Members of the Educational Travel Consortium’s Executive Advisory Council (EAC) were invited by Visit Wales to hold their mid-year planning meeting in Wales from May 19-25, 2017. EAC members were also able to experience the natural and cultural opportunities of the country. Participants criss-crossed Wales during the course of their stay. Each member recounts his or her visit in the paragraphs below.

To go directly to a particular individual beyond this first page, click on his/her name below:

Fred Ackerman biking in Wales

Fred Ackerman, Chief Shepherding Officer, Black Sheep Adventures

Wales was way more than I expected. I wasn’t prepared for the natural beauty of the country. It was incredibly green and refined with beautiful rolling hills.

The people were perfectly lovely and I loved the interactions we had with the locals (and visiting French rugby players alike). The feeling of hospitality was wonderful. I really enjoyed our meal in the home with the woman and her son.

I LOVED learning that a black sheep was sign of good luck to a farmer – I couldn’t agree more with the sentiment.

The food was wonderful! The catered meal at Halen Môn was a night to remember. From the salt tasting to the final bite, it was exceptional. I’ll never look at salt the same way.

It was absolutely incredible to get to ride a bicycle in Wales with local guides. Pedaling on the highest paved road and on mountain biking trails was perfect and an experience I’d love to share with our travelers.

Jean Bouffard, Institutional Development, Adventure Canada

Throughout, the accommodations were excellent and in particular, Llangoed Hall was exceptional.

The food was excellent all the way with just one weak link one night at dinner at Nanteos Mansion. Llanerch Vineyard was a great venue and good hospitality. Dinner at Llangoed Hall was exceptional. I liked the stop at Tu Hwnt I’r Bont (Llanrwst) for afternoon tea. The Halen Môn dinner was an excellent idea.

The visit of the Senedd with an expert guide, gave us a window on democracy in the making and the evolution of regional parliaments in Western Europe, when we hear mostly about globalisation nowadays.

The visit of the National Museum of Art was excellent (within National Museum), albeit a little short. The Royal Mint was a great venue for our meetings and the tour was instructive and very professional.

The tour of the working sheep farm was instructive and authentic. Having an actual miner doing the tour at the Big Pit National Coal Museum brought a powerful narrative to the experience. I would have liked to spend more time in Llangollen with a stop at the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.

The coach guide provided at the beginning of the itinerary was very knowledgeable and personable. The one provided for our second leg, a bit weaker, or maybe the first one was too strong.

Overall, an excellent program setting high standards for the ones to follow!

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Melissa Gresh, Director of Alumni Travel Program, MIT Alumni Association

• The Senedd in Cardiff. Garreth made it very interesting, brought the people in government to life and was so well informed.

• Time on own to walk the downtown in Cardiff. It is a wonderful, lively, and manageable city.

• Penderyn Whisky distillery. The explanation of the process and the way they conducted the tour were both great. If I drank whisky it would be even more interesting, but one does not need to be a whisky drinker to enjoy this tour.

• Time with some local folks at the meeting at Nanteos Mansion. I enjoyed the tour of the grounds and conversations with local contacts, including the fellow who played guitar and recited a poem. That was a big highlight for me.

• National Library of Wales was very good and I liked the way they structured the tour. 

• Family hosted dinners were a treat and a great change of pace. Our hosts were terrific.

• The salt factory was an interesting way to get insight into what unique local industries the country has. The food was very good and time to chat with the chef was appreciated.

• The visit to the sheep farm was interesting and I enjoyed being out in the countryside. Gareth Wyn Jones was very charming and very interesting to listen to. Would have loved more time here.

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Karen Kuttner-Dimitry, Vice President, Affinity & Charter Sales, Lindblad Expeditions

• Food and Drink Safari in Cardiff: This was a great way to start the meeting/trip as it brought everyone together in a casual way while experiencing a diverse range of local specialties.

• Cardiff Castle: We had an inspirational room for our first meeting.

• National Assembly for Wales: This was a behind-the-scenes tour with an engaged, passionate Tour Guide

• Y Mochyn Du: It was wonderful to capture local flavor at this Welsh pub in Cardiff.

• Big Pit Coal Mine Museum: We heard fascinating stories and had a very different touring experience.

• Penderyn Whisky Distillery: I loved learning how the whisky was made.

• Llangoed Hall: This was a “wow” experience and a destination unto itself. From the home, to the art to the restaurant and the team, it was a stand out. The story behind the Hall was fascinating too.

• Glandyfi Castle: Another inspirational meeting space. 

• Aberystwyth University: It was wonderful to see and learn about this college particularly since everyone on the EAC is deeply connected to the educational mission and because university alumni travel plays a large part in our roles. 

• Nanteos Mansion, Aberystwyth: The mansion has beautiful grounds and a lake. It was lovely to meet so many passionate, dedicated professionals representing Wales tourism.

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Andrew Lockwood, President/CEO, Pacific Islands Institute

• Beautiful country! Loved the scenery and landscapes with lush rolling hills dotted by sheep and quaint rural villages.

• Fantastic weather! At least for the week we were there! Beautiful blue sky and cool – not cold – temperatures, with a pleasant warmth in the sun during the daytime.

• Cardiff: What a great walkable city with too many restaurants and pubs to explore in such a short period of time!

• Cardiff Castle: I guess Castle walls aren’t all rock – what a beautiful interior! Shows what happens when you grow up in a place with no castles.

• History: I loved visiting, learning about, and just enjoying the historic beauty of the many castles, homes, halls, tea rooms, and mansions that we visited. And learning about the passion (folly?) of the people who built the “newer” castles, as well as those who care for and restore these historic sites was also very interesting.

• Birthplace of the Industrial Revolution: Who knew!? Maybe everyone, but I didn’t! I didn’t realize that high quality Welsh coal combined with its iron ore and technology for making steel made Wales an early powerhouse of the industrial revolution!

• Big Pit National Coal Museum in Blaenafon: A very interesting stop and a rare (and disappearing) opportunity to visit a mine and speak to the miners who worked it for decades. People need to hurry up and visit this place before it enters the next chapter of its history in which the interpretation becomes second-hand. I’m sure it’ll still be great, and I’d still gladly visit, but it’ll be different. 

• Llangoed Hall – I definitely have to return here with my family and spend multiple days just enjoying the place and its grounds. If I had to choose one spot where I most felt the absence of my wife. 

• Anglesey Island/Ynys Mon – I would love to learn more about the tides in this area. It was fascinating to see the little island in the channel become much smaller over a period of hours due to the tidal difference. I’m interested in knowing if that can somehow be experienced – perhaps by boat or by exploring the shore at low and at high tide? I’m interested in knowing whether there are plans to harvest energy from the tidal difference, or if this is already happening? I’m interested in knowing how the large tide affects the nature environment and human life in historic and present times. So many topics over this phenomenon that obviously happens in other places, but not in the middle of the Pacific. 

• And Chateau Rhianfa was a fantastic venue – I would love to return here and spend more time exploring. 

• I also really enjoyed both the creativity and quality of the meal hosted in the Halen Môn Sea Salt factory. Who knew there was smoked water, but it made for a fabulous mussel soup!

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Aleksandra Matic, Associate Director of Member Travel, Art Institute of Chicago

Overall, Cardiff is a lovely city. Our guides and hosts were wonderful. The Park Plaza was fine. The room smelled musty. It was very nice to meet Andrea Price-Hopkin at the Hilton. I would consider having my members stay there. The tour with Sian was fun. She had a lot of information and stories to share and was well-versed on the Welsh food scene. For a group walking tour I may suggest trying to use headsets- it’s a shame to have a wealth of information and not be able to hear it. The pub dinner was not what I’m used to eating. Lauren went above and beyond to get me a simple fish dish which was much appreciated. I do appreciate the variety- nicer plated meals, vs. pub food, vs. a home cooked meal, vs. quick sandwiches/wraps. The highlight of this dinner was the chance to meet and chat with Margaret Llewellyn. I really appreciated her helpful tips on some alternate ideas for my members. The tour of Cardiff Castle was excellent. Our guide was wonderful and full of information. 

The tour of the Senedd was not something that I expected to enjoy so much, but Gareth really made that visit. The building is impressive but his enthusiasm, insider perspective, and stories really made that visit special. The visit to the National Museum was a little rushed for me, but I usually think museum visits are too short. I did discover a local, living artist (Gillian Ayres) whose studio I would love to visit with a group pending her availability. The winery lunch was good but a little rushed. However, the planners did some important work vetting discussion topics. Like the Senedd, I was not expecting to be blown away by the Royal Mint. I thought that tour was excellent- interesting information and great guide. I was the last one out of the museum. 

The entire region was just beautiful. The Big Pit Coal Museum was really interesting. Again, the guide here was wonderful-we were fortunate to have one of the former miners take us around and offer an insider perspective. The distillery was ok-again, just a personal thing. I’m not a big fan of whisky and the smell in the distillery was a bit much for me. 

Llangoed Hall was a highlight of the trip for me. The grounds were beautiful, our host was gracious and also told us the history of the property, the staff was lovely and accommodating, meals were excellent, etc. 

I would definitely have my group here for two nights on our next trip—last time they only spent one night. 

The visit to Glandyfi Castle was fine. Our hosts were kind and gracious. The lunch was fine. After seeing such stunning properties elsewhere, this was a bit of a let-down, but provided some diversity as far as another type of castle. The University was gorgeous but we really only got to see the one room. Our host’s lecture was very interesting we did not get a ton accomplished here, but did get to touch upon some of our thoughts on adaptive leadership. It was nice to have that lovely view of the Channel, as well. 

There is no question about the National Library but I could have spent another hour here at least. Great guide, interesting collection and excellent temporary exhibition. The evening at Nanteos Mansion was terrific. It was nice to have several suppliers in one place. I enjoyed chatting with Janet Redler, who helped put together our member trip in 2016, and discussing ideas for our next trip. I also had the opportunity to chat with Paula Ellis and learn about her property, Twr y Felin Hotel in St. David’s. It was helpful to see some of the properties public spaces, which gave me ideas for a nice dinner for my members. The dinner was a buffet and really good. I think we all went back for thirds! The flautist was a terrific addition to the evening- wonderful story and beautiful music!

The tea room was absolutely charming. A little rushed but we got to continue the conversation we started at the winery lunch about planner sessions/luncheon/roundtable topics. Chateau Rhianfa was fabulous, as were the meals there. It is a beautiful property on the water with lovely rooms and public spaces. Breakfasts and the lunch we had there were very good. Our home visit with Angela and Mike Beverley was really fun. They were so full of energy and had terrific stories to tell. We got a tour of their garden, got to meet their dog and son, and were treated to live music by Mike. And even though we all lamented how we could possibly be able to eat dinner after lunch and the tea, we cleaned our plates of Angela’s delicious beef stew and mushy peas. 

The Welsh farm visit was excellent. It was just a nice change of pace and Gareth Wyn Jones and his wife were delightful. The Halen Môn tour and dinner was great. Our host was so funny and also full of interesting information. The chefs that prepared our dinner made a very brief appearance but their talent is something my members would appreciate, perhaps in their restaurant after the salt tour and tasting. The dinner was totally different, unexpected and fun. Great food and a fun atmosphere.

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Beth Ray-Schroeder, Director, Alumni Travel, Duke University

Wales is beyond the highest expectations! It is extensive and there is way more to see and do than I ever anticipated. I believe there are many themes for programs there, and general land in-depth itineraries. I have put a *** next to my favorites.

Cardiff was a surprise. I was very impressed by the bustling pedestrian streets and the relative youth of everyone around. The weather was gorgeous, and everyone seemed to be celebrating this. The people seemed just so very happy! I greatly enjoyed the Cardiff Bay area and am very impressed by the investment the Welsh government has made in Cardiff.

The natural beauty of mid-Wales is etched in my mind. And the North East is dramatic and breathtaking. I would have like to take the train on Mount Snowdon. Seeing that would have been the icing on the cake—or the bacon in the Welsh Rarebit.

Food Safari by Sian: maybe could have been a better selection of foods. Maybe not a full meal, but samplings in a few places—but I really liked the walking. I think the drink at the Hilton was excellent, but not the Welsh Rarebit. In general, I think this is a terrific way for a group to ‘meet’ Cardiff and sample local foods and spaces.

***Cardiff Castle: the tour was a highlight, and there was even more to see.

The National Museum has some lovely art, but I would recommend to travelers who have an afternoon on their own. Or, this would be a terrific ‘bad weather day’ visit. We needed more time there. 

***Cardiff Bay: is unbelievable. How they filled it, the Senedd, the Performing Arts Center – it is a fun destination and it would be nice to have time to sit outside or shop. David was an excellent guide.

The Senedd:***Gareth made that tour great. He was fantastic. Always Gareth.

Dinner at Y Mochyn Du: great place for groups and the food was truly very good.

The Royal Mint: I learned a lot, but the tour would be more special if we would have had time to go inside… not sure about adding it to an itinerary, however. 

Luncheon at Llanerch Vineyard: out of our way, and although beautiful, I think we could have had a sandwich in the bus and made better use of the time

***Big Pit Coal Museum: The most important stop for me. The area, villages, this particular place and the museum were a pivotal visit for me. I was haunted by the desolate hills and the tales by the coal miner himself. I believe a visit to Wales needs to include education on the Coal Industry—the Bute Family/Cardiff—and how this fossil fuel lifted Wales through the industrial area, while depleting the beauty of the lands. I think it’s important to celebrate this spirited and determined, basically impoverished, people, who set the standards for coal mining in the world. 

Wales’ success today seem to mostly have been built on the backs of these people in addition to farmers and the British elite. 

Penderyn Whisky Distillery: interesting, and great visit, if not out of the way. 

***Llangoed Hall: wow. Just fantastic. The art, the grounds and the opportunity to meet Callum Milne. It was very special and should be part of any visit. 

Glandify Castle: pretty, and interesting to see how to make owning a castle a sustainable option, but not worth it for lunch. Not big enough for groups. 

***Aberystwyth: University/ The National Library/Nanteos Mansion—I really liked this area, and think the Old University will be even more interesting when refurbished. I would have liked more time on my own in the Library, and there seems to have been a great restaurant nearby (Michelin 1 Star), but I truly enjoyed the evening at Nanteos Mansion. Less the food, and more the music and the estate. Wales is famous for music—even the National Anthem (which I don’t believe we ever heard). 

***Llangollen: great little town, would have loved to take the train at some point during the trip. It was good to walk some. I imagine there was much more to see, and Lauren indicated as much. I wish I had known Roberta would be our guide for the remainder of the tour. 

***Tu Hwntl’r Bont: loved this place! I just wish I would have been hungry and not expecting dinner 2 hours later. 

Chateau Rhianfa: I truly liked this place, and would stay there again. Beautiful and perfect for our meeting. So glad we had more meeting time there. 

Welsh Home Meal with Roger and Judy: so fun, not sure about having in an itinerary, but I am very glad I could go there and share time with them. 

***Tyn Llwyfan Farm: This is a definite and something worthwhile in a general land itinerary. It’s important to understand the heritage, shepherding and farming that is pivotal to Wales. 

Bakery: not really interesting, but we made it fun. That said, the town! I would have loved to see the town and wander the castle ruins on the sea. 

***Halen Môn Sea Salt Factory: this was terrific fun, a brilliant hostess, and very interesting. Definitely a highlight. 

Amazing how much we did! I am very grateful. 

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Ben Sander, Dynamic Operations Guru, Black Sheep Adventures

Highlights for me were:

1. Visiting the outdoor Wales Cultural History Museum

2. A productive meeting where I feel like we moved some important issues forward.

3. Family hosted dinners were a real treat and a great change of pace to round our Wales experience. 

4. The salt factory was a fantastic ending to a great week to get insight into what unique local industries the country has.

5. The visit to the sheep farm was interesting I just wish we would have seen more of the farm and demonstrations.

6. Would have loved to see more castles!

7. Food safari in Cardiff needs to be longer, I know it is our first night but would have been great to see more of the city.

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Joseph Small

Joseph Small, President, Alumni Holidays

Cardiff is vibrant, bustling, accessible, youthful, boisterous, historic, regal but relaxed, ancient castle, modern buzz, raucous, perhaps a bit dodgy at times (public drunkenness), monumental, scenic waterfront, national institutions of great value (National Museum and Senedd), a bit of a hotel challenge, serendipitous. The highlight for me was the convergence of EAC with the French soccer team at Y Mochyn Du. 

The Royal Mint made for a great meeting environment. Thoroughly impressed with the delicacy, artistry and exactitude of the coin making process. Security system also very interesting. The highlight was the “Penny Lane” car of coins. 

It is surprising to find a winery in Wales and so close to Cardiff. The lunch at Llanerch Vineyard provided a pastoral respite from the busy schedule in Cardiff. The landscape was the highlight. 

The Big Pit provided insight into the dominant role played by the coal industry in the development of modern Wales. The Museum was fascinating, even though we did not get to go into the mine. The highlight was the retired miner who guided us through the exhibit and regaled with stories of life in coal mining days. They did bring canaries into the mines! 

Whisky tasting at Penderyn showed innovation of old traditions that seemed to be a theme throughout our stay in Wales. The highlight was the Myth Whisky. 

A real highlight of the entire trip was the stop at the National Library with the film that focused on poet Hedd Wyn. The acting and language was simply moving. 

Llangollen is lovely. Great town for a walk. Felt free and easy on a sunny day by the flowing clear waters of the River Dee pouring down from Snowdonia. The cup of tea made it perfect. 

The scenic location of Chateau Rhianfa, its beautiful rooms and atmosphere were a fantastic way to finish of the journey. 

Our hotel stay at Llangoed Hall provided us with an exclusive up-market hotel experience. Impressed by the personal attention of the owner, Calum Milne. His warm welcome and personally-guided tour were the highlight. Learned a bit about bee keeping. His efforts towards sustainability are admirable, as were the meals we enjoyed there. The staff was enthusiastic and ready to perform any feat to make our stay memorable. 

I loved the tea stop in the picturesque cottage…couldn’t resist the scones or the view of the river. 

The scenic location of Chateau Rhianfa, its beautiful rooms and atmosphere were a fantastic way to finish off the journey. 

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Dan Stypa, Associate Director of Alumni Programs, Rice University

Over the course of our week long visit to Wales for the EAC meeting, I found the country to be inspiring, educational, and engaging. Having never visited the country prior to this meeting, I was unsure of what to expect but was very pleasantly surprised by the rich diversity of things to experience in the country. 

The first visit to Cardiff Castle really set the tone for the trip. The hospitality and warm demeanor of the guide in such a historic venue was awe-inspiring. It was great to have started our meeting in such a meaningful location. The visit to the Senedd later that day was the highlight of the trip for me! As someone who is interested in politics and government, it was such a treat to be able to be inside the beautiful building to learn about the inner-working of the country’s government. The guide, Garreth, was absolutely phenomenal. His passion and charisma are unforgettable and when we have a group visit the country, I hope that my travelers will be able to meet Garreth. 

The following day’s visits to the Royal Mint and Llanerch Vineyard were enjoyable. I liked being able to see the production of the coins and have time to walk through the museum. Given the far-reaching distribution of the coins, it was enjoyable to see them getting made. At the vineyard, I enjoyed having time to visit. Although I wish we would have had time to learn about it and meet staff there, it was still nice to be able to visit and walk around the grounds. Following that, our trip to the National Coal Museum was good – but could have been better. Given the very tight schedule, we did not get to see much and the visit felt quite rushed. However, the guide that we had was superb and his personal stories added much to the experience. Finally, the visit at Penderyn Whisky Distillery was awesome. As someone who likes to experience wine, beer, and spirits from around the world, this was something I was most excited about – and it did not disappoint. I enjoyed the different samples and learning about their processes. I purchased a bottle that I am still enjoying and each time I have some, it takes me back to being at the distillery. 

Our time in Aberystwyth was delightful! Although I am admittedly not a big library person, it was still fascinating to learn about the National Library and its history. However, the highlight of our time in the quaint city for me was our visit to the university old college. As a staff member at a university, I always enjoy learning about other schools and the staff there was so welcoming and warm. I wish we had time to walk around the city and along the water, but it was nice nonetheless to be on the coast for a bit to experience that area of the country. 

Ending our trip in Menai Bridge was great! The home hosted dinner was spectacular – my hosts Judy and Roger were most welcoming and hospitable. They cooked a delicious meal and it was such a treat being able to have this local immersion experience. Being back home, it feels nice thinking that I have a personal connection with a lovely family in Wales. I also enjoyed our final dinner at the Halen Môn Sea Salt factory. It was a unique experience and a fun way to wrap up our time together. 

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Enrique Velasco

Enrique Velasco, Director, COLTUR Peru

The touring was highlighted by flawless operation and superb staff (Kathryn, the drivers). 

Accommodations throughout were good. The Cardiff Park Plaza is a modern hotel, but I guess that in Cardiff (as in Lima), being a modern city, location plays a much more important role than in other parts of the country. Our second inn was just out of this world, and Chateau Rhianfa, once the renovations are made, will join that category. 

The program was a bit too packed in my opinion. Having said that, I fully understand that the idea was to show both travel planners and US tour operators as many options of what Wales has to offer as possible. 

I would have very much liked to be “hosted” in different visits by true experts. For example, in the Senedd. Not sure how feasible it would be to have an actual member talk to us for a bit, or maybe a political analyst. Going out on a limb, I guess that hosts like this would be of interest for alumni groups. 

I was expecting to learn about the Celts (personal interest) but this subject was not addressed. Not sure why, being an important part of Welsh history. 

Same idea for the Cardiff Castle – there were Roman remains but the issue of Roman occupation of Wales and that portion of Welsh history was not addressed. 

The farm, the home dinner and the sea salt manufacturing facility superb. True authentic experiences where a big part of the “success” was due to the hosts. 

Last, but most definitely not least, Lauren. She has set the bar so high that I’m “relieved” that Peru was done before Wales. What a host! Simply outstanding.

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