© Crown Copyright Cardiff Bay

Cardiff, the capital of Wales, offers visitors an intriguing glimpse into a colourful and rich history and a vibrant culture. Archaeological finds, discovered in and around the capital, date back to 6000 BC, providing evidence of settlements and include the St Lythan’s and Tinkinswood burial chambers, both built during the Neolithic period, the chambered tomb of Cae’rarfau, Creigiau, a dormitory settlement, the long barrow of Gwern y Cleppa and five Bronze Age tumuli.

I set off, with a spring in my step, bound for Cardiff Castle, which is located within verdant parklands in the city centre. Imposing Romanesque walls and beautiful towers beckon those who enter to explore two thousand years of history. Cardiff Castle dates back to 1081 when William the Conqueror, the first Norman king of England, began work on the castle keep within the walls of the third century Roman fort. During the Victorian era major alterations and extensions took place and were funded by the Scottish aristocrat and philanthropist John Patrick Crichton-Stuart, the 3rd Marquess of Bute. William Burges, the English architect and designer was engaged to undertake the enormous task. The Bute family were also responsible for the emergence of Cardiff as the world’s biggest coal exporting port and the castle remained in the family until 1947 when it was gifted to the city.

© Crown Copyright Cardiff Castle

As I approached the magnificent castle I paused to admire the castle’s clock, which was designed by Edward John Dent, who also designed the clock on Westminster’s Elizabeth Tower, fondly known as Big Ben, although this is in fact one of the clock’s bells.

Cardiff Castle’s interiors are simply glorious, featuring rich and colourful murals, glittering stained glass, intricate wood carvings, marble and gilding. Each room reflects a grand theme focusing on Mediterranean gardens, Italian and Arabian décor. I was mesmerised by the Arabian room’s wooden ceiling, which is covered in gold leaf and beautifully decorated. The dazzling stained glass windows feature crystal balls to encourage the reflection of sunlight onto the ceiling. Another outstanding room is the Banqueting Hall, which dates back to the 15th century and although the floors, ceiling and decoration are Victorian the spectacle is wonderful.

There is of course so much to explore and alas, the hours whizzed by and as evening approached I headed for the Marriott Hotel, located on Mill Lane, only a ten minute walk from the castle. Following a swift and efficient check-in I was escorted to a one-bedroom suite on a private access floor. Measuring 42sqm, the bedroom features an ultra comfortable super king size bed and the lounge presented a contemporary plump sofa, ideal for curling up in front of the huge television screen. Suite privileges include access to the executive lounge, which provides complimentary Hors d’oeuvres, soft drinks, hot beverages and canapés.

Marriott accommodation courtesy Mike Caldwell Photography Ltd

Feeling rather peckish I decided to head for the Brown’s, the hotel’s modern restaurant. I ordered the succulent lemon sole accompanied by glass of Vidal Sauvignon Blanc, which were served with aplomb.

Up with larks and following a hearty breakfast I hailed a taxi and headed for Llandaff Cathedral, another of Cardiff’s treasures. The cathedral dates back to 1120 and features a splendid sanctuary arch with medallions and the north and south doorways leading into the nave date back to the end of the twelfth century. In January 1941 a German parachute landmine destroyed the roof and south aisle. Post war restorations, repairs and refurbishment were celebrated in 1960 and the late Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip attended the service.

© Crown Copyright, Llandaff Cathedral, Llandaff, Cardiff

Among the many gems within the cathedral is the Seed of David, a fabulous triptych, created by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, which was completed in 1864. I must confess that I spent an inordinate amount of time bathing in the glow of this masterpiece. Another treat, which stirred my soul, was the exceptional performance of the Cathedral Choir. Recognised for their wonderful talent HM King Charles III and Queen Camilla attended a service, which was broadcast live world-wide.

With my insatiable thirst for art forms awakened I visited Cardiff’s National Museum, which presents a vast collection of treasures and includes historic and modern art, impressionist and applied art. The People, Personalities and Power: Faces from Wales (1800 – 2000) exhibition offers an insight into local people who have contributed to the cultural and economic life of Wales over the last two hundred years and it is absolutely riveting. I wandered around the section titled Art in the Netherlands (1500 – 1700) and spotted the masterpiece A Calm, created in 1654 by Jan van de Cappelle and I was hypnotized by the swirling hues of his ocean.

© Crown Copyright, National Museum Wales Cardiff South Wales

Emerging from the building and with my maritime connections aroused I decided to head for Cardiff Bay, once known as Tiger Bay. In the 1990’s Cardiff Bay Barrage was one of the largest civil engineering accomplishments in Europe and it lies across the mouth of the bay impounding the River Ely and the River Taff and creating a five hundred acre fresh-water lake with eight miles of waterfront.

Attractions around Cardiff Bay include the Senedd, which is the striking Welsh parliament building designed by Richard Rogers, the Wales Millennium Centre, which is the hub for national arts and Techniquest, a centre for science with more than a hundred interactive exhibits, which I have been reliably informed, is very popular with children.

Later, whilst relaxing in the Marriott, I decided to venture out and headed to the nearby St David’s shopping centre for a spot of retail therapy. Weighed down with bags and with my appetite raging I spotted The Ivy. I was escorted to a table and ordered the delicious lobster linguine accompanied by a glass of Chablis and I held my glass aloft and made a toast to this captivating city and to another of the city’s treasures; Dame Shirley Bassey, who was born in Cardiff and who rose from humble beginnings to conquer the music industry with her exquisite voice and exuberant performances. Her story was captured in David Arnold’s song ‘The Girl from Tiger Bay’ and the lyrics ‘There’s no denying who I am. Forever young, I will stay, the girl from Tiger Bay’.

Feature by Rebecca Underwood

Images, excluding accommodation, provided by Visit Wales