The last time I went to Wales I was 12 years old and it rained every day. It's hardly surprising then that I didn't return to the land of the valleys for another two decades. Now, however, I've become a Welsh convert.
In the old days - before children - holidays meant relaxation.
Once upon a time my husband and I worried about the time hotel breakfasts finished (could we really make it down by 10.30?). These days we worry that they start too late (no food until 7.30? What are we to do for the two hours before that?).
Nowadays the lure of a spa and Jacuzzi are less likely to tempt us - instead we look for child-friendly activities, pleasant staff and children's food consisting of more than just fish fingers.
This trip was to be our first as a family of four. Our daughter, aged three and a half, had been away with us before, but it was an entirely new adventure for our four-month-old son.
We decided to stay in the UK because trying to get buggies, sterilisers and all the other baby paraphernalia on an aeroplane seemed likely to kill us. Scotland was too far and we have already "done" various parts of England. So Wales it was.
By the time we pulled up at the glorious Vale hotel, just outside Cardiff, the baby had become car-phobic. But he soon recovered. As did we all. The hotel was simply fantastic. Our family room was more than big enough (although more cupboard space or hooks for hanging up all the coats and bags that accompany two children would have been welcome) and it was very quiet.
We felt that even if our son decided to scream, he would be unlikely to upset anyone - which is vital when you stay in a hotel with children.
The hotel staff were incredibly friendly and the facilities marvellous. We took our son swimming for the first time, took our daughter to supper in one of the restaurants as a special treat (she was angelic) and rejoiced in the wonders of baby listening - which meant we could spend supper together the other two evenings.
In the interests of research - and obviously not because we wanted a few hours off - our daughter even tried out the creche, and thoroughly enjoyed herself.
There were lovely grounds, a good choice of restaurants, and various other activities, including tennis, squash and touch rugby, for children of all ages.
The Vale also had a lovely atmosphere. It is upmarket, but not snobbish, and very well-equipped, not just for families, but particularly for sports with two golf courses. And there is also a delightful spa, offering everything from facials to massages Our first day began bright and early (a forerunner of the entire stay). The baby woke his sister up at 5.30am and, as she refused to go back to sleep, we decided to get going sooner rather than later. After a delicious breakfast we set out to explore, and a short drive brought us to beautiful Cardiff Bay. This area has been transformed in the last few years, and is grandly described by the Welsh Tourist Board as "Europe's largest waterfront regeneration".
However you describe it, it is delightful, clean and full of restaurants, shops and some fabulous buildings (notably the Welsh Millennium Centre), as well as boat tours.
It was tricky forcing ourselves to leave The Vale, but for the second part of the holiday we decided to try self-catering, which had the advantage of separate rooms and simpler mealtimes - although on the downside, you do have to cook yourself.
The Ty Tanglwyst holiday cottages, on a 120-acre working dairy farm, are perfect for a family which loves animals and is happy to get themselves mucky and have fun - remember your wellies!
The owners, John and Liz Lougher, have a herd of 80 pedigree Holstein dairy cows, all bred on the farm and milked twice a day.
So far, they've turned their old farm buildings into three holiday cottages, with another - with wheelchair access - due to be ready by next spring.
We stayed in The Granary, which was very pretty and well equipped, including cots and stairgates, and there was ample room, with three bedrooms (two doubles and a twin), not to mention a sofa bed.
We were also impressed that small items like tea, coffee, washing-up liquid and dishwasher tablets were provided. We have self-catered a lot and it is always frustrating having to buy these minor items.'
Providing them - and the Welsh cakes - for free was certainly a good start, while the sight of cows outside our window thrilled our daughter.
We chose to explore some different areas, starting with nearby Porthcawl, which boasts clean beaches and its own surfing academy.
Following the recommendation of farmer John we made our way to Rest Bay which was gorgeous. The baby lay on a blanket on the sand, while our daughter paddled in the sea and explored the rock pools. She was also fascinated by the number of people surfing, having never seen such a sight before.
On our final day we visited Margam Park and Orangery Gardens, which has extensive grounds, a very pretty castle and, in the summer, a fairytale village for young children.
We then decided to visit Swansea and had a lovely time exploring and enjoying ourselves on the huge, and very quiet, beach. If we hadn't had the children with us, we would probably have dropped into the Dylan Thomas museum as well.
All in all we had a fabulous - if exhausting - time. We packed in so much and yet there seemed so much more we could have done if we'd had more time. The key to any holiday is whether you would go back and we definitely would.
And the weather was great. Most of the time
For further information on holidays in Wales, contact Wales Tourist Board on 0800 915 6567 or visit www.visitwales.co.uk
This article was originally written and syndicated to UK regional and local newspapers by the Press Association.
Labels: Cardiff, family holiday in Wales, holidays in Wales