Rolling hills, lush valleys, a rugged coastline, and ancient castles await you...and your bike.
by Carola Felchner
Wales isn't just a rougher version of England or a gentler version of Scotland. This country, perched on the rocky fringe of Western Europe, is packed with scenic beauty on a comparatively small mass of land. You’ll find rolling hills, lush valleys, a rugged coastline, ancient castles, and a lot of opportunities to keep busy discovering all Wales has to offer—culturally, and when it comes to cycling.
Take VELOTHON Wales, for example. For this spectacular event, roads are closed to traffic, and the course traverses breathtaking and challenging terrain. It features the same circuit that the UCI European Tour pros ride on.
To avoid risking the passing by all the Cardiff area has to offer because you're busy breathing and clutching your bike’s handlebars, we collected some tips for an extended stay around the VELOTHON race.
"As soon as you cross the border from England into Wales, the differences in appearance, attitude, and culture between the two countries are immediately obvious," the website Rough Guides Limited says about this country. And they're right. You’ll find here a culture deeply rooted in tradition, a fact that becomes obvious in the Welsh language still taught at school and on bilingual signposts. But Wales and its people are also very contemporary with buzzing university towns, cultural optimism, and the attitude to include every visitor who's eager to join in—be it pub singing, athletic activities, or castle crawls.
Getting to and around in Cardiff
Cardiff, Wales’ capital and the host of Velothon Wales, bursts with attractions, entertainment, shopping, food and drink, and culture, and boasts an appealing clash of old and new that doesn't only apply to buildings. All this is to be found within easy reach as Cardiff is easy to get to. Located only a two-hour train ride from London, all you’ll have to do is hop on one of the planes to the United Kingdom’s capital that go there several times a day from all major airports and take a train to Cardiff. As the city is comparatively small, this could be your last motorized means of transport for the rest of your stay. You’ll have everything in walking distance—or rather, in biking distance—from your lodging (which could be a four-star hotel like the Park Plaza Cardiff.)
The city is very flat and can be easily discovered by bike. There are plenty of bike racks around the city center, and paths that provide traffic-free routes. There even is a cycling charity that will help you with cycling-related needs and problems: Pedal Power. They have all kinds of adult and children’s bikes available for hire at their headquarters at Pontcanna. There is also a nice on-site café where you’ll get homemade cakes and snacks.
From there, you can enjoy traffic-free cycling in the beautiful surrounding parkland, or, if feeling more adventurous, set off further afield on Taff Trail that runs for 55 miles (89 km) from Cardiff to Brecon, on the Celtic Trail West (143 miles/69 km) from Fishguard to Chepstow through the seascapes of Pembrokeshire Coast National Park in South Wales, on hilly Lôn Cabria (113 miles/182 km) in Mid-Wales along river Ystwyth, on mountain roads and through towns like Llandidloes or on North Wales Coastal Route (41 miles/66 km) for an easy spin across Anglesey followed by a traffic-free seafront ride past classic resorts up to inland Chester.
If you want to stay within the city’s borders for your Velothon vacation, you’ll find numerous opportunities to turn your cranks. There are even traffic-free inner-town cycling routes like the Rhymney Trail that connects the areas of Rhymney and Llanrumney in the east with Llanedyrn and Pentwyn in the west, Ely Trail linking St Fagans to the International Sports Village in Cardiff Bay or Bay Trail, a circular 10K trail showing off some nice bay attractions. Get a free cycling map at " target="_blank"> for further details and directions.
You may be in the middle of the Welsh capital, yet you’ll feel like you're in open nature when you know where to go. Bute Park, one of the largest and most beautiful parks in the United Kingdom, for example, is the green heart of Cardiff. It is as large as 75 football pitches and houses sport pitches, an arboretum, and woodlands. Enjoy a walk or ride along the River Taff, Sophia Gardens, and Pontcanna Fields before heading to Cardiff Castle next door.
The castle of today actually is three buildings in one: a Roman fort, a castle and a Victorian gothic palace. Discover the remains of a Roman wall, explore the wartime shelters and the extraordinarily decorated castle apartments and then take a break at Pettigrew Tea Room at Bute Park’s entrance for some Ploughman’s lunch with ham and cheese.
One park is not enough in a city like Cardiff. Therefore reserve some time for Roath Park. It stands as an oasis of quiet at the center of this busy capital city. The classic Victorian park atmosphere of former times can still be felt at this place where local residents and visitors alike enjoy their free time in many different pursuits. A variety of wildlife is attracted by the wide range of habitats in this park, and there is a beautiful wildflower garden.
Bites of Cardiff
Luckily, there is an abundance of Welsh traditional classics every family has its own recipe for to fuel the hungry cyclist. Welsh cakes and bara brith are something for athletes (and non-athletes) with a sweet tooth: small cakes i.e. yeast-less bread with dried fruit and spices. If you prefer something more savory after a long ride, you may opt for the traditional cawl, a vegetable broth, Glamorgan sausages (a meat replacement made of cheese, leeks and bread crumbs) or Welsh rarebit (toasted bread covered in a rich sauce of melted cheese). Make sure to try at least some of them. Cegin y Ddraig (dragon’s kitchen, ), e.g., a café in the castle quarter, serves traditional Welsh food using local ingredients.
As good as these meals may be, don’t forget about modern Welsh cuisine. It is all about top-quality ingredients, cooked simply with a focus on natural flavors: lamb, beef, seafood. And of course Welsh wine and whiskey. Give, e.g. Ffresh a try, a 2015 Michelin Guide listed restaurant at Wales Millennium Center where you can also break up your cycling routine with some international art and performances from comedy to ballet.
Cycling is not the only sport Cardiff has set its heart on. As host of 2012 Olympic football, it has gained a fine reputation as top notch sporting city. There are world-class stadiums for athletics, football, cricket, and ruby, the International Sports Village offering an Olympic standard swimming pool, an ice rink and a canoeing/kayaking center.
If you’re looking for something more relaxing, St Fagans National History Museum, just a short bike ride outside the city is a great place to take the family to explore. Discover how the people of Wales lived in former times while strolling through a village of 40 original buildings and stop at one of the many beautiful spots there for a picnic. When back in the city, pay the Senedd, home of the National Assembly, a visit. (If you want to go in, you'll need to pre-book.) If you cycle on along the waterfront you'll pass the Norwegian Church Arts Centre and Café, the place writer Roald Dahl was baptized. And here's a tip for sci-fi lovers: in the BBC studios opposite Doctor Who TV series is filmed and there is also a visitor attraction called the Doctor Who Experience.
End your day at Mermaid Quay, a development of shops, bars and (chain) restaurants. Try one of the local beers in The Dock Bar & Kitchen, or head for Urban Tap House (owned by Tiny Rebel Brewing) opposite the Millennium Stadium for fine craft beer and the best burgers in town. Despite the bliss of all the beer and food, don’t forget to take your bike with you when stumbling out of a bar and heading back to your hotel—even though the Welsh would probably return it to you immediately.