Romance season is upon us. For most, February evokes images of red roses, champagne bottles and Lindt’s Strawberries and Cream chocolates. But for me, it is the beating heart of rugby season. My passion is directed purely towards the game. I am entangled in a relationship with 15 men, two posts and an oval ball. This time of year when the Six Nations takes over the capital reminds me of just how much I love Cardiff. The city comes to life by cheering fans, wobbly daffodils running down the streets and the Welsh anthem being sung in Wales’ holy church – the Principality Stadium.
I’ve lived in the capital city sporadically since I was 14, moved here full time last year to study for my Masters in Magazine Journalism and now split my week between Cardiff and Carmarthenshire. I have to say, Cardiff is pretty perfect and I am one lucky girl to get to call it home. It’s a place that’s big enough to satisfy shopaholics, foodies, sporty types and culture junkies, yet small enough to navigate once you get your head around the Hogwartsesque St David’s 2 shopping centre. Here are just a few ways Cardiff has romanced me.
1. Home of Welsh rugby. Whether you know it as the Millennium or Principality Stadium, if you’ve watched it from the stands or St Mary Street, there’s no escaping the palpable energy of game day that reverberated through the streets. It might hit you in the form of merry fans singing unmelodic Max Boyce folk songs or the annoyingly familiar rugby horns. You could taste a range of perfectly crafted cocktails in trendy bars, or get a whiff of a miasma of stale snakebites and ciders bouncing off the pavements. Whether you sing Delilah at the top of your lungs or scold the ref for missing an offside tackle, game day will find a way of colliding and connecting with you and will leave you craving more.
2. The cocktail capital. One thing you’re sure to get in abundance in Cardiff is a fabulous range of boozy beverages. Be at One, Buffalo, Irie Shack and Turtle Bay are some of my favourite spots for a tropical mix of fruit, ice and alcohol. Irie Shack’s Chelsea Rose cocktail is my latest tipple and is a fragrant blend of rum, Chambord, elderflower cordial, fresh raspberries, apple juice and lemon. Even thinking about it is making my mouth water. Throw in the live reggae music, colourful Caribbean décor and laidback atmosphere and I guarantee you this is where the cocktail kings and queens of Cardiff buy their pitchers and party like the islanders.
3. Shopping galore. A word of warning – shopping can be a dangerous endeavour in this part of the world. Between the high street and designer brands and independent boutiques, wedding funds and mortgage savings can quickly perform a disappearing act. The St David’s Shopping Centre gives Westfield and the Bullring a run for their money. While Queen Street is a breath of fresh air, offering old-school shopping on the high street. The arcades are my favourite shopping destination and provide a glimpse into the city’s past as the array of home décor and jewellery shops, tailors and delicatessens are sheltered by magnificent Victorian architecture.
4. All about history. You can’t escape the beauty of Cardiff’s history and nor would you want to. From Cardiff Castle standing proud in the city centre, to the spellbinding stature of City Hall and National Museum Cardiff, the past blends effortlessly into the modern landscape. At Cardiff Bay the Pierhead Building and the Norwegian Church, where Roald Dahl’s family worshipped, are also distinctive landmarks worth visiting, but are just as beautiful to behold from a distance.
5. City by the sea. For me, one of Cardiff’s USPs is its proximity to the seaside. If I hop, skip and jump from my flat, I’m standing at Cardiff Bay Barrage watching the waves dance and pleasure boats rock to their rhythm. In the summertime, you don’t need much imagination to believe you’re walking along the French Riviera or a boardwalk in Cape Town. A little further away and Penarth seafront is Wales’ equivalent to Brighton, with its promenade, ice cream spots and restaurants overlooking the ocean. The ability to spend the morning in the charming chaos of the centre and an afternoon taking in the salty air at the land’s edge is just another reason that makes Cardiff so damn lovely.
6. A walk in the park. Sophia Gardens provides an oasis of calm in the city. Strolling by the River Taff while you pass joggers, lovers and Collies, Westies and the odd Husky really does recharge the batteries and helps you embrace a slower pace of life. Roath Park is another go-to retreat if I feel like stretching my legs. The rose garden calls out to inspire you and will brighten your day with the beguiling beauty of the rainbow blossoms. Sitting down for a cuppa overlooking the lake as swans float by and couples try to navigate their rowboats has a way of rolling back time and entrancing you into a state of pure relaxation.
7. First class university. Cardiff University is one of the UK’s most prestigious institutions and is home to the country’s leading journalism school. It is renowned for its Russell Group status, world-class teaching and notorious nightlife. Studying at Cardiff for my Masters degree was a brilliant experience as it felt like home, yet I got to see the city from the eyes of a student. I loved the diners, the quirky new coffee shops that popped up on street corners and the multitude of pubs that gave studentville its character. Safe, sophisticated and fit for scholars and those looking for a good sesh, Cardiff does like to show off and prove it has it all.