Although it’s become a thriving capital city, Cardiff still isn’t the most convenient place to fly into for a visit to Wales—American travelers typically must connect in Toronto or Amsterdam first. Until new routes are added, the English cities of Manchester and Bristol are the best points of access; Liverpool works well, too. All three are about an hour from the Welsh border. It’s also possible to tack on a few days in Wales if you?re vacationing in London: Cardiff is two hours by train and three by car on the very fast M4 motorway.
There’s enough great golf throughout the country that it’s best to divide the trip into two one-week swings—North Wales and South Wales—with both itineraries ending at Aberdovey in mid-Wales (see map, page 114). It isn’t a big area—Wales is just a shade larger than the state of Massachusetts—but its mountainous topography can make getting around rather interesting. The roads are well marked and in excellent condition, but some of the routes in North Wales are so narrow and winding that they seem more suited to rally cars than to rental cars.
Celtic Manor Makeover
As Celtic Manor gears up for the 2010 matches, by far the biggest development has been the creation of the 7,493-yard Ryder Cup course, scheduled to open in October. Nine holes from Robert Trent Jones Jr.’s Wentwood Hills course have been remodeled and will be complemented by nine new holes by Ross McMurray of European Golf Design. Meanwhile, most of the holes left over from the Wentwood Hills course are being restyled and incorporated into a new course by Colin Montgomerie. The resort’s original layout, Robert Trent Jones Sr.’s Roman Road, will remain untouched.
Jerry Quinlan’s Celtic Golf On the seven-night All-Wales Golf Vacation, you’ll play plenty of the top courses and stay in country inns along the way. Self- and chauffeur-driven options. From $3,495; celticgolf.com.
PerryGolf Go coast to coast, from Nefyn & District to Southerndown, with an eight-night self-drive package. VIP golf coach with driver is available for larger groups. From $3,395; perrygolf.com.
Wales Golf Vacations The Classic Tour of Wales hits half a dozen of the best links in the country and is designed by local expert Dylan Williams. From $1,795; walesgolfvacations.com.
The Original Dylan
Wales’s most famous man of letters is immortalized at the Dylan Thomas Centre (dylanthomas.com) in Swansea. Housed in a modern waterfront structure, the museum has an extensive collection of fragments from the poet’s life, right down to his prodigious bar tabs. But most appealing is the chance to hear Thomas’s voice. He often read his poems on the radio, speaking in what he described as “ a breathless boom-boom-boom.” Throw on a pair of headphones and get swept away by the rhythm of his language. It’s well worth a morning’s visit, or much more if you happen to be in town in late October for the Dylan Thomas Festival.
Guarding the Green
Nothing marks the North Wales landscape like its so-called Iron Ring, a series of fortresses built in the 1200s by King Edward I of England to dissuade the Welsh from rebellion. Each was designed to serve a specific purpose. The Constantinople-inspired Caernarfon Castle contrasts with the deadly military utility of moated Beaumaris, out on Anglesey, as well as the defensive brilliance of Conwy Castle, which still holds its town safe within its walls. Golfers who make their way to Royal St. David’s will be inspired by Harlech Castle standing watch over the links.
A great way to relax and enjoy the scenery is to take a ride on one of the several narrow-gauge railways dotting rural Wales. A by-product of the country’s industrial heritage, the Ffestiniog Railway (festrail.co.uk), which runs from Porthmadog to the slate-quarry village of Blaenau Ffestiniog, is considered to be the best of the bunch. The destination is pretty much beside the point; the journey’s the thing, as the steam-powered locomotive chugs its way through villages stuck in time and then up into the highlands, where passengers survey vast mountainsides covered by gnarly, moss-jacketed trees and the craggy tors of Snowdonia on the horizon.
Portmeirion (portmeirion-village.com), the life’s work of architect Clough Williams-Ellis, is a toy Italianate village transported to a gorgeous coastal bluff in Gwynedd. Some people find it cloying, but it’s a magical place if you?re willing to suspend disbelief. Built around a central pine- and palm-lined piazza, the eclectic mix of pastel buildings includes Williams-Ellis’s own designs as well as pieces from the real world that he saved from demolition, such as an elaborate eighteenth-century colonnade. Surprises await at every turn, with each fresh angle bringing a pack of new details into focus—an explosion of flowers, an enigmatic statue, a secret gazebo in the trees.