Travelling through the south of Wales you are treated to the perfect mixture of beautiful countryside and bustling cities. But there is definitely more here than meets the eye.
Caerleon, a quaint town on the edge of Newport, is a treasure trough of historical gems. This previous roman town was one of the most important military sites in Britain under the Roman Empire, and still leaves its mark today in the shape of the Caerleon Roman fortress.
Here you can walk in the footsteps of the 5,000 soldiers of the Second Augustan Legion and wander around the remains of the barrack blocks, once home to the Roman soldiers ready to fight against the formidable Celtic tribe, the Silures. These barracks are currently the only Roman barrack blocks visible in Europe and are definitely worth a visit. Their position, parallel to the towns secondary school, highlights the conditions in which these Soldiers would once live and is a perfect juxtaposition of the past and future.
Mere steps away you can also visit the remains of the impressive amphitheatre that stands proud in this town. The amphitheatre, the entertainment hub of Roman culture, emerges from the grass fields with the brick work peeking out from beneath the ground. Walk between the circular stands and you can almost hear the cheers from the crowd as they watched gladiator battles in the ring.
Another Roman delight that is on offer in this idyllic Welsh town is The Roman Baths. The Roman baths, which are free to enter, showcase perfectly what Romans liked to do in their leisure time. They might not be as well known as those in Bath yet the town of Careleon has perfectly brought this monument to life using modern day technology to appeal to your senses and really enhance your experience. The sound of lapping water fills the room; cleverly placed lighting and projections of swimmers make you forget that you are standing alongside a ruin, making you really feel as if you are in a bustling Roman day spa.
If this wets your appetite and you want to find out more then just around the corner from the baths is the National Roman Legion Museum, indulging you in more fascinating Roman history. You can definitely see why they claim Caerleon is the most varied and fascinating Roman site in Britain.
Shops and eateries cover the town with the quaint Ffwrum arts and craft centre being a popular spot to enjoy. Found within an 18th century walled garden, the courtyard offers craft shops, a little tea room, an art gallery, a sculpture garden and many other little hideaways.
Just north of Caerleon is an example of modern history. Big Pit is a Welsh museum like no other. Set in the countryside of Blaenavon World Heritage site, Big Pit is a national coal museum that takes you on a hands on experience of the most important industry in Welsh history, coal mining. Guides kit you out with hard hats, gas masks and battery packs to get you ready for an unforgettable experience.
Travelling 90 metres down the mine shaft you are greeted by the winding tunnels of the underground mine. Here you are guided around the coal faces, engine houses and even stables by a former coal miner. During the 50 minute tour you will learn how coal has been mined throughout the centuries and will open your eyes to fascinating facts and experiences you never knew.
Back on the land you can explore the Blaenavon Ironworks, Heritage Railway and spend time in the little town of Blaenavon. If you are looking for more adventure then you can hike across the beautiful rolling landscape of the Brecon Beacons National Park.
After all the exploring you will no doubt be tired out and will definitely be in need of a rest. There is a wide range of accommodation to pick from in South Wales, from the prestigious Celtic Manor, home to the famous Ryder Cup golf tournament and a favourite of celebrities alike, to home from home B&B’s. Or you could relax in one of the handful of spa’s available.
Pulling into the Ramada Resort Cwrt Bleddyn grounds in Usk you are treated to beautiful views of the Vale of Usk and buildings that hold great character. Each of the 46 en-suite rooms, hotel lobby and restaurant boast historic 16th century charm which add to the fantastic character of the building.
Walking in to the spa you could be forgiven for thinking you are in Italy, as the Roman-esque decoration of the room is mesmerising. With the cosy warm temperatures, relaxing low lighting, frescos of rolling italian landscapes and vineyards adorning the walls it appears as if you are looking through your villa windows and the sound of the lapping water makes this place perfect.
A jacuzzi sits under an indoor veranda with trailing plants curling around the pillars. A sauna and steam room are also on offer in this haven. You would be a fool not to indulge yourself with a pampering session and receive a massage, facial or manicure from the trained therapists at the spa.
Usk was once a small market town and is now more commonly known for its success in Britain in Bloom competitions. The Roman settlers of Caerleon started out in the town of Usk and used the river as a source of communication to reach inland Wales. Nowadays the town has a range of amenities from pubs and restaurants to antique shops.
Before you leave Usk you must take a walk around the town and pay a visit to the spectacular cafe Number 49. Here you can drink the finest coffee or tea from glass tea pots and cups and saucers and dine on delectable locally made cakes. But that is not what sets Number 49 apart from other cafes. Their charm is that they offer different style rooms in which to enjoy your treat. You can either choose to lounge in rooms decorated with flowers or relax by a log fire in an old brown leather sofa. Sitting back in this room you can imagine that you are sat in a warm country mansion and forget that you are in a cafe.
The building reaches over three floors and after you have finished your drinks and cake you can explore the remaining rooms, all decorated to a theme, and even purchase the interior items.
Wales is not all about the big bustling cities and rugby (even though they are great too!). There is a lot more history and charm on offer that you might just miss if you stick to the cosmopolitan streets. So cross that Severn bridge and embark on a holiday in the beautiful countryside of south Wales, I guarantee you will not regret it.
To explore more about different destinations in the UK check out my post on Winter breaks in Scotland.