Whether it’s down to Charlotte and Gavin or Gavin and Stacey, Wales has a new-found status as a must-do destination. Time to spend a weekend in Cardiff, its cool capital city...
It might not look much from the outside, but inside The Big Sleep Hotel is surprisingly chic. A converted 1960s office block, it was named one of the 25 coolest hotels in the world by Condé Nast Traveller, and yet style doesn’t come at a price, with double rooms as cheap as £45 a night. There was no restaurant, but I intended to get out and sample the culinary delights of this city anyway.
First stop was the Goat Major (High Street), which I’d heard was one of Cardiff’s most popular drinking holes, with good pub grub to boot. Sure enough, I tucked into hearty wild boar and apple sausage with buttered leak mash, followed by homemade bread and butter pudding. Delicious. Chatting to some locals, I got a good idea of where I would be heading the following morning and, not wanting to overdo it, I was tucked up in my hotel bed by 11pm.
It was time for some serious sightseeing, so I jumped on the open top bus for a tour of the city with Cardiff Tour. Luckily, Cardiff’s three main tourist attractions - the Millennium Stadium, the National Museum and Cardiff Castle - are all close to one another. I only had time to do one properly (the shops were too much of a pull) so I plumped for a tour of the Millennium Stadium.
This 74,000-seater stadium was built in 1999 and has hosted the Rugby World Cup, the FA Cup Final and, apparently, will host eight football matches during the 2012 Olympics. I’m not a huge sports fan, but even I felt overcome with emotion when I strode down the players’ tunnel. In the changing rooms, I had butterflies in my stomach just imaging what it must be like before a big game.
Time for lunch, and, on the advice of a Goat Major regular, I headed to Morgan Arcade, one of the city’s six Victorian shopping arcades. Here, The Plan is a great spot for people watching and does a fine homemade chilli. It’s known for its teas, some of which I’d never even heard of. Kenyan peaberry? Jasmine dragon pearl? A bit overwhelmed, I plumped for a simple mint.
Now it was time for some serious shopping. Apparently, later this year (2009), a £750 million shopping development will open in the city centre with hundreds of new stores and Wales’s first John Lewis department store. But, for now, there was plenty to keep me busy. I decided to skip the high street stores of Cardiff’s main shopping street, Queen Street, and stick to the quirky boutiques of its arcades. I got a bit carried away in Melin Tregwynt, in the Royal Arcade, lusting over the gorgeous rugs, throws, cushions, gifts and clothes made by contemporary Welsh designers. My mum had asked me to bring her back some laverbread, a Welsh speciality, and I found it in the fabulous deli-section of Howells department store (St Mary Street.) Laverbread is a strand-like seaweed found on rocks along the rugged coastline of Wales. It looked disgusting but apparently it’s surprisingly tasty and super healthy.
After a quick shower and change back at the hotel, I jumped in a cab to Mermaid Quay, Cardiff Bay, for dinner at trendy Mimosa Kitchen and Bar. Part owned by Welsh actor and Hollywood star Ioan Gruffudd, it’s renowned for its modern take on traditional Welsh cuisine. I went for the gourmet burger made with Welsh Black Beef and I would highly recommend it. It certainly helped soak up those pre-dinner cocktails - but not the after-dinner ones!
Feeling a bit worse for wear, I headed to the Cwtch Bar, the perfect place for a late breakfast. Back at Cardiff Waterfront, it’s in the cosy basement of Jolyon's Boutique Hotel, with a fireplace and huge comfy sofas. I went for the ‘Go Welsh’ - a full Welsh breakfast including local Bara Brith and Welsh Cakes, and afterwards it was a struggle to heave myself off my seat.
A boat ride seemed like a good idea, so I took the Cardiff Bay Waterbus
for a cruise around the bay, taking in Mermaid Quay and the Millennium Stadium. From the water, the striking architecture of the bay was even more breathtaking. Taking a stroll around the bay afterwards, I stumbled across Craft In The Bay
, a restored maritime warehouse converted into a gallery showcasing the work of local craftspeople. I couldn’t resist taking a look at the jewellery and, of course, came away with a few more goodies.
After all that, it was time for tea and cake at the pretty Norwegian Church on Harbour Drive, where apparently writer Roald Dahl was christened in 1916. I gave my feet a well-deserved rest and soaked up more stunning views over the bay.