Sustainable ideas have been practiced here for centuries, with plenty of small-scale sleeping options, locally grown foods and a useful network of buses and trains.
HISTORY MEETS BEAUTY: Llanbadrig Church and cemetery overlook the coast at Llanbadrig on the Isle of Anglesey. (Photo: ZUMA Press)
Known for its rugged, natural landscapes and long history, still evident in numerous well-preserved castles, Wales is an ideal destination for both nature lovers and history buffs. This nation, on the southwestern part of the island of Great Britain, boasts hills, mountains, moors, forests, and coastline that is sandy in some places and rocky and rugged in others. Conservation is important in Wales, with several national parks covering expansive sections of the land. Smaller areas, dubbed Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty by the United Kingdom, enjoy protected status as well.
Small-scale sleeping options, locally grown foods, and a useful network of buses and trains make it simple to enjoy an Earth-friendly vacation in what is often called one of the most scenic sections of the United Kingdom. Aside from the history and nature, Wales also is rich in culture, with music festivals, literary figures, and a long tradition of theater and drama.
These features make Wales an ideal destination for everyone from eco-tourists and art aficionados to history buffs and scenery seekers. Of course, for those looking for natural landscapes, Wales truly stands out.
The Welsh train and bus system makes it possible to get between main cities and even many smaller towns with a reasonable level of convenience. The geography of Wales is one of its greatest assets when it comes to tourism. At the same time, the topography can be a hindrance to travelers. That is because roads, rails and trails are almost never built in a straight line. Rather, they curve around lakes, mountains and other impassible areas, making trips much longer than they appear on a map. That said, a circuitous rail or bus journey is a good chance to see the natural beauty of this country rather than by simply focusing on getting from Point A to Point B.
Different transit companies serve different regions of the nation. A majority of the domestic rail service is provided by Arriva Trains Wales. Traveline Cyrmu is a site that has public transportation information for the different rail and road service providers. It is an invaluable resource for planning the logistical part of a Welsh vacation. Local services, like Cardiff Bus, provide transport within the capital city of Cardiff, making it possible to get around the main urban area without ever stepping into a car or taxi.
Bike touring is straightforward in Wales, although cyclists may find the terrain challenging. More than 1,000 miles of cycling paths crisscross the nation, with major routes running around the southern coast and also running from north to south down the middle of Wales. The paths add an element of safety to long distance rides, though the terrain means that certain routes are an option only for fit riders.
Wales is characterized by spacious protected areas. One of the most beautiful and accessible of these lands is Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, a popular destination for nature tourists and sightseers in southeastern Wales. The coastal areas of this park feature both sandy beaches and rugged, rocky sections. A hiking path runs along the park’s entire coastline. Pembrokeshire also includes a handful of islands known for their seabird colonies. Marine mammals such as seals can be seen from coastline trails as they swim on the surface of the water. While a majority of visitors come for Pembrokeshire’s beaches, watersports like kayaking and surfing are also popular. An alternative to this national park is Llŷn in north Wales. This peninsular coastal area has beaches and seaside scenery that rivals Pembrokeshire in terms of overall natural beauty.
Another showcase eco-tourism attraction is Snowdonia National Park, known for its alps-like landscapes. This northern Wales natural spot is crowned by Mount Snowdon, the tallest peak in Wales (and the tallest in the U.K. outside of Scotland). Snowdon is just one of the numerous peaks in the park. Snowdonia draws climbers, alpinists and hikers with of its blend of challenging terrain and accessibility. The park also features a lake region, with scenic bodies of water fit snugly between the hills and mountains. While climbing and hill walking are the headlining activities in Snowdonia, native animals, including birds and freshwater fish, mean that wildlife seekers will enjoy the park as much as peak baggers and backpack-hauling trekkers.
A third Welsh national park, Brecon Beacons National Park, boasts some of the most diverse landscapes in this topographically varied country. Located in southern Wales, it features a mountain range, dense forests, moorlands, streams, waterfalls and several lakes. Ancient castles and a host of family events and festivals make this more than an eco-tourism attraction. That said, having access to all the varied landscapes of Wales in one park makes Brecon arguably the single best place to spend time if your itinerary is focused on eco-tourism and nature.
Smaller protected areas, called Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, are found throughout the U.K., with four in Wales. Despite the tourist-oriented names, the land in these places enjoys a similar protected status to national parks. The sandy, green shores of the Gower Peninsula, near Swansea, and the beaches and dunes of the island ofAnglesey in northwest Wales are two examples of this unique type of protected preserve.
Some of the eco-tourism attractions in Wales are not found in far-flung mountain and coastal regions. The capital city of Cardiff is home to Bute Park, a 130-acre greenspace filled with avian life and small mammals. An arboretum is also found on site, while the Taff River, home to schools of trout and salmon, runs through the park as well.
The Taff Trail can be accessed from Bute. This path starts near Cardiff Bay and passes through the park on its way to Brecon. The trail covers 55 miles and has facilities for both hikers and bicyclists. It is possible to travel the whole distance on a bike in a single day if you are a reasonably fit rider and don’t make too many stops along the way.
Accommodation offerings in Wales range from large hotels in historic buildings to small bed-and-breakfast-style inns. In most places, there are plenty of small-scale options to choose from. In fact, locally owned inns are the only choice in many towns near major eco-tourism attractions. Even many larger hotels are housed in refurbished buildings that were constructed centuries ago. The Ruthin Castle, a 13th-century structure in northern Wales, operates a hotel that sits among acres of parkland.
The Bluestone resort in Pembrokeshire Coast National Park uses biomass fuels for heat and energy and has embarked on a large planting project to bring more native trees and plants to the area. Not only is the resort in a great location for those who want to get close to nature, it is also a reasonable option for those seeking to lower the impact that their travels have on the environment. Bluestone’s eco-friendly efforts have been covered by media outlets, including the BBC.
Bed and breakfast-style country inns are green because of their small size, but some take their environmental policies even further with recycling, energy efficiency, and the use of local products. Places like the Lasswade Country House and the Aberhyddnant Farm Cottages, both near the Brecon Beacons, fall into the small-but-very-green category. Aberhyddnant takes self-catering to a new level, allowing guests to collect their own organic eggs each morning.
The above accommodations are only a few of the green-themed sleeping spots in the country. With so many options, it almost seems like eco-friendly accommodations are the norm in Wales rather than the exception.
Agriculture is still an important part of the Welsh economy, so it is possible to get locally grown food almost anywhere. Organic options are easy to come by in towns both large and small. Treehouse is an organic grocery store and restaurant in Aberystwyth, a coastal market town with a long history of commerce. A downstairs retail space offers hundreds of organic products, while organic treats are served fresh in an upstairs restaurant. The Treehouse takes its green quotient up a notch by offering bicycle delivery service. Cardiff’s Milgi is a casual organic eatery and haven for community arts and events. It offers a chance to get a taste of both the local arts and food scenes in one place.
Farmers markets are found throughout Wales and are arguably the best places to get in touch with the locally grown scene. There are even markets in central areas like Cardiff. Though not necessarily all organic, many markets feature a good selection of naturally grown, chemical-free products.
Wales is an obvious choice for people seeking natural landscapes and scenery in the UK and Western Europe. The deep sense of history and love of arts and culture make a multi-dimensional vacation possible. In short, Wales is a great destination for nature lovers who want to focus on trails and rural landscapes, but also want some history and culture to spice up their itinerary.