Fix your Sat-nav on Swansea and the Gower peninsula – you won't be disappointed
South Wales. I am afraid I owe you an apology.
I've neglected you for the best part of 46 years and I'm not quite sure why.
Yes, I have travelled abroad for holidays but I love a staycation too and enjoy exploring different scenic parts of the UK.
Wales is no exception to that and I've had memorable holidays over the years, including this summer in Aberdyfi.
And, yet, for some reason, my sat-nav or own sense of adventure has not steered me in the direction of south Wales and, after this trip, I am at a loss to explain just why.
We checked into Delta Hotels by Marriott Swansea, which had views across Swansea Bay and the Maritime Quarter, for a two-night stay with breakfast.
In the summer, it must be a real sight to see the sun glistening off the water in the harbour, filled with moored boats.
But, even in the autumn, it was lovely to be in a hotel where, next to the car park, you had a full picture of the sea – a walk along the coast, even in the most bracing of weather is good for the mind.
Staff at the hotel were warm and welcoming on arrival and remained so throughout our stay, including in the restaurant, where all were happy to help and engage in conversation.
We enjoyed a meal in the hotel's Cast Iron Bar and Grill on our first evening andafter a journey where we were caught in rush hour traffic, it provided the perfect greeting to Swansea.
I plumped for a starter of brisket of beef in a Yorkshire Pudding. The beef melted in your mouth and there was a delightful tinge of horseradish which came through with every mouthful. It gave me a strange feeling at the end of it of being slightly full but also wanting more.
My partner, Amy, chose crispy squid rings which were served with appetising cubes of chorizo, and a light, mint mayonnaise dip to accompany it. It was highly enjoyable, and she wished it was the main course so it was bigger.
For my main, I opted for the Cast Iron burger which was served with crispy bacon, Cheddar cheese, a smoky chipotle sauce and fries. I say I opted for it but, actually, my daughter Eleanor did.
However, such was its size, she felt daunted and decided she'd prefer my choice – rigatoni primavera, with leek, asparagus, peas, crème fraîche and butternut squash.
Though sad to miss out on my pasta choice, we both nodded our heads in approval over our meals. My partner chose the Chalkstream trout fishcake, which came sat on a bed of spinach mixed with parsley and lemon and topped with a runny poached egg – a classic flavour combination done well.
For our dessert, I opted for a lemon brulee tart, served with raspberries and this was nice and light – the perfect finale to the evening. Amy and Eleanor, meanwhile, shared a chocolate brownie – including honeycomb, hot chocolate sauce and Jude's vanilla ice cream.
It was everything you want from a brownie, with the perfect ratio of gooiness to chocolatey crumbliness.
Fresh from a delightful breakfast – there are plenty of choices to suit your needs in the hotel – we spent our first morning exploring the Gower Peninsula – the UK’s first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
We took a trip to Rhossili Bay, which has made the top four of Britain’s Best Beaches for four years running and it was easy to see why.
The National Trust car park was filled with eager surfers, unfazed by the cold and wet weather, as they headed down to the beach for their morning's exercise.
We were greeted by a stunning sight – a panoramic view of Rhossili Bay and Worms Head Island – giving us all the chance to escape from life's daily grind.
We headed down to the beach, around the winding path, surrounded by ferns, all coloured in a delicious autumn brown, to take a stroll along the beach.
Before departure, we also paid a visit to the National Trust Shop and Visitor Centre, which is housed in former Coastguard buildings, which date back to the 1930s. This offered some lovely gifts, including some perfect stocking fillers for Christmas – and some dry socks for Eleanor, who'd been enjoying the sea a bit too much!
After a good walk along the beach, we head away from the bay for lunch at The King Arthur Hotel.
We were greeted by an army of sheep just before we arrive at the car park and one or two seemed reluctant to make way, clearly in a chilled-out and relaxed mood.
It was easy to see why they were relaxed because it's the kind of place where you'd want to go about your own leisurely pace, surrounded by scenic views.
Sat in the pub, looking out of the window, it gave a real picture of being out in the open, with beauty around you and, with a wedding reception going on, you could understand why people would choose to spend their special day at such a place.
For food, I chose a sandwich of Welsh Dragon mature cheddar with Branston pickle. This was served with chips – which were a real crowd-pleaser – and salad.
Eleanor had a cheeseburger from the children's menu, which offered a wide selection of meals including pork and leek sausage, scampi and chips, lasagne and chicken nuggets.
Amy picked a ploughman's lunch, with larger slabs of the Welsh Dragon cheese which we shared out among ourselves so we could all enjoy a sample.
After lunch, we took a stroll to the top to see Arthur’s Stone. Myth has it, that King Arthur took a pebble from his shoe and threw it from Carmarthenshire – it landed on Cefn Bryn as a large 25-ton capstone. Sadly, it was an all too brief visit, as our afternoon was to be spent in the delightful Mumbles where we explored Oystermouth Castle, which sits majestically on the hill, with views overlooking Swansea Bay.
It was Halloween, and the Friends of Oystermouth Castle – a lovely group of volunteers who care for the castle – really embraced it. When we arrived a volunteer dressed as the ghostly spectre of the castle's former inhabitant, Alina de Mowbray (who is rumoured to haunt the site), chased excitable children around the grounds trying to scare them, while the other volunteers also got into the Halloween spirit.
Little passageways and rooms were all decorated in spooky detail and were lucky enough to walk around with volunteers to get a bigger picture of the castle.
It really was a joy listening to their unbridled passion for the Castle and, as they said, you can discover something new every day.
The castle, for example, boasts ancient graffiti art from the 14th century and a medieval maze of deep vaults and secret staircases.
We then spent some time getting to know Mumbles and particularly enjoyable was our walk to the Victorian Pier, which, as the sun went down and darkness descended, really did give a further sense of the beauty of the place.
The bay lit up and so did Verdi’s Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlour, where were head for an evening meal and, of course, a try of their renowned ice cream.
This was a pleasant dining experience, with nice lighting inside, big open windows to allow you to look out over the sea and excellent service.
A choice of pizzas was available, all of which proved tempting, but we were all in a pasta mood (I'd missed out the night before, as said!).
My choice of Tagliatelle Alfredo – ham and mushroom in a creamy white wine sauce – was full of flavour with the texture of the sauce perfect.
Eleanor, meanwhile, opted for the tried and trusted Spaghetti Bolognese and seemed to savour every mouthful. It got her thumbs up which, as a pasta-obsessed child, is no easy thing. My partner plumped for the Penne all' Arrabbitata, which had a spicier tomato sauce which was tempered by the delicious mozzarella.
The meal was rounded off with a sample of Verdi's famous ice creams – the great end to a lovely day as we retired back to our room at the Marriott.
After a hearty breakfast the following morning, we were prepared for a busy day of activities.
We arrived at The Climbing Hangar for an introduction to bouldering.
Not one for heights, I have to say I approached this with trepidation but instructor Kieron welcomed us and talked us through the safety aspects of it before introducing us to all manner of walls with coloured grips to suit various difficulties.
This was the first time any of us had done it and it was really great fun. One of the best things about bouldering was how easy it was to get going.
There's a brilliant vibe about the place. You get the sense that all the climbers, whether experienced and on the top of their game, or novices like us, are supportive of each other.
We were all nervous on our first attempt but once left to our own devices, confidence started to grow and, by the end, we had all improved significantly. We'd never done bouldering before but all agreed we'd definitely do it again.
Following our activity, we stepped into a living rainforest at Plantasia Tropical Zoo where Eleanor was given the chance to enjoy a VIP Zoo Keeper experience in the company of resident keeper Melissa.
"Would you like to hold a snake?" was among the questions we were asked.
'YES!' was the surprisingly resounding, enthusiastic and excited response from Eleanor.
I was a little more cautious - after all, even an action man like Indiana Jones was scared of snakes right?
A corn snake called Lasagne was brought to us and it was actually a brilliant experience to hold him.
Melissa was great company as we walked around the experience, looking after everyone's favourite meerkats, a parrot, some adorable marmosets, Egyptian Tortoises and all. Our host was very knowledgeable, answering all of our questions about the animals, her passion and love for the animals really shining through.
One of the excellent things about Plantasia was that many of the animals had been rescued from the exotic pet trade.
After a brilliant time feeding the animals, we enjoyed lunch at Plantasia’s Canopy Café, all plumping for toasted sandwiches.
Our time in south Wales was coming to an end but after the tropical heat of Plantasia we had time to cool off at The LC Waterpark.
This wasn't your regular pool dip as waves greeted our entry into the pool.
The joy on Eleanor's face was a real picture as we enjoyed a session in the wave pool and got drenched in splash areas, while children were enjoying zooming down the water slides.
It wasn't a relaxing dip in the pool to end the trip but it was a great deal of fun.
With that, our sat-nav was fixed on a return to the Midlands but we plan to be keying in SA1 very soon.
Things to do:
Places to stay and eat: