Date Posted: 02/06/2010
Wales is packed with attractions sure to satisfy the needs of any group.
The Welsh landscape is a rich tapestry of culture, history and breathtaking views crammed with 641 castles, 200 golf courses, 750 miles of coastline and the UK’s fastest growing city. It has everything from sleepy market towns to high-octane theme parks... a mean feat for a country only 60 miles wide and 170 miles in length.
Wales is proud of its literary heritage, as celebrated at the world-famous Hay Festival in late spring, but it is the writing of Swansea-born Dylan Thomas that best captures the diversity of the Welsh landscape, culture and people. The Dylan Thomas Centre pays homage to Swansea’s famous son with a permanent exhibition that reveals the relationship between the town and his writing. “Swansea”, he wrote, “has got as many layers as an onion - and each one reduces you to tears.” The centre hosts a Dylan Thomas Festival every October and celebrates with a two-week programme of events. At other times of the year special talks can be arranged for groups in advance.
Authentic historical experiences
Wales boasts a number of excellent living history experiences, offering groups with opportunities to immerse themselves in the country’s rich and diverse history. At Llancaiach Fawr Manor in south Wales your group can step back in time to the 17th century, try on Civil War costumes and interact with historical figures. The ‘servants’ (played by actors) will guide your party through the manor house and reveal the trials and tribulations of 17th century life against the backdrop of Civil War.
Modern Welsh history is dominated by the coal industry. Naturally rich in coal, Wales provided the fuel for the industrial revolution and became the powerhouse behind the British Empire. By 1913, Welsh mines were producing an astonishing 57 million tons of coal each year and, at its peak, the industry employed over 270,000 men in over 600 mines. The Big Pit National Coal Museum stands as a monument to Wales’s industrial past, and is a must for all groups. To experience working conditions at the coal face first hand, groups are issued with helmets and cap lamps before being lowered 300 feet into the original network of mineshafts. The guides, all ex-miners, share their personal experiences adding an authentic touch to proceedings. For claustrophobic group members, exhibitions and a multi-media tour of a modern coal mine are available - all above ground!
Going deeper underground
At the National Show Caves Centre for Wales, groups can discover the natural beauty that lies beneath the Brecon Beacons. The Dan-yr-Ogof network of caves is the largest in Europe and stretches for more than ten miles. Of particular interest is the 70-foot high Cathedral Cave with its surreal lakes and cascading waterfalls. While Cathedral Cave attracts young couples wanting to ‘tie the knot’ underground, nearby Bone Cave has been attracting archaeologists. Bone Cave contains over 3,000 years of history and ancient rock paintings have been discovered with over 40 human skeletons exhumed, some dating back to the Bronze Age. Back above ground, the National Show Caves Centre for Wales can take you even further back in time with combined admission to its dinosaur park - one of the largest in the world. There, your group can come face-toface with life-sized models of prehistoric nasties, including Dimetrodon and Tyrannosaurus Rex. The National Show Caves Centre for Wales is open from April to October, with special openings at Christmas and February half term week.
The great outdoors
When one thinks of Wales, images of exhilarating walks, natural beauty and breathtaking views immediately leap to mind. Therefore, no group outing would be complete without a visit to Mount Snowdon, the highest mountain in England and Wales at 1,085 metres above sea level. Weather permitting, it is possible to walk up the mountain, but if time is short your group can take the Snowdon Mountain Railway to the summit. However you decide to climb the mountain, a cafe and visitor centre will be waiting for you where your group can learn about the history, geology and ecology of the mountain. Having conquered the climb, your group could turn its attention to dolphin watching. Visitors are often surprised to learn that Bottlenose dolphins can be spotted all year round off Cardigan Bay. However, most boat trips only operate between April and October when sightings are most likely.
... or the great indoors!
If your group finds the Welsh air ‘too bracing’, then a trip to the National Botanic Garden of Wales is an all weather alternative. With 120 acres of formal garden laid out on the site of a Regency estate, the gardens offer an unrivalled sensory experience. But the piste de resistance is the Great Glasshouse, said to be the largest single-span glasshouse in the world. Inside, you can discover nearly a thousand different plant species from Mediterranean climates, a tumbling waterfall and an interior lake. Group discounts apply to parties of ten or more and special guided tours can be arranged at an extra charge.
Ten great group attractions
1 Celtic Manor Resort: In the past decade, this 19th century manor house has been radically redeveloped into a premier golf resort, sporting three courses, a driving range and all the trimmings you would expect of a high-end, luxury property. This year, it will host the prestigious Ryder Cup and put Wales firmly on the golfing map. Golfing holidays, single games and golf tuition for small groups can all be catered for.
2 Millennium Stadium: Why not take your group on a guided tour of a venue that has hosted Rugby World Cups, FA Cup Finals and will play its part in the London 2012 Olympics.
3 Portmeirion Village (pictured): This the coastline of Snowdonia celebrates its 84th Anniversary this year. The resort, originally created by architect Clough Williams-Ellis, is perhaps better known as the setting for the 1960 cult TV classic, The Prisoner. Discounts are available for groups of 12 or more.
4 Dyffryn Gardens: Dyffryn is a 55 acre, Grade 1 registered garden set in the Vale of Glamorgan. Its Edwardian features have earned Dyffryn a reputation for being one of Wales’s finest gardens.
5 King Arthur’s Labyrinth: This magical underground experience for youngsters pays homage to the legend of King Arthur. Described by The Times as ‘a subterranean storybook’, the attraction uses dramatic scenes, sound and lighting effects to recount the legend.
6 Cardiff Castle: Dominating the city skyline of the capital it has become one of Wales’s most popular tourist attractions. Dating back nearly 2,000 years to the Roman conquest, Cardiff Castle offers a mix of history, pageantry and fun.
7 Blue Lagoon: Pembrokeshire’s indoor water park provides year-round fun for groups. Your group can kick back in the spa pool or, if they’re feeling energetic, dodge water cannons and fly down the flume rides.
8 Centre for Alternative Technology: The visitor centre at CAT promotes green technology and is an ideal attraction for eco-conscious groups.
9 Anglesey Sea Zoo: Anglesey Sea Zoo is the biggest aquarium in Wales and is home to over 150 marine species.
10 Penderyn Distillery: For over a century, the Welsh Whisky Company has been producing a single malt whisky in Wales’s only distillery. A visitor centre has been opened to educate visitors on the history and unique process of Welsh whisky.
Image credit - Portmeirion Ltd