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Last Updated: Monday, 17 May, 2004, 06:30 GMT 07:30 UK
City anger over 'ashtray' jibe
Catherine Zeta Jones
Catherine Zeta Jones has built a home in Swansea
A travel guide which attacks Swansea as "an ashtray of a place" has been dismissed as being 50 years behind the times.

The new edition of the Lonely Planet Guide to Wales says the country is ready to take on the world with its mix of old-fashioned charm and sophistication.

Wales has successfully killed off the stereotypes of pit villages and rugby players, according to the travel guide.

It says Wales has a mix of defiant tradition and "new world" sophistication.

The choirs are still singing, it says, but they have been joined by a flourishing alternative culture, with cities full of gourmet kitchens and hip hotels.

But the guide is less kind to Swansea - Wales' second city and the home town of actress Catherine Zeta Jones.

It describes it as "a place with grids of grey streets and morose neighbourhood pubs" and insists it is best avoided.

That is hardly the view of the Hollywood star, who was born in Mumbles and has just had a £1.3m house built there.

Her parents still live in the city and she is a regular visitor with husband Michael Douglas and their two children Dylan and Carys.

Residents of Swansea who insist it is the perfect place to live have rushed to its defence.

Businessman and writer Jack Harris said visitors to the city would strongly disagree with the holiday guide.

He insists the guide should not be taken seriously and accuses the author of painting an inaccurate picture.

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder but whoever wrote this has only seen what they want to see
Swansea businessman Jack Harris
The updated edition covering Wales published on Monday says: "The poet Dylan Thomas called his birthplace an ugly lovely town and this balance continues to hold steady.

"The city, the second largest in Wales, has a charm that, if not able to out-dazzle more handsome places, at least can stare them out."

But Mr Harris said: "I won't let anyone tell me it's an ashtray.

"If that's what they think they are on a different planet to most of us.

"It's a city that has changed greatly since the '40s and '50s, which is when Dylan Thomas wrote those words.

"We live at the edge of Gower which has some of the best beaches and countryside in the world.

"We are surrounded by outstanding natural beauty and on our way to being a terrific city.

Rhossili beach
Tourists travel miles to see Swansea's beaches
"They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder but whoever wrote this has only seen what they want to see."

Parts of north Wales are also painted in less than glowing terms by the guide, with Blaenau Ffestiniog "gloomy", Barmouth "tacky" and Prestatyn "insignificant."

But Wales on the whole, and especially Cardiff, comes out well in the new edition.

It states: "Today the spirit of Wales is stronger than ever. Welsh arts, film and above all rock music have hit the world and kill off the stereotypes of pit villages with rugby players.

"With new pride and confidence the red dragon seems ready to take on the world.

"Its strange mix of defiant tradition and new world sophistication is one of Wales' greatest assets.

"The choirs may still be singing but they've been joined by a flourishing alternative culture, a host of ever-evolving cities and a healthy dose of hedonism oozing from gourmet kitchens and hip hotels."

Of the capital it says: "Cardiff is a confident city - small enough to remain friendly but big enough not to be boring.

"Sport is at its heart with the huge Millennium Stadium looming over the city centre like a beached UFO.

"The gleaming razzmatazz of Cardiff Bay - waterside restaurants, cafés, the National Assembly and the millennium cultural centre (Wales Millennium Centre) has emerged phoenix-like from decaying docklands".

Other parts of Britain have not escaped the Lonely Planet sideswipe. In recent years it has branded Scotland "full of drunks" and London "joyless, aloof and dangerous".

Zeta house pulls in tourists
16 Feb 04  |  South West Wales
Makeover for Gower beaches
28 Aug 03  |  South West Wales
Wales bathes in summer sun
11 Jul 03  |  Wales

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