Wales's pumping free party, festival and music scenes . Mid and west Wales, in particular, positively hum between spring and autumn with music and creativity in fields and barns, on mountain sides, beaches and farms. To a punter more used to the urban clubbing of Birmingham, dancing alfresco through the dawn with people aged anything between two and 62 is an exhilarating treat. It's all part of a grassroots upswing in Welsh cultural confidence.
MOST AWESOME CASTLE
My top discovery here was the dramatic (and native Welsh, unlike so many foreboding fortresses hereabouts) Carreg Cennen Castle, high on a crag on the cusp between the lush Tywi valley and the stark Black Mountain in Carmarthenshire. Its position is awesome, and the dark passage that (with aid of a torch) you can explore into the heart of the hill is thrilling in a way that sanitised tourist attractions are rarely allowed to be these days.
I can't ignore the sublime Druidstone Hotel in glorious isolation on the cliffs above the sunset-facing yawn of beach at Druidston Haven, due west of Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire. If you're more concerned about having an en suite shower unit and everything served in HandiWrap sachets, don't bother. If, however, your idea of a good break is chilling out in one of the most beautiful parts of Britain, among an eclectic crowd of fellow travellers, there's nowhere better. From the airy, individualistic rooms to the cellar bar spilling out on to the cliffs, the assortment of self- catering annexes (including a clifftop, electricity-free circular croquet pavilion) to the music and theatre weekends, this is the kind of find that makes travelling so exciting. Owner Jane Bell was born in the place and her love for it infuses every stone.
Welsh cuisine is on a real roll, and there are some exceptional eateries besides (please note, London foodies) the overhyped Plas Bodegroes at Pwllheli or Abergavenny's Walnut Tree Inn. Runners-up for sublime Welsh specialities were Hillcrest House Hotel in the Mumbles, near Swansea, and Blas ar Gymru (Taste of Wales) in Cardiff. The best, however, was in the little town of Newport (Trefdraeth), Pembrokeshire. The owners of the Cnapan Country House scour the hills, beaches and local markets for herbs and fresh ingredients for their stunning creations.
Travelling with my (then) boyfriend, we were surprised to find ourselves the only guests in a Hitchcockesque hotel in mid-Wales. The place was run by an elderly couple and their fortysomething spinster daughter, who they were desperate to marry off. Two young (if hopelessly confirmed) bachelors appeared and the maiden was laced into a faded pink frock and thrown at us like a Roman sacrifice. We got talking about our favourite books on Wales. I volunteered Jan Morris's The Matter of Wales. "I started reading that," she confided. "But then someone told me that she used to be a he, so I stopped. That's weird."
Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch is the epitome of naffness. It's a made up name (only the first 20 letters are authentic), confected to draw in bog-brained visitors. Basically a railway halt in a little Anglesey town, the addition of a Pringle sweater shop and a tourist office in the car park only succeed in making it even more grim and desperate.
I was travelling with a (different) boyfriend in north Wales, when we passed through the village of Llanystumdwy, the home of David Lloyd George. Now the house is the Lloyd George Museum. "Why do they want a museum to Lloyd George?" asks boyfriend, with furrowed brow. "Well he was pretty important," I reply. "Lloyd George?" he returns. "Important? As in Lloyd George and the Commotions?" We didn't last much longer.
The one that always thrills me is Croeso I Gymru on the signs as I cross the border. Soon after, I get a secondary spine shiver at the sight of the first Teleffon box.
Mike Parker did research for 'The Rough Guide to Wales'. Keep up with the latest developments in travel by subscribing to the free newsletter 'Rough News', published three times yearly. Write to Rough Guides, IoS offer, 1 Mercer Street, London WC2H 9QJ. A free Rough Guide to the first three subscribers each week.
How to get there
Hotels and restaurants
Druidston Hotel (tel: 01437 781221), Druidstone Haven, Pembs; rooms start at pounds 30.
Hillcrest House Hotel (tel: 01792 363700), Higher Lane, the Mumbles, Swansea.
Blas ar Gymru (tel: O1222 382132), 48 Crwys Road, Cathays, Cardiff.
Cnapan Country House (tel: 01239 820575), East Street, Newport, Pembs.
What to see
The Lloyd George Museum, Llanystumdwy, near Criccieth, open from Easter until October.
Carreg Cennen Castle is open daily near the village of Trap, four miles SE of Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire.
The Welsh Tourist Board can be contacted at WTB, Dept WM1, Davis Street, Cardiff CFl 2FU (tel: 0122 247 5226).