On a visit to Wales last year, Barack Obama was blown away - praising the country for its "extraordinary beauty, wonderful people and great hospitality". It's easy to see why he was so impressed: with medieval castles, rugged cliffs and grassy plains, Wales offers myriad opportunities for escaping into history and nature.
If it's good enough for the President, it's certainly good enough for us. From awe-inspiring coastal hiking routes to heritage railways, here are nine reasons to fall in love with Wales.
(Source: Kosala Bandara, Flickr)
One of the country's best known landmarks, Snowdonia is one of the most prominent natural features in Great Britain. Named for Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales, the area is a national park renowned for its breathtaking natural beauty and slate-mining history. Though sparsely-populated, the region encompasses several traditional Welsh villages, and these are popular with tourists.
2. Conwy Castle
(Source: Giles Williams, Flickr)
Known as the 'Castle capital of the World', Wales has been home to over 400 castles in its history, of which around 100 remain. Conwy Castle, on the northern coast of the country, is one the most iconic. Originally built between 1283 and 1289 by Edward I during his conquest of Wales, the castle withstood several attacks over the centuries before falling into ruin in the 17th century. Today its partially-restored state is a recognised UNESCO World Heritage site.
(Source: Richardjo53, Flickr)
Tenby is a walled seaside town in Pembrokeshire in the South-West of the country, which is known for its pretty coloured houses. The town also has 2.5 miles of sandy beach, which was named the best in Europe in 2014 by Europe Best Destinations. In summer, ferries run to Caldey Island, a Holy Island, where Celtic traditions are still observed by Cistercian monks - the island's chief inhabitants.
4. The Wales Coast Path
(Source: Reading Tom, Flickr)
The opening of the Wales Coast Path in 2012 made waves. A long-distance footpath, the route is the first of its kind in the world to cover an entire country's coastline. Spanning 870 miles, the walkway runs from Chepstow in the south to Queensferry in the north. Offering sweeping views of the sea and the Welsh landscape, the path passes through eleven national nature reserves and several cities, including Aberystwyth, Cardiff, and Swansea.
(Source: TomGough, Flickr)
From the beautiful to the bizarre, Wales has some of the most interesting festivals in the world. Llanwrytyd Wells, for example, has played host to the World Bog Snorkelling Championship every year since 1976, while the boutique Festival No. 6 (pictured) celebrates music, art and culture in the picturesque setting of Portmeirion, a faux-Italian village found on the coast of Gwynedd.
(Source: Tony Hisgett, Flickr)
Wales' capital, Cardiff is not just an important centre of Welsh culture and history, but also a thriving modern city. Combining the old and new, the city's attractions include both the medieval Cardiff Castle and the 21st century architecture of Cardiff Bay, as well as rugby ground the Millennium Stadium and the shopping area centred on the Hayes. In recent years, the city has gained a reputation for its dynamic nightlife.
(Source: Ted and Jen, Flickr)
The largest seaside resort in the country, Llandudno is a well-loved classic. The town is well known for its beautiful sandy beach and grade-II listed pier, its Victorian sea-fronting houses and the Great Orme limestone hill, which dominates Llandudno's backdrop. For sweeping views over the bay and the wider Creuddyn Peninsula, visitors can easily reach the summit of the hill via cable car or tramway.
(Source: Ed Webster, Flickr)
Combining the best of Snowdonia and Wales as a whole, Beddgelert is a picturesque village found on the river Glaslyn. Filled with sleepy grey stone houses, the town is surrounded by the natural beauty of Snowdonia, with the Welsh Highland Railway running through the town. Popular with tourists, the town is linked to the legend of Gelert, the local hound. Beddgelert means "Gelert's Grave' in English.
9. The Welsh Highland Railway
(Source: Herbert Ortner, Flickr)
The longest heritage railway in the UK, the Welsh Highland Railway is a beautiful way to see the Welsh countryside. A narrow gauge railway, the track was lovingly rebuilt to Porthmadog by a team of dedicated volunteers, reopening in 2011. Running through Beddgelert and the Aberglaslyn pass to Caernarfon, the route traverse the heart of Snowdonia, offering some of the best views in Wales.