Rich in history and with fiercely patriotic people, Cardiff is often dubbed ‘the heart of Wales’ – and, as Good Things’ Picture Editor Alice Griffiths discovered, the city can enchant even the most world-weary traveller. Day One: Touchdown Pulling into Cardiff’s central station, we tumble off the train and into a taxi. Happily for me and mum, The Mercure Hotel happens to be located on Queen Street – the city’s prime shopping spot. Our tenth-floor room offers an almost panoramic – and stunning – view. But, hungry in the knowledge that we’ve got lunch booked, we’re don’t admire the scenery for long. Had we not been tipped off about Café Citta, we’d have probably walked straight past the family-run Italian restaurant. The phrase ‘never judge a book by its cover’ applies here, where both the staff and the quirky decor ooze charm. The owner’s daughter tells us that many of the menu items are generations-old family recipes – including the salami we sample atop a flatbread, which is made right opposite the restaurant by a butcher in Cardiff Indoor Market. Stomachs full but with an appetite for exploration, we spend the afternoon poking around the market, located within Cardiff’s famous Victorian and Edwardian arcades along with a raft of boutique shops and independent cafe. It’s easy to be distracted by the arresting architecture, and the easiest way to navigate is by zig-zagging off St. Mary’s Street. Finally emerging, and with money burning a hole in our pockets, we can’t resist popping over the street to St. David’s – Cardiff’s latest, greatest shopping centre. Dinner is wolfed down at The Potted Pig, a quirky restaurant in a renovated bank vault close to the castle. As you’d hope from a place so-named, the pork is fabulous, but so is the rest of the seasonal, local food. It would be rude not to take advantage of the beautiful hotel bar, so, dutifully, we round off the day with a few cocktails. Day Two: Culture Vulture With a pleasantly fuzzy head and a lot more eating and drinking lined up, I start the day with a good few lengths of The Mercure’s 16-metre pool; although I must confess that the call of the traditional breakfast buffet proves louder than that of the state-of-the-art gym. Cardiff museum is our first port of call. Along with exhibitions covering natural history and Quentin Blake’s original illustrations, we check out the world’s second-largest collection of French Renaissance paintings – and the equally-compelling Welsh cakes in the cafe. Afternoon tea is taken in the Park Plaza’s Laguna restaurant, where the spectacular sweet-and-savoury spread is accompanied by a Hendrick’s gin cocktail. A stroll around 2000 year-old Cardiff Castle helps somewhat with post-prandial guilt and, as it’s a sparkling sunny day, we can explore the whole grounds as well as explore the castle keep and Victorian gothic stately home. An excellent seafood supper is taken at Le Monde, where an open-plan kitchen adds to the atmosphere. Returning to Park Plaza, we take a minute to warm up beside the log fire of the high-ceilinged lobby, then snuggle up in our cosy suite early enough to take full advantage of the stunning salt-water pool and a hearty Full English the following morning. Day Three: Back in time Eager to learn more about the city’s history, we join Cardiff Walking Tours. Our guide Paul Harris’s extensive knowledge is staggering. We start at the castle, learning how Cardiff’s coal and iron industries transformed it from small town to city. The tour circles past the museum, and a church built from stone from around the globe. Lunch is taken at the quaint Pettigrew Tea Rooms in Bute Park, where I’d wager that the cakes are the most delicious in Cardiff, before a 20-minute boat ride on the river, passing the impressive Swalec stadium and Saint David’s hotel. We disembark at Cardiff Bay. With shops, bars and remarkable views, it’s the perfect place to spend an evening – but we’re here to visit the esteemed Ken Picton Salon. Split over two floors, it offers a vast range of treatments delivered in an amazing open-plan salon. Intensive attention to detail from staff – many of whom have been part of the company for many years – makes us feel like a million dollars. Luckily, a night on the tiles is in prospect. We’re both staying and playing at the Hilton, where our room’s views comprise two castles and two football stadiums, and where the launch party for Greys restaurant is taking place. New ownership has meant a complete make over. Service, interiors and Modern Brit food are all exquisite – and the tasty cocktails flow freely. Day four: Chilling out in style Greys isn’t just a dinner hotspot – it also serves a brilliant traditional breakfast; a fine finale to our luxurious stay at the Hilton. The week’s been a busy one, and we’re ready for a dose of pampering. Fifteen minutes from the city centre, the Vale Resort is set in 650 acres of countryside and features a golf course, spa, restaurant and bars – the perfect place to unwind. We choose to relax at the spa, where 19 themed treatment rooms see us spoilt for choice. Our 45-minute hot drizzle massage proves a wise decision. At The Vale Grill, attentive team members turns our dinner into a real experience. Food matches service – our tuna steaks are possibly the best meal of the week. The verdict We’ve had our fill of fine food, drink, and culture for now, but we’ll be back soon – Cardiff is nothing short of compelling.