Wales is a land of dramatic national parks, plunging, unspoiled coastlines, and awe-inspiring medieval castles. Its ancient history and deep-rooted Celtic culture make Wales similar in many ways to its more famous neighbors, Scotland and Ireland; and yet it doesn’t attract the same hordes of visitors, which is a big part of the appeal.
Vast swaths of Wales were untouched by the industrial boom of the 19th century. Although pockets of the country were given over to industries such as coal mining and manufacturing (both of which have all but disappeared), most of Wales remained unspoiled. The country is largely rural, and there are more than 10 million sheep—but only 3 million people. It has a Britain-as-it-used-to-be feel that can be hugely appealing.
Now is a great time to visit Wales. The country is reveling in a new political autonomy, just a decade-and-a-half old, that’s brought with it a flourish of optimism and self-confidence. Welsh culture has undergone something of a renaissance, and its culinary traditions are being embraced and reinvented by an enthusiastic new generation of chefs and artisan foodies. Simply put, Wales loves being Wales, and that enthusiasm is infectious to the visitor. It also means that the tourism industry has grown by leaps and bounds, including some truly unique and special places to stay.
Although Wales is a small country—on average, about 60 miles wide and 170 miles north to south—looking at it on a map is deceptive. It's quite a difficult place to get around, with a distinctly old-fashioned road network and poor public transportation connections. To see it properly, you really need a car. The good news is that along the way you'll experience some beautiful drives. There are rewards to be found in the gentle folds of its valleys and in the shadow of its mountains.
Were some of the more remote attractions in Wales in, say, the west of Ireland, they'd be world famous and overrun with millions of visitors. Here, if you're lucky, you can almost have them to yourself.