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Christmastime in Cardiff city
THERE are a lot of good things about a city break in the run-up to ‘the most wonderful time of the year’.
There’s the shopping opportunities you just don’t get outside major cities, the pretty lights, the Christmas markets to peruse with a glass of something warming in hand, and a general feeling of bustle and good cheer.
Cardiff can offer all this – in a city ideally placed for a weekend trip. But how about this for the most glorious festive extra touch, one to bring a glow to the most Scrooge-like of visitors?
A gothic fairytale of a castle, with a beautifully be-decked, huge, real Christmas tree in every room. If you’re the right age and have been very good, there’s also a chance to visit Santa’s grotto while you’re there.
A tour of the castle with a guide provides the kind of insight a brochure never can. Now belonging to the City of Cardiff, the castle was owned in the 19th century by the 3rd Marquess of Bute, reported to be the richest man in the world with a fortune built from coal.
He had a fondness for showing off his wealth, creating lavish, opulent and downright garish interiors throughout the castle in various European and Arabian styles.
The Marquess and his family chose Cardiff as their Christmas base out of their many homes, and its custodians continue this history with their festive decorations.
The castle dominates this compact city. Just a stone’s throw from this opulence the Marquess, if he’d cared to look, could have seen the ragged Victorian poor barely surviving just outside his gates.
Taking a double-decker bus tour might sound like a particularly touristy thing to do – but if you actually are a tourist in a strange city it really is the best way to see and learn, as we discovered.
From our prime position in the top front seat we found out about the regeneration of the city that successfully rescued its docklands from dereliction after the decline of the coal export industry.
Our chatty, knowledgeable guide pointed out the little white Norwegian sailors’ church by the water where Roald Dahl was christened, the impressive Millennium Centre for arts and the stately university and museum buildings.
Cardiff has won some more visitors recently thanks to its claim as the home of Doctor Who – the series is filmed in and around the city as well as at the BBC Studios in Cardiff Bay. Just next door is The Doctor Who Experience.
The Millennium Stadium attracts sports fans from all over but you don’t have to be a rugby nut to appreciate its magnificence – and the deliciously vertiginous feeling of perching on a seat in the very back row of the stand.
Once again the compactness of the city is apparent – the stadium is right at the heart of things.
This convenience was one of the reasons we decided to leave the car behind and take the train. Apart from the fact that the picturesque journey west made a change from the usual up-and-down to Waterloo, it was great to be able to walk everywhere comfortably – our hotel was just a few minutes from the station.
We had a fantastic outlook over the city from our 17th floor full-length window at the cosy, comfortable and modern Radisson Blu hotel. Who could possibly have need of curtains to shut out that fascinating, ever-changing view?
Shopping and eating are always pleasures to be looked forward to in a new city. Cardiff has a great range of shiny, up-market stores alongside all the usual chains, but the real jewel is the city’s many arcades – gorgeous Victorian and Edwardian edifices hidden behind narrow gateways from the main streets which house cosy cafes and quirky shops including a warren-like deli stacked floor-to-ceiling with foodie delights, and a shop devoted entirely to harps.
Warm welsh cakes in the covered market were a food highlight, as was a spectacular curry at Juboraj which features as a speciality the ‘jamdhani haash’ duck dish made famous by Ruth Jones as Nessa in Gavin and Stacey.
And if you’re at all interested in linguistics, it’s almost impossible not to pick up a couple of Welsh words during your stay as every sign in the city is bilingual. My favourite new word is siocled – that’s chocolate (try saying it out loud in a Welsh accent and hear it start to make sense!).
The 215-room Radisson Blu Hotel, Cardiff soars 21 storeys above the heart of this vibrant city. It is ideally-placed for shopping, sport and history – and the railway station is within walking distance. Each room offers fresh, modern design and Free high-speed, wireless internet access.
Special pre-Christmas deals are available. Contact the hotel for details – radissonblu.co.uk/hotel-cardiff, 029 20454777
visitcardiff.com has every detail you could possibly want to plan a break in the city.