Until his first visit to Wales, the mention of the name made Dermott Brereton think of Welsh rarebit, Welsh ponies and Tom Jones. He soon broadened his knowledge when he took to the road.
Wales is about 220km from north to south and is perfect for a driving holiday. It has rolling moorlands, glaciated mountain areas, superb male-voice choirs, tongue-twisting place names, rugby union, romantic castles, cheese on toast, old mining towns and warm people with lilting accents.
Dermott started out in Llangollen, a small town in Denbighshire. The ancient market town on the banks of the River Dee is home of the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, claimed to be the greatest engineering feat of its type in the world. It carries the Llangollen Canal over the valley of the river. It was completed in 1805.
A bridge built in the 14th century crosses the river which flows into a series of manmade canals. A cruise on a canal boat is a must-do activity. It's been happening since 1884 when everything was transported along the canals.
On the outskirts of town is Valle Crucis Abbey in the Dee Valley. The crucis (cross) in its name refers to the Pillar of Eliseg standing nearby. It stood for almost four centuries before the abbey was established in 1201.
On the way to Snowdonia you pass through many pretty towns and ever-changing landscape. Mount Snowden is Wales' highest mountain at 1085m. Around half a million people climb it every year. It's known as the busiest mountain in Britain. There are tracks and trails to suit everyone. Sir Edmund Hillary used it as training for his Mt Everest climb. It takes about a day to hike up and down, or there's a rack railway that takes an hour.
Two hours from Snowdonia, Dermott reached the market town of Machynlleth in Powys. It has a special place in Welsh history because of its connection with Owain Glyndwr, a Prince of Wales who rebelled against the English during the reign of King Henry IV.
After another two-hour drive through sheet-scattered hills, Dermott reached Swansea. The biggest drawcard is the 20 beaches of the Gower Peninsula.
One of those, Oxwich Bay, was recently voted the UK's best beach. As with Natalie Gruzlewski in Scotland, Dermott didn't choose the best day to showcase a beach, he assures us it has huge cliffs, beautiful sand dunes and calm waters.
Another of the UK's bests in Wales is a pub near the English border in an area known as the Welsh Marches. The Bell at Skenfrith was recently voted Michelin Pub of the Year.
The 17th-century coaching inn has eleven guestrooms, each named after brown trout fishing flies. They have bespoke double beds with the finest linen, down duvets and pure wool Welsh blankets. They have flagstone floors, oak beams, antique furniture and comfortable sofas. Cosy is the word. All meals are made from local produce.
You are surrounded by the unspoiled Monmouthshire countryside overlooking the Monnow River and the Marches Castles, an important Norman stronghold during the 13th century cross-border skirmishes.
You can't go to Wales and not sit in on some Welsh singing. Male choirs are legendary and Dermott was really moved when he heard the Cardiff Arms Park Choir. He spoke to one of the choristers who has been attending Monday night practice for 44 years. He's missed just two nights in that time! Dermott tried to teach them 'I Love to Have a Beer with Duncan', but even the Cardiff Arms boys couldn't come close to Slim Dusty's version.
Related: South Wales
Driving around Wales.
The Bell at Skenfrith rooms range between around $190 and $380 a night.
Emirates has flights to London from:
- Perth $1835
- Melbourne and Adelaide $1838
- Sydney $1857
- Brisbane $1860
These fares are available only online to the first 100 people to book. Sales period and other conditions apply.
Prices correct at September 16, 2010.
For further information
Ph: 1300 303 777
The Bell at Skenfrith
Monmouthshire NP7 8UK
Ph: +44 1600 750 235
Visas: Visas are not required for Australians entering the UK for tourism for stays of less than six months. If you wish to work, you must obtain the appropriate two-year visa in advance.
Electricity: 220V with a three-point plug.
Time zone: GMT.
Currency: The British pound sterling.
International dialling code: +44.