Where can you watch quaver-perfect choirs compete at Europe’s biggest music and poetry festival, explore a stunning 870-mile coast along a single footpath, or find the talent and support to build a creative business with global reach?
Croeso i Gymru. Welcome to Wales.
It’s a legendarily warm welcome. Whenever Wales features in travel-writers’ round-ups of the hottest destinations (and a few years ago, one even described our coastline as “the best region on earth to visit”) our hospitality is praised as much as our beautiful landscape. For those who stay longer, there’s the chance to enjoy an enviable work-life balance, in a strong community with inexhaustible options to fill up leisure time.
Wales is a proud nation. We’re both part of the United Kingdom and a country in our own right, with a devolved government and a National Assembly that passes our own laws. Around 3.1 million people live here, in a land of amazing geographical diversity. Around a quarter of Wales, from the mountains to the sea, is designated a National Park or an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Creativity is at the heart of Welsh life. Writers and musicians are the first people to get a name-check in the lyrics of our national anthem. In turn, they’ve carried the name of Wales far and wide. We might mention Dylan Thomas, Roald Dahl and Jan Morris – or Shirley Bassey, Bryn Terfel, Rebecca Evans and the Manic Street Preachers.
The artistic roster doesn’t end there. We’ve given the world Laura Ashley’s floral prints, Russell T Davies’s reboot of Doctor Who, the landscape paintings of Kyffin Williams and the screen performances of Anthony Hopkins, Luke Evans, Michael Sheen and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Wales means business – and creativity has its part to play there, too. We have always been a nation where innovation and enterprise go hand in hand, and ideas don’t stay on the drawing board for long. Welsh inventions include ball bearings, the microphone, deep-space photography and the hydrogen fuel cell – not to mention the “packet switching” concept that made the internet possible, and even the equals sign in mathematics. Today, we have world-class universities and a skilled workforce: 30 per cent of the population are graduates.
Being able to tap into this talent pool is one reason why businesses come to Wales to grow and realise their potential. Easy access to decision-makers is another. And sustainability is at the top of the business agenda. We were the first nation of the UK to introduce a charge for single-use carrier bags. Our economic policies promote and reward good environmental practice, and we have ambitious targets for reducing waste and shrinking industry’s carbon footprint.
The Welsh language is part of everyday life. It’s spoken by more than half a million people, taught in schools and celebrated at festivals such as the eisteddfodau that are the highlight of Wales’ cultural calendar. You’ll see it in place names and on street signs, and hear it on television and radio channels. It has a thriving music scene, and Welsh-language films and TV programmes are making a mark far beyond our borders.
It’s a part of our living heritage – and in Wales, heritage is something that refuses to be contained in museums or between the covers of dusty books. Wherever you turn, you’ll find signposts to a rich and complex history, from the remains of Roman encampments to the dazzlingly grand country estates built by aristocrats and industrialists. Wales was the powerhouse of the Industrial Revolution, the cradle of the workers’ rights movement and the birthplace of the National Health Service. All are sources of fierce pride.
We’re best known for our castles, which number more than 600. Some, like Criccieth and Carreg Cennen, were built by native Welsh princes; others, such as Edward I’s mighty “iron ring” of Beaumaris, Harlech, Caernarfon and Conwy, were established by occupying forces. There are faux-castles, too, built for show rather than defence. Arguably the greatest is the Victorian Castell Coch, with its fairy-tale cone turrets.
Traditions and festivities tie the modern nation of Wales to its past. On the first of March, the country comes together to celebrate St David’s Day, with children dressing in national costume or pulling on the red jersey of our sports teams. And by the time others are anxiously exchanging cards on Valentine’s Day, we’ve done all our wooing in Wales. Our patron saint of lovers, St Dwynwen, has her special day almost three weeks earlier on 25 January.
What’s more, popular culture is a shared experience in Wales. It’s something you’ll witness in the sense of anticipation for the headlining act at the Green Man Festival, or in the pre-match build-up for a Six Nations rugby game at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium. It’s a sentiment neatly summed up in the slogan of our football team, when the boot of Gareth Bale helped them storm into the Euro 2016 semi-finals: Together Stronger.
And at the risk of blowing our own trumpet, we’ve been going through rather a golden patch of sporting success. Dare we mention Jade Jones’s Olympic taekwondo golds, Geraint Thomas’s Tour de France victory and Sam Warburton’s captaincy of the British Lions?
Whether you’re living here or just visiting, Wales gets under your skin. It’s why going away evokes a wistful sense of yearning (and there’s a Welsh word for that: hiraeth). We’re a modern nation with an ancient heart, and this is our identity. This is Wales.