Two-thousand and nineteen is the Year of Discovery in Wales, with visitors invited to explore the country and discover what makes it so uniquely Welsh. I was to experience my first taste of Cymru with a complimentary stay at voco™ St. David’s Hotel, and a tour around the city.
Voco™ St. David’s Hotel
St. David’s Hotel, originally a Rocco Forte Hotel, has been taken under the wing of Intercontinental Hotels’ newest brand voco™. A five-star hotel with a welcoming feel, this new launch is finding its feet among the upmarket hotelier brands in the UK.
Entering voco™ St. David’s Cardiff I felt at home straight away. After over two decades in operation, this hotel has some history behind it – just ask concierge John who has been with the hotel since its humble beginnings.
Day one was spent sipping tea on my balcony and relaxing in my comfortable room, before a bespoke facial in the Marine Spa, the hotel’s award winning spa facility.
voco™ St. David’s is an Eco-Friendly Hotel
Recently presented with a Gold Award by Visit Wales, voco™ St. David’s Cardiff is also taking an active approach in downsizing its environmental footprint. All cosmetic bottles are refillable dispensers, and all dry amenities (e.g. toothbrushes and razors) are biodegradable.
Guests are given reusable glass bottles of water instead of plastic, and even the bedding is eco-friendly, made from 100% recycled materials. The hotel is also partnered with Aveda, an eco-friendly beauty brand.
The Admiral Restaurant in voco™ St. David’s Hotel
The evening was spent being wined and dined in the Admiral, the eclectic restaurant in voco™ St. David’s Cardiff. The Admiral draws inspiration from the bold flavours of Asia-Pacific, while looking closer to home for the best of seasonal Welsh produce. The fall-off-the-bone glazed lamb shank was a favourite among our group, while I indulged in the chicken laksa, a dish bursting with flavour and spices.
A night full of great food and good cocktails, my bed was calling. As I slid underneath the plush duvet covers and feathered pillows, Cardiff city twinkled from the balcony, waiting to be explored tomorrow.
Cardiff Bay, once a derelict area after the slump of the coal industry, is now transformed into the trendy Mermaid Quay, thanks to a regeneration project in recent years. A man-made barrage was constructed which turned the open Welsh waters into an attractive lake now lined with chain restaurants.
The bay is dominated by the Millennium Centre, an impressive structure that adds a dash of cosmopolitan culture to the area. We are told that during the summer months, Cardiff Bay is lined with street theatre, food stalls, and live music.
Cardiff is also the birthplace of famous children’s author Roald Dahl. The BFG creator was baptised in a little chapel that sits nestled in Cardiff Bay, visible from voco™ St. David’s hotel. The church is now an arts centre and café, a must-visit for fans of the famed writer.
Cardiff City Centre
Known as the gateway to the heart of Wales, Cardiff is a city packed full of history, culture, and nightlife. Previously placing the top ten destinations in 2011 with National Geographic, Cardiff tourism has grown steadily in the last decade. Set on the banks of the River Taff and surrounded by acres of parkland, the city centre is packed with bustling bars, stylish eateries and lively shopping streets.
The city centre around Mill Lane, Caroline Street and St. Mary Street are the places to be for a pub crawl, popular with visiting stags and hens.
A night of cocktails in the high-end bar Lab22 was enough to solidify Cardiff as a hotspot for nightlife in my mind. We were led down a disconcerting lane to a shabby-looking door.
A buzzer was pressed and were given the word to enter through a muffled speaker, speakeasy-style. Looking at the walls signed by celebs who had graced the bar, I knew I was in the right place for a bespoke drink.
Often called the ‘Fifteen Minute City” as everything is within a quick stroll of each other, I found Cardiff a compact little city easily navigated. The city marries the historical with the new well, and fans of both will find plenty to see. Cardiff Castle is the best-known attraction, and was our first stop on our tour through the capital.
The compact city is clustered around the walled enclosure of the Gothic-style castle. The medieval fortress has an epic history dating back to the 11th century. It was a key landmark in the War of the Roses, the English Civil War and even a WWII bomb shelter.
While history buffs will drink up the past, younger generations will get a kick out of the castle, recognising it as the set of one of Britain’s most popular sci-fi dramas, Dr. Who.
The castle walls, fairytale towers and beautiful parklands attract thousands of visitors each month and are open for tours for €15 per person.
Loving Welsh Food
While the city centre is small, a great way to get your bearings and go off-the-beaten track is with a food tour around the city. Our full-day itinerary was packed with things to do thanks to Loving Welsh Food, a bespoke food and walking city tour. Perfect for tourists and locals alike, we were shown the rich history of Cardiff through its culinary delights.
Our bellies were filled with cockles and laverbread, and faggits and peas (a traditional Welsh offal-based dish), washed down with Welsh dark beer and sweet cider. Loving Welsh Food is a great way to do landmarks and lunch, while taking in all that Cardiff has to offer.
My last night in Cardiff ended in one of the best joints in the city, the Potted Pig. Situated at the southend of Bute Park, close to the castle, this restaurant is in a former bank vault with a small seasonal menu pulling from French and New York influences.
“Voco” is inspired by the latin word for inviting, a word that really sums up my stay in St. David’s and my time in Cardiff city. The people are friendly, the atmosphere is at ease, and the city is filled with a rich Welsh history and culture.
This year, being the Year of Discovery in Wales, is the perfect time to check out all this beautiful city has to offer. Just a quick flight from Ireland and accessible by a two-hour train from London, Cardiff is a great introductory destination to Cymru.
IHG Hotels offer meetweek rates at voco™ St David’s for £99 (€114) for a standard room. Book directly with www.vocohotels.com for a guaranteed best price. Being part of the IHG Rewards Club, guests can earn and burn points, knowing their loyalty with IHG doesn’t go unnoticed.
Flights to Cardiff are available via Dublin with Flybe Airlines from €99 return.