TRAVEL REVIEW: Finding the heart of the capital

Cardiff

Cardiff

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“If home is where the heart is,” says Englishman Gareth Paisey from onstage at Clwb Ifor Bach in Cardiff, “then this place feels like home to me.”

He is the lead singer of Los Campesinos!, an alt pop band with a Spanish name and six (out of six) English members but a soul that is undoubtedly Welsh.

The group formed while students at Cardiff University, and played their earliest shows here.

Tonight, at their first gig in the city for more than a year, they are given the reception of homecoming heroes. More of which shortly.

For now allow us to say it is easy to see why the sextet adore the Welsh capital – a place that is both dazzlingly contemporary and also lovingly rooted in its own past. Sort of like Sheffield.

We enjoyed two days falling in love with its shopping arcades, lively nightlife and historic buildings.

We took in a rugby match at Cardiff Arms Park, enjoyed heritage museums, were mesmerised by the linear beauty of the Millennium Stadium and peaked inside the City Hall.

We also saw the Doctor Who Experience but didn’t bother going in. What are we? Geeks?

It’s surprisingly easy to get to Cardiff, as it turns out. Barely four hours and two trains – one a CrossCountry which runs to Bristol, the other a First Great Western – and you’re there, in another country.

We stayed at the Premier Inn, which, as Premier Inns tend to, had a central location and lovely spacious rooms. The bathroom, in particular, bordered on luxury, so big was the bath.

But travel and accommodation are but details if the city itself does not live up to expectations.

Cardiff does.

Prime on your to-do list should be a look around the magnificent medieval castle, a place once designed to keep Englishmen out but which now lets us in for the sum of £11.

Close by is the City Hall and quirky university quarter, as well as Cardiff Arms Park rugby stadium. There, we watched the city’s Blues (playing in pink) beat the Glasgow Warriors. There was a delightfully friendly atmosphere with both sets of fans mingling in the stands.

If that was an entertaining way to spend time, so too was a wander around the redeveloped Cardiff Bay, a waterfront enclave of restaurants and bars. Here you have everything from the Red Dragon Centre, an entertainment complex comprising cinema and bowling and suchlike, to the Welsh Assembly.

Night – time high jinks are as impressive as daytime sites, meanwhile.

Clwb Ifor Bach, where we saw that gig, has a Leadmill feel – busy, boozy, sweaty. Los Campesinos! played upstairs and at times the floor beneath us shook, a sign, we were assured, of a good gig.

Other recommended places include real ale pub The Full Moon and The Meating Place, a delightful restaurant-tavern where the speciality is a massive skewer of coal-cooked marinated meat served up with platters of roasted veg and flat breads. Almost worth the train fare down alone.

That’s Cardiff. It’ll capture your heart.

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