ANGLESEY, Wales -- This corner of Wales probably hasn't seen so much royal attention since the days of King Edward I. But soon-to-be newlyweds Prince William and Kate Middleton will be calling the island home after their April 29 wedding and that has thrown the laid-back isle into the spotlight.
Prince William is an RAF Sea King Search and Rescue pilot based in RAF Valley, so they will spend the first few years of their married life living in a rented whitewashed farmhouse in the rolling countryside near the base.
Situated off the northwest coast of Wales, Anglesey (Ynys Mon in Welsh) is separated from the mainland by the Menai Strait, which has two scenic spans -- the Menai Bridge and the Britannia Bridge. On your way there you can't miss the beautiful Snowdonia mountain range. At 1,085 metres, Mt. Snowdon is the highest point in England and Wales. Legend has it that King Arthur fought a duel with an ogre on the mountainside. Arthur won (of course) and buried his foe at the summit.
Beautiful countryside, beaches made for strolling and a tranquil atmosphere make Anglesey popular with visitors. It is a haven for walkers. For the ambitious rambler, there is a 201-km long coastal path, which takes 12 to 14 days to traverse crossing farmland, coastal heath, dunes, salt marsh, cliffs and woodlands. The circular route starts in the island's main town, Holyhead, but walkers can begin and end at their choosing. About 95% of the path runs through "areas of outstanding beauty" with abundant bird life -- puffins, guillemots, razorbills, terns and cormorants -- and marine life including dolphins.
The royal couple are known to shop at the Tesco in Holyhead. They've also frequented several local pubs and restaurants, including the award-winning White Eagle at Rhoscolyn on the island's northwestern tip.
Anglesey is also famous for the village with longest name in Britain. For a fun photo, visit the train station bearing its name -- Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch -- and see if you can fit it all into the frame. Translation: "St. Mary's Church by the white hazel pool, near the fierce whirlpool with the church of St. Tysilio by the red cave."
Be sure to ask a local to pronounce the name for you. Most of time, they just call it 'Llanfair' for short.
Anglesey's royal connection dates back to 1295 when King Edward I built Beaumaris Castle -- the last and largest of his four great Welsh castles (together with Conwy, Harlech and Caernarfon, they form a combined UNESCO World Heritage Site).
Beaumaris Castle is a sophisticated example of medieval military architecture. Called 'Beau Mareys' in Norman-French, for "castle on the fair marsh," it is not far from the coast. Its strategic location provided convenient access to the ocean and allowed the moat to be filled with tidal water. While lacking the impressive turrets of Conwy or Harlech, instead it seems to quietly inhabit the landscape. Along with the town that grew up around it, Beaumaris is peaceful and charming.
Home to some of Europe's finest surviving examples of medieval castle construction, Wales is often called the "Land of Castles." Total numbers vary but the accepted figure is somewhere over 600 fortified structures. Although many are no more than crumbling piles of rock dotting the scenery, all are ruined or restored monuments, which testify to the engineering genius that is an important part of Wales' history.
Back on the "mainland," heading south of Anglesey, is impressive Caernarfon Castle, built as the seat of English royal power in North Wales. The design was meant to echo the walls of Constantinople, banded with hexagonal towers that give it a distinctive look. Caernarfon is a dominating presence in the town and from its high ramparts you get lovely views of the surrounding countryside and across the Menai Straits.
Edward I had his eldest son crowned the first English Prince of Wales at Caernarfon Castle, a tradition that continues to this day. Prince William's father, Prince Charles, was invested Prince of Wales there in 1969 and there is a wonderful exhibit detailing the historic event.
Once Charles becomes King, William will become the next Prince of Wales. So it seems the future Prince and Princess of Wales are already taking their Welsh connections seriously.
-- Welsh Rarebits represents 54 of Wales' classic and contemporary hotels, chic townhouses and cozy historic inns. There are 23 in North Wales, including three on Anglesey. Ye Olde Bull's Head is nearly next door to Beaumaris Castle, offering an historic setting and modern style. Like all Welsh Rarebit properties, it offers excellent service and cuisine. The award-winning food at the Bull makes it a favourite with local foodies, who rave about the seafood. In nearby Conwy on the north coast, check out Edward I's Conwy Castle and stay at the delightful Castle Hotel, where cuisine is a highlight. Chef Graham Tinsley is manager of the Welsh National Culinary Team. See rarebits.co.uk.
-- For travel information on Anglesey, Welsh Castles and Snowdonia, contact Visit Wales (visitwales.com) and Visit Britain (visitbritain.com).