For a small country, Wales manages to cram quite a bit in. We're not just talking about our mountains, valleys and beaches. Whether you're after culture, exercise, adventure or peace and quiet, they're all here. Wales is the friendly green hilly bit on the western side of Britain. We're about 3 hours west of London by rail or by road.
It might not take you long to get here, but you'll find that Wales is a very different place. First there's our language: it's one of the oldest in Europe, spoken fluently by about one in five of the population. Although we all speak English as well, Welsh is a thriving mainstay of our way of life.
Then there's the landscape. The facts and figures might lead you to believe that Wales is small – it covers an area of around 8,000 square miles (or 20,800 square kilometres). But if you could roll it out flat, we bet it would be bigger than Texas.
We've got 3 National Parks and 5 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, all part of a landscape that offers opportunities for all kinds of activities. Walking, cycling, climbing, golf, mountain biking and paragliding are just the beginning of the list.
Our population currently stands at around 3 million people, so there's plenty of room. Famous sons and daughters of Wales you will have heard of include Richard Burton, Sir Tom Jones, Sir Anthony Hopkins and Catherine Zeta-Jones. And lots of other people have been tracing their Welsh ancestry recently - including Tom Cruise, Susan Sarandon, Russell Crowe and Kylie Minogue.
We've also got lots and lots of castles (over 400 at the last count), the Welsh National Opera (one of the world's premier Opera Companies), the largest single-span glasshouse in the world (at the National Botanic Garden of Wales), and a cool flag with a Red Dragon on it.
Our capital city is Cardiff. The Romans had a fortress here in the first Century AD, but Cardiff's a lively youngster really. It was officially designated as capital in 1955, and it's home to a large concentration of media and creative types, turning out award- winning productions like the current incarnation of the legendary Dr Who series.
Rhossili Bay in Swansea has the 7th most photographed sunset in the world. It's the British supermodel of beaches'. Picturesque Mumbles village and pier nearby take a great photo too. And Gower Peninsula was Britain's very first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Make sure you bring a spare film.
The wide sandy beaches at Langland, Caswell and Limeslade are popular with swimmers and tourists with children, whereas the wide and calm waters of Swansea Bay tend to attract the water-sport enthusiast. Coastal paths connect most of the Gower bays and Swansea Bay itself, and can attract hikers to the countryside views throughout the year. Although little known on the tourist map, north from Swansea has some outstanding countryside, with panoramas of mountains. A popular tourist destinations in the county, the former fishing village of Mumbles (located on the western edge of Swansea Bay) has a variety restaurants and coffee shops.
One of the prime attractions is the Waterfront. Swansea Bay has a five mile sweep of coastline which features a sandy beach, a popular promenade, children's lido, leisure pool, a busy marina and maritime quarter, featuring the newest and oldest museums in Wales - the National Waterfront Museum and Swansea Museum, as well as a variety of cafes. Also situated in the maritime quarter is the Dylan Thomas Centre which celebrates the life and work of him with its permanent exhibition 'Dylan Thomas - Man and Myth'. It is also the focal point for the annual Dylan Thomas Festival (27 October - 9 November). The SA1 Waterfront area is the latest development for living, dining and leisure.
Swansea Bay, Mumbles and Gower are home to parks and gardens and almost 20 nature reserves. Clyne Gardens is home to a varied collection of plants set in parkland and host to 'Clyne in Bloom' in May where. Singleton Park has acres of parkland, a botanical garden, a boating lake with pedal boats, and crazy golf. Plantasia, a tropical hothouse pyramid featuring three climatic zones, houses a variety of unusual plants, including several species which are extinct in the wild - the monkeys, reptiles, fish and butterfly house are also very popular. Other parks include Cwmdonkin Park, where Dylan Thomas played as a child, and Victoria Park which is a stone's throw from the promenade on the seafront.
With its seaside location and varied inland geography, Swansea makes a suitable destination for a range of outdoor activities like swimming, sailing, water skiing, surfing, sea angling, canoeing, rowing, and hiking.
Part of the Celtic Trail and the National Cycle Network, Swansea Bay provides a range of traffic-free cycle routes suitable for families, including routes along the seafront and through Clyne Country Park. Swansea Bay, Mumbles and Gower has a selection of golf courses to suit all abilities. Swansea also attracts enthusisasts of surfing, windsurfing, kitesurfing and kite buggying, as well as sailing, canoeing or waterskiing. Swansea Bay is also an ideal location for all types of fishing including sea, rock and coarse fishing.
Oxwich Bay on the Gower Peninsula was named the most beautiful beach in the UK by travel writers who visited more than 1,000 around the world in search of the perfect sands. The Travel Magazine praised Oxwich for "magnificent and unspoilt" scenery and as a "great place for adults and children to explore". It boasts over three miles of soft, golden sands, making it the ideal family getaway. Not surprisingly, The Guardian voted it one of Britain's top 10 sandy beaches (2007).
The Independent newspaper hailed Rhossili Bay as the British supermodel of beaches (2006) and the best beach in Britain for breathtaking cliffs (2007), whilst The Sunday Times listed it as one of the 25 best beaches in the world (2006). Thanks to its clear air and lovely golden sand, this romantic stretch of sand was voted the best place in the UK to watch the sun set (Country Living Magazine 2005) and one the top romantic spots in the country (The Guardian 2007).
Nearby Llangennith Beach, with its soft sands, consistent beach break and great facilities, was listed as the best place to learn how to surf in Britain by The Observer (2006) and one of the 10 'classic surfing beaches by The Guardian (2007). Gower also claims Britain's Best Beach in the shape of lovely Three Cliffs Bay. The Gower landmark topped the BBC Holiday Hit Squad nationwide competition (2006) and was voted Britain's best camping beach by The Independent thanks to its superb setting and quiet location (2007). Three Cliffs Bay also made the final of the ITV series Britain's Favourite View - the only nomination in Wales and backed by singing sensation Katherine Jenkins!
Nearby Brandy Cove came sixth in an online poll to find the UK's top beach for the baby boomer generation (2006).
Beaches which won Blue Flag Beach Awards are: Bracelet Bay, Caswell Bay, Langland Bay, Port Eynon Bay and Swansea Marina (one of the few Blue Flag Marinas in Wales). All of these beaches also won a Seaside Award 2006. Limeslade was awarded the Rural Seaside Award and the Green Coast Award. Other Green Coast Awards went to Pwll Du, Rhossili Bay and Tor Bay.