Welsh domestic football hasn’t turned many heads west of the Severn Bridge since the early 1980s, when John Toshack’s Swansea City rose from the bottom tier to the brink of the top-flight title in only four years. That was the last time south Wales seemed a likely destination for a big club’s travelling support. Until now.
Swansea City’s first season in the Premier League has brought new visitors to a classy, vibrant, metropolitan city – and if you’ve not seen it for yourself yet, you should.
The city centre itself has enough to keep anyone happy: a superb National Waterfront Museum packed with fascinating interactive features, great restaurants, a buzzing nightlife and a flourishing market, where you can find bargains on everything from haddock to haircuts.
One must-try eatery is the Grape & Olive, a classy establishment sat atop a giant, plush apartment block: the Meridian Tower, where several of Swansea City’s players reside. As well as fantastic food, it offers breathtaking views: a glorious view across the sea on one side, and a stunning cityscape on the other.
This is thanks to the location. Swansea city centre is all of a few minutes’ walk from a gorgeous marina and beach, which extends right along the coast to the Mumbles, home of fine sand and, in Verdi’s Café, “the best ice cream outside Italy” according to tourists (most residents prefer the equally exquisite Joe's). It’s a strong claim, but not undeserved.
Go west to Gower and you can find something you wouldn’t necessarily associate with Wales: a prime spot for surfing. Seriously, it's one of the best in the UK. And the astonishingly beautiful combination of beach and hills (the Gower peninsula was the first in the UK to be designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) is quintessentially Welsh, something you can also see further afield in Pembrokeshire – though Swansea is much more accessible than west Wales, and boasts a Premier League football team.
Ah yes, the Swans. Brendan Rodgers’ side have taken the Premier League by storm upon promotion last year, dazzling opponents and winning over neutrals with their slick passing and classy play. With a small, youthful, lesser-known squad, they’ve already secured a mid-table place in their first season – more than many a promoted team can offer – and all the while playing attractive football in a superb modern arena, the Liberty Stadium.
The feeling of belonging in the Premier League is no doubt sweeter for Swansea City fans in the knowledge that their arch-rivals, Cardiff City, fell at the final hurdle two years previously, then lost in the Championship promotion play-offs again as Swansea progressed.
Nonetheless, the Bluebirds are well worth a visit while you’re in south Wales. Now rebuilding with highly rated young manager Malky Mackay, Cardiff have already surprised pundits by reaching the Carling Cup Final this season, losing on penalties to Liverpool, and are looking to reach the play-offs again this season – plus the Welsh capital has a lot to offer any tourist.
Swansea, meanwhile, is truly an exciting place to visit these days, as well as being home to some of the friendliest people on Earth. For a football trip with some unexpected delights, give it a go.
www.visitswanseabay.com has all you need for more information on Swansea – even a Fans' Corner to help you plan your footballing trip.
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