Wales has given itself a shiny new label in its drive to attract visitors this summer: "the home of proper holidays".
That doesn't seem an altogether unrealistic motto. After all, there can't be many people seeking sun, sand and an all-inclusive hotel buffet who see St David's as their dream destination.
Wales has always done "proper holidays" well, if that means walking over wild hills, rock-pooling, taking a dip in the surf or checking in for a weekend of pampering in a gastro-bolthole. The surprise is that it has taken the country so long to play to its strengths.
But holidaying in Wales doesn't have to mean revisiting old haunts. Whether you're a convert or a regular, there are plenty of interesting new places to stay, visit and eat in the Principality this summer.
With accommodation, self-catering is the way to go. The ethical accommodation provider Under the Thatch (underthethatch.co.uk), which specialises in character properties renovated and managed in a sustainable way, has opened four new properties in Wales this year. One of the best is Ysgubor Llwyn-y-Ffynnon (try saying that after a pint of Dragon's Breath beer). Set outside Machynlleth, in Powys, and sleeping six, it's a stylish barn conversion costing from £245 for a two-night stay.
Alternatively, take your pick from several upmarket Welsh holiday cottages marketed by new rental company Sheepskinlife (sheepskinlife .com). The ethos here involves giving guests a good dollop of honesty, as well as comfort, so there shouldn't be any unwelcome surprises. One of its cosiest properties is Cider House, outside Abergavenny in Monmouthshire. Sleeping just two, it's decorated in a modern rustic style and comes with access to a gorgeous garden in summer and a wood-burning stove for chillier nights. Rentals start from £285 for three nights.
If you are looking for sustenance, you're in luck. This year, the Michelin Guide served up four stars for culinary excellence in Wales, the most it has given since 2003. These were awarded to: The Crown at Whitebrook (crown atwhitebrook.co.uk) in Monmouth; The Walnut Tree (thewalnut treeinn.com) near Abergavenny; Tyddyn Llan (tyddynllan.co.uk) at Llandrillo and Ynyshir Hall (ynyshirhall. co.uk) near Machynlleth.
You could just muck in yourself and improve your kitchen credentials by booking a course at Welsh chef and food writer Angela Gray's new food school (angelagray.co.uk). Cooking With Angela Gray courses take place in three historic locations in renowned food-producing areas (Slebech Park, Pembrokeshire; Fonmon Castle, Vale of Glamorgan; Ffin y Parc, North Wales). Visiting gourmands can learn everything from how to shuck an oyster or cook the perfect steak to extending their supper repertoire. Prices start at £60 for a five-hour course.
There are plenty of new ways to work burn off energy. Go Ape! (goape.co.uk) has opened two new attractions – one in Pembrey, in Dyfed, and one at Coed y Brenin, in Snowdonia. The first has a parkland setting and offers easy access to one of the cleanest beaches in Wales, Cefn Sidan, as well as 731 metres of high-wire crossings on the site of a former munitions factory. The second is set high in a forest, with a 140-metre zipline for the adventurous to navigate. Entrance costs £20 for 10- to 17-year-olds or £30 for adults.
City breakers in search of adventure needn't miss out, though. Cardiff International White Water (ciww.com) is a new watersports attraction in Cardiff Bay, offering on-demand white-water experiences as well as canoeing and gorge scrambling. Prices start from around £35 per person for half a day.
Gentler distraction is on offer in Snowdonia, where the Welsh Highland Railway (welshhighlandrailway.net) has recently been extended to Pont Croesor. Viewing carriages with panoramic windows maximise wildlife-spotting possibilities and the track runs through an RSPB reserve, where, if you're lucky, you might even spot osprey. Return tickets from Caernarfon to Pont Croesor cost £28 per adult and £14 per child (under-threes free).
Or, strap on your walking boots and try one of several new stretches of coastal footpath opening this summer (walking.visitwales.com). These include Gronant Dunes to Prestatyn in Clywd, Rest Bay to Ffynnon-Wen in Glamorgan or Pendine in Carmarthenshire. By the summer of 2012, you will be able to hike the entire Welsh coastline along a series of linked paths. Now, that would be a proper holiday....
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