had sound-dampening panels stuck to the ceiling - this soon became apparent when within half an hour you were shouting at the person opposite you and still couldn't hear. The noise was deafening and the food was average, a little on the pricey side but nothing too much to complain about. I really appreciated that they do gluten free pizza and pasta because it meant I could join in instead of always being "the awkward one" (although strangely they don't have gluten free bread??!). The sole reason I would come back to this restaurant is the incredible view - the restaurant is on the second floor and directly opposite the castle so every meal comes with a beautiful 180ยบ vista. I wonder if maybe they were having an off night as the Trip Advisor reviews are almost entirely 5 stars, so I'd go again when it's less busy and hope for better quality food and a more peaceful atmosphere.

What to do in South Wales Bridgend Tondu House Farm Restaurant Review Body Positive Travel Blogger

I feel like if you're going for a weekend away or you're just visiting the UK one of the traditions that you absolutely must respect is the humble Sunday roast, and when you're in the valleys that comes with a view and a purpose. Tondu House Farm (pronounced Tond-ee, I have no idea why) is a 43 acre site, offering both self catering accommodation and food in their Woodlands Bistro. The entire aim of the project is to help people less fortunate to overcome their struggles, such as helping people who have been long-term unemployed get back into work, starting with working in the bistro. We were treated to a full Sunday roast which was absolutely faultless and, despite having a limited number of staff, they went out of their way to cater for me, taking the time to make gluten free yorkshire puddings and even an entirely different dessert so I didn't miss out. I enjoyed every mouthful, and the best part is that the money they take goes back in to helping the community, developing the land and running a forest school during the week for children with learning difficulties. Go with an empty stomach and open arms, because you will be welcomed with plenty of food and a boat load of affection.

What to do in South Wales Bridgend Body Positive Travel Blogger

I've given you my top choices, but there are so many other things you can do when you visit the valleys - historical houses, coastal walks, biking on idyllic beaches... the list is endless. I feel like I've only just scratched the surface on my trip around the valleys, so if I've missed something that you feel like I absolutely need to do comment below or let me know on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, because I'll definitely be going back!

In the meantime if you're looking for some more travel inspiration to boost your wanderlust, check out my guide to 24 hours in County Cork and what to do with a day in Lisbon.

Love and Feathers, 
 The Owlet ๐Ÿ’œ 
You can find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram & Pinterest

This post was created in collaboration with Love The Valleys and Visit Caerphilly, but all views are my own.

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