Wales is currently in lockdown (level 4). As of January 18, 2021, all arrivals into Wales from outside the Common Travel Area (England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Ireland, the Channel Islands, and the Isle of Man) are required to isolate for 10 days. Those arriving from red list country (see list here) will not be allowed to enter Wales directly without first arriving in England or Scotland and then quarantining at a hotel for 10 days. Take note of any border restrictions in your home country for your return prior to any travel. Please note that this blog post serves as a reference for travel later in the future. Nonessential international travel is not recommended at this time.
I cannot tell you how excited I was at the prospect of getting to visit Wales. Located east of England, most people recognize “Wales” when it comes to Princess Diana’s title as Princess of Wales. Wales has a lot of royal history attached to it, filled with proud Welsh residents who love their beautiful and abundantly green country. Together with Visit Britain and Visit California in a “royal influencer exchange”, I got to explore some of these royal connections for our weekend in Wales in a lead-up to the royal wedding.
Wales had been on our bucket list for a while. It’s a country that not many talk much about, and not many bloggers have ventured out to it. One reason why I do what I do is to bring people to some places they may not have thought about visiting before (Iceland and Finland are prime examples), so when the opportunity came up to visit Wales, we leaped for joy. I’ve been reading about the royal history of Wales for years and now this was my chance to finally put everything I’ve read about into perspective. With the capital Cardiff being only a 2 hour drive from Heathrow, we hopped into our rental car from Hertz and off we went on our 4-day weekend in Wales.
A Brief History
Before we discuss our adventure-packed weekend in Wales, here’s a brief history lesson about the country and their somewhat tumultuous history with royalty. In 1057, Gruffydd ap Llywelyn united the whole of Wales from several kingdoms, becoming the first King of Wales. Over 160 years later in 1218, Llywelyn the Great signed the Treaty of Worcester with Henry III of England, officially creating the Principality of Wales and making it de facto independent. However, this independence ended in 1283, when Edward I of England invaded Wales, annexed it, and brutally executed Dafydd ap Gruffydd, the last ruler of Wales. Less than 20 years later, Edward I bestowed the title “Prince of Wales” upon the heir apparent to the English throne, with the title merging with the crown upon the heir apparent’s ascension, thus the territory of Wales always remaining under English control with an English prince. For centuries, and especially during the Plantagenet and Tudor years, the “English” Prince of Wales typically took up residence at Ludlow Castle in eastern Wales at the age of 2 until their coronation as King of England. Although, before his divorce with his first wife Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII made an exception by having his eldest, and at the time his only child, Princess Mary reside at Ludlow Castle beginning when she was a young girl until she was stripped of her title of Princess. Wales is famously connected to the Tudor dynasty. Owen Tudor, who descends from a powerful Welsh family, fell in love with and married Catherine of Valois, the dowager Queen of England and widow of King Henry V. Together they had two sons, with their eldest son Edmund Tudor marrying Margaret Beaufort. Margaret would later gave birth to their only child – the future Henry VII of England (Henry VIII’s father) and thus the first Tudor king (although it took the events of the decades-long Wars of the Roses to put Henry VII on the throne). In modern years, the Prince of Wales has no constitutional meaning and has no active role in Welsh government, but the title is still bestowed upon the heir apparent of the monarch. Naturally, there are those who still seek Welsh independence and wish to abolish the title “Prince of Wales” altogether.
Our first stop on our weekend in Wales was Cardiff. Located in southern Wales, it’s the bustling capital city that is filled with people, pubs, castles, and a few luxury hotels. We had the pleasure of staying at the only 5-star hotel in the city – The Principal St. David. It towers over Cardiff Bay, giving guests a panoramic view of the city and beyond from it’s sky high floors. For our first night, we dined downstairs at the Admiral St. David restaurant. It was quick to notice that the restaurant (and hotel!) is very popular with locals looking for a weekend escape in the city. After dining on some delicious shrimp and sea bass, we took in one last sunset view of the city on our private terraces before falling asleep in our cozy bed.
The next morning, after a hearty breakfast downstairs in the dining room where the sun began to make her debut, we got ready for our first day of exploring Wales. Our first stop? A little village called St. Fagans. Only about 10 minutes from Cardiff city center, we drove our Hertz car to the village and stopped at a picturesque chapel. The chapel ended up being across the street from St. Fagans Castle, an Elizabethan manor that is now home to the Museum of Wales. Feeling in the mood for a castle visit, we hopped back in the car and drove back towards Cardiff to explore the famous Cardiff Castle.
This was one castle I had been anxious to visit. As someone who has been passionately reading about the Wars of the Roses, I felt a bit giddy to see it in person. If you have seen The White Queen, you may recognize these names. This castle used to belong to the Beauchamp family. Anne Beauchamp was the daughter of Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick. When Richard and his son (as well as his son’s daughter) died, his daughter Anne’s husband Richard Neville became the new Earl of Warwick and so the castle was also passed to him through his marriage to Anne.
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Richard Neville and Anne had two daughters – Isabel and Anne Neville. When Richard Neville was killed in the Wars of the Roses at Barnet, his eldest daughter Isabel inherited the castle and title, with her husband George, Duke of Clarence (brother to King Edward IV of England) taking possession of them both through marriage. After Isabel died in childbirth and her husband the Duke of Clarence was executed for treason, the castle was passed to Isabel’s younger sister Anne.
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Anne was married to Richard, Duke of Gloucester (youngest brother of King Edward IV) and so he became the new owner of Cardiff Castle. For those who don’t know, Richard went on to become the infamous King Richard III, with Anne Neville his queen. After Anne died of illness and Richard was killed by the future King Henry VII in the final battle of the Wars of the Roses, the new king Henry VII bestowed the castle upon his uncle Jasper Tudor. After Jasper died, Henry VII then bestowed Cardiff Castle to his second son – little Prince Henry, Duke of York – the future King Henry VIII of England.
After wandering the historic grounds of Cardiff Castle, it was time for us to continue our weekend in Wales in Abergavenny. After checking in at the Angel Hotel, we popped in next door to famous milliner Alison Tod. I absolutely adore fascinators and couture hats, and with the royal wedding being just a week away from our visit, we got to speak to Alison about her process for designing hats for a few royal wedding guests. While she couldn’t reveal the names of the guests she was designing for, she hinted with a smile that they were close to Prince Harry. She had also previously designed hats for guests attending the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. Now I am wishing she could have designed hats for my guests at my own wedding two years ago! We got to play around in her shop with some of her most iconic and most elaborately couture headpieces, which pleased my inner fashionista’s heart. If I could have an excuse to wear a gorgeous couture hat every day, I’d definitely find one.
When our shop visit came to an end, we popped back next door at our hotel for The Angel Hotel’s famous afternoon tea. They were kind enough to give us a spot by the fireplace as we indulged in their award-winning tea. For those who don’t already know, I am actually not a massive tea drinker or a big tea fan, despite me having an obsession with attending afternoon tea (I usually drink hot cocoa since I am allergic to coffee). But our wonderful hostess kept wanting me to try different teas from their award-winning collection, which I happily obliged. To my surprise, I loved them! I actually tried some of Tor’s and ended up ordering more of his for myself. That’s how good the tea was! We tried not to fill up too much on the incredible food, since we had a dinner reservation at the hotel’s restaurant The Oak Room shortly. But while we were both enjoying tea and dinner, we noticed a lot of people around us speaking Welsh, which made us realize that these spots were also extremely popular with locals as well as tourists. Because we travel so often, it’s so nice to be surrounded by locals as it truly validates a place we visit, in our opinion.