05/05/2012 14:06 BST | Updated 05/05/2012 14:14 BST

Wales Unveils World's First Continuous Coastline Path - At 870 Miles Long (PICTURES)

The first continuous path in the world which runs the complete length of a country's coastline officially opened on Saturday.

A full 870 miles of breathtaking beauty, five years in the making and costing millions of pounds, skirts the entire coastline of Wales.

Offering spectacular coastal views, the path is also expected to boost the Welsh economy by attracting an extra 100,000 visitors a year.

Hopes are high that free-spending tourists in the UK for this summer's London Olympics will also use the occasion to venture into Wales.

That prospect improved last year when travel publisher Lonely Planet proclaimed the Welsh coastline the No 1 region in the world to visit in 2012.

The singular honour was bestowed in expectation of Saturday's official opening of the All Wales Coast Path (AWCP).

It throws open the whole of the Welsh coastline for visitors to explore from Chepstow to Queensferry in the north of the country.

"How better to truly appreciate the shape - and soul - of a nation?," the Travel 2012 guidebook asks.

Welsh Environment Minister John Griffiths hailed the AWCP at an official celebration at Cardiff Bay today held to mark the event.

Similar events also took place at locations along the path in Aberystwyth and Flint in the north.

"The path opens just before the world's eyes will be on the UK for the Olympics," Griffiths said.

"We hope many visitors coming to London for the Games will take time to visit Wales and its coast.

"Since this project began in 2007 we have created over 130 miles of new path and improved more than 330 miles of existing pathway. The path will provide a real boost to local economies around our coastline.

"I am delighted to be opening the path today. This has been a five-year project and is an example of how sustainability is an underlying principle of everything we do.

"Wales enjoys some spectacular scenery and opening the path is a wonderful opportunity for people to get out and explore some of it.

"The path has been developed in partnership with the Countryside Council for Wales, 16 local authorities and two National Parks.

"I want to thank all these organisations, as well as coastal landowners for all their help and support in helping us to realise our vision."

He added: "Last month I cycled over 250 miles through Wales to raise awareness of cycling as a sustainable means of transport.

"I speak from experience when I say we can guarantee visitors some wonderful views and countryside."

The Welsh Government has invested up to £2m a year since 2007 to realise its ambition of creating an 870-mile path.

This has been supplemented by £4m from the European Regional Development Fund over four years.