Day 1 - Morning: Swansea
Let’s begin our tour of the west in its ‘capital’ city, Swansea. There’s plenty to do for families – Plantasia’s gigantic tropical greenhouse and the excellent LC indoor waterpark are especially popular. And you have to visit Swansea Market, the biggest covered market in Wales, and arguably the best. Get a bag of local cockles, douse them in vinegar and pepper, and eat them with a cocktail stick while browsing the fish and meat stalls (but don’t make the schoolboy error of poking a hole in the bag, or you’ll get a vinegary hand).
Drive out along the coast for lunch at Mumbles, a former fishing village that now has the area’s best concentration of classy eateries and boutiques. The ‘Mumbles’ themselves are large conical rocks, jutting out from the headland (their name means ‘breast-shaped’, for which you can thank our naughty Celtic ancestors).
When you round the headland, you’re on Gower itself, where the great beaches begin immediately with Langland and Caswell. It’s a bit of a walk (or horse-ride) down to the beach at Three Cliffs, but it’s one of the loveliest, and most photographed, in Wales. Right at the tip of Gower is another children’s favourite, Rhossili, which has its own shipwreck and, at low tide, a superb walk out to the jagged promontory of Worm’s Head. For more information on the Gower, see Visit Swansea Bay.
Day 2 - Morning: Millennium Coastal Park
Llanelli used to be the tinplating capital of the world. That’s all very well, but back then the coastline was dominated by smoke-belching factories. They’ve long gone, and been replaced by one of the best examples of coastal regeneration anywhere, the Millennium Coastal Park. You can hire bikes and ride the 12-mile cycle path, which has the National Wetland Centre at one end, and the Pembrey Country Park at the other. Here, there’s a ski slope, giant adventure playground, horse-riding, and the eight-mile Cefn Sidan beach.
Afternoon: Towy Valley
Head for Carmarthen, and then follow the Towy Valley upstream. This is classic farming country, a broad valley sculpted by one of Wales’ loveliest rivers, the surrounded hilltops punctuated by castles and follies. So where do you fancy going? The National Botanic Garden is a great place to stop – children love the giant glasshouse and family trails – but then so is the ‘lost’ garden of Aberglasney.
Then there are the castles: Dryswlyn, Dinefwr and mighty Carreg Cennen, each of which is a superb place to go off exploring. Stop for the night at Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire’s most chi-chi market town, with plenty of places to shop, eat and stay.
Day 3 - Morning: Oakwood and Folly Farm
Narberth is another classy market town with a strong foodie, arty feel. It’s also close to two of Pembrokeshire’s most popular family attractions: Oakwood, a full-on theme park with properly scary rides, and Folly Farm, which has lots of cuddlesome domestic animals, along with beasts you wouldn’t expect to see roaming the Welsh countryside, like giraffes and lemurs.
Everyone loves Tenby, a medieval walled town with fabulous beaches and an impossibly perfect harbour. The joy of Tenby is that it covers every seaside experience. Kiss-me-quick hats and amusement arcades? It’s got them. But it’s also got sophisticated restaurants, art galleries galore, and plenty of space on its big beaches. One of our favourite things to do here is one of the simplest: take a fishing trip from the harbour, catch a bucketload of mackerel, and cook them on the barbie. Squeeze of lemon, job done. Perfect. Visit Pembrokeshire for more information about Tenby.
Day 4 - Morning: Ramsey Island
St Davids is the smallest but most perfectly formed city in Britain, with a lovely cathedral, and some great places to eat. But adventurous youngsters may be itching to get down to the coast for a fast-boat ride around Ramsey Island. It’s a thrilling high-speed trip, especially if the tides are running over the reef known ominously as the Bitches. There are gentler moments, though, ambling around the sea-caves on the island’s far side, and saying hello to the seals.
Coasteering was invented in Pembrokeshire, and it’s still the best place on earth to try this hair-raising sport that involves scrambling among the waves at the foot of the cliffs and leaping off ledges into the pools below. It’s very much a family affair, though, being suitable for anyone over the age of eight, as long as you’re all fairly confident in the water, and you certainly don’t have to do the bigger jumps (unless your children taunt you into it).
For your final night, head up to the quietly classy village of Newport. It’s such an unspoilt and understated place, it’s not immediately obvious why it’s so popular with well-heeled Home Counties families and the Welsh-speaking posh. But when you’re supping a drink at the Boat Club, your children competing in its legendary crabbing competitions, watching the sun go down, the realisation dawns: this is very special place indeed.