Travel Weekly's Nadine Godwin recently visited Wales as part of
a fact-finding trip related to the outbreak of hoof-and-mouth
disease there. This also afforded an opportunity to take a look at
the Welsh capital, Cardiff. Her report follows:
ne look and you would call
Cardiff, the Welsh capital, a 19th century city. With reason.
That's when the very rich 3rd Marquess of Bute poured money into
the place, building the city's docks and making Cardiff the world's
top coal- and iron-exporting port. He also underwrote construction
of the expansive Civic Centre, a collection of white stone
buildings that include university halls, museum facilities and City
Hall. Today, they are overlooked by the considerably newer, but
But then, smack in the middle of town, there is Cardiff Castle. The
marquess put a lot of money into that, too, but the site dates to
the Roman times, when it was a military outpost.
The Normans, in the 11th century, adapted the Roman fort,
building their still-extant keep -- or safe haven -- on a
40-foot-high motte, or mound. The castle grounds are surrounded by
thick red brick walls and a shallow empty moat that date mostly
from the Middle Ages, as well.
At the other extreme are recent and invigorating developments.
Cardiff is on the ascendancy, proven in part by the fact that
nowadays more Welsh young adults than ever stay here, rather than
move on to London or elsewhere.
The city's new Millennium Stadium, a shiny, modern facility
located in the downtown, is the local pride and joy, especially
among soccer fans.
Of more interest to most visitors is the redeveloped Cardiff
Bay. Having become the top coal- and iron-exporting port, the bay
fell on hard times with the end to Welsh coal mining.
The current regeneration covers nearly 3,000 acres of the
derelict docklands, including the creation of a 500-acre freshwater
lake by sealing off a former tidal estuary.
The lake is being surrounded by shops, restaurants, luxury
housing and attractions, including the Techniquest, a hands-on
It is the site of the St. David's Hotel & Spa, a Rocco Forte
new-build, that is designed to look a bit like a ship. That theme,
on the interior, means balconies that look like ship decks, tilted
glass front pieces on the lobby desks and even glasses designed to
stand at an angle. (This led us to wisecrack about the condition of
the ship envisioned here!)
The bay is expected to be a mecca for water sports, concerts and
other activities, and it is to be linked, in time, to the Cardiff
city center by a light rail link and a bicycle path. There are
public buses; a cab costs about $5.50 plus tip for the short ride
from to St. David's from downtown.
Cardiff (population: 300,000), located two hours and change west
of London, became the Welsh capital in 1955; before that there had
been no capital. Now, in the wake of a recent devolution vote, it
is at last about to construct a National Assembly building. That
structure, to be completed by January 2003 at a cost of more than
$40 million, will feature an all-glass design.
Finally, the bay will host a $112 million performing arts
building, the Wales Millennium Center, scheduled for completion in
2003. The 1,900-seat theater will be home to the Welsh National
But the ancient castle is the heart of this young capital.
The entry fee, for adults, is about $4, but that does not gain
entrance into the must-see Castle Apartments, the residence for a
long line of successive castle lords. The entry charge of about $8
covers the guided tour of these apartments, which hug the inside of
the southwest section of the castle's exterior walls.
Portions of the apartments date from at least the 15th century,
but these residential spaces underwent their most notable overhaul
at the hand of the 3rd Marquess of Bute and his architect, William
The pair, both lovers of things medieval, planned their medieval
dream of a castle. The effect is to remind visitors of the
fantasies and castle of the man called Mad Ludwig -- Bavaria's
Neither the Cardiff marquess nor his architect were mad, but
they lived their fantasies and left us with an eyeful of
For example, there is the day nursery. Upper walls are wrapped
with paintings illustrating various nursery rhymes, with all
figures shown in medieval garb.
In the case of the Arab Room, the rich decor, enveloping ceiling
and walls, is imitative of medieval design in the Islamic
My favorite was the Banqueting Hall, decorated with scenes
representing 600 years of the marquess' family history. This grand
hall, and the adjoining Library, are located on the site of the
real medieval great hall. In the 1940s, the Butes gave the castle
to the city.
A few final points seem in order:
Visitors will enjoy, as we did, lunching at the Celtic Cauldron,
a wee eatery across the street from the entrance to Cardiff Castle.
It features a raft of shepherd's pies and other traditional Welsh
Tour literature highlights a couple of very enticing attractions
One is the Museum of Wales Life at St. Fagans. A living history
museum, it offers a chance to look at a collection of rural
dwellings and other traditional mementoes from all over Wales.
And not least, there is the double-moated Caerphilly Castle,
dating from the 13th and 14th centuries. Located a short distance
north of Cardiff, it is the largest castle in England and Wales
after Windsor and the most powerful medieval castle ever built,
according to my booklet on Cardiff Castle.
My trip did not include these excursions, but I would recommend
them, on the grounds that I would go seem them myself, given the
Room Key: St. David's Hotel & Spa
Affiliation: RF Hotels; member Leading Hotels of the World
Ownership: Sir Rocco Forte & Family (Cardiff Bay) Ltd.
Address: Havannah Street, Cardiff Bay, Cardiff CF10 5SD
Phone and fax: (011-44) 29 2045 4045; for the spa, (011-44) 29
2031 3084; fax: (011-44) 29 2048 7056
E-mail and Web: [email protected]; [email protected]; www.rfhotels.com
Reservations: Code LW in CRSs; (800) 223-6800 at Leading
Rack rates: About $210 to $488 for a suite, single, $255 to
Opened: January 1999
Location: On the new waterfront development, Cardiff Bay; a few
minutes by taxi from downtown Cardiff; across the bay from the
planned site of the Welsh assembly
General manager: Debbie Taylor
Phone and e-mail: (011-44) 29 2031 3026; [email protected]
Leisure and corporate sales manager: Paula Ellis
Phone and e-mail: (011-44) 29 2031 3020; [email protected]
Rooms: 132 units, including 19 suites, all with balconies
overlooking the bay
Restaurants: Tides Bar & Restaurant; Terrace
Business facilities: Function suites for 12 to 270; 24-hour
Signature amenities: Multilevel spa with wide range of options
including seaweed wraps and other beauty treatments; two salt-water
hydropools; exercise pool; sauna; solarium; gymnasium; dance and
exercise studio, and spa dining room overlooking the bay
Rants: Location outside of downtown (but handy for those doing
business in the Cardiff Bay area); comforter too hot to sleep
under; cold, unattractive lobby.
Raves: Gourmet dining in a lovely bayside setting; friendly
staff; offers more services than most guests ever thought of.