Aberavon beach, which is near the Port Talbot steelworks, is awarded Blue Flag status.
By Nick Parry
BBC News website
With Port Talbot's giant steelworks looming large on the horizon, Aberavon beach may seem an unlikely Blue Flag winner.
But for the first time since the awards began, and after almost £4m investment over the past 10 years, it has joined 41 other beaches and five marinas in Wales in the top category.
They are all judged against a total of 29 criteria which include high quality water, good litter management and strict dog control.
Other newcomers to the list include Church Bay, Anglesey and Newport beach, Pembrokeshire.
But for some, Aberavon may be the most surprising new addition.
Up until the mid-1960s, it was a vibrant destination for miners and their families looking for a day's escape from the surrounding valleys communities.
But much like the now-redundant pits, the seafront fell on hard times too.
Not that you would know it by visiting today.
It used to be very dirty and I remember there was a wreck on the beach that used to be very dangerous
Although the schools have yet to break up and the weather is far from scorching, the cafes that have sprouted up on the front are busy while there are no shortage of walkers taking in the view across the bay to Swansea.
With over three miles of sand it takes a lot of people to make the beach look busy but para-kiters were making the most of the space.
David Jordon, who has lived near the seafront for 20 years, said a lot had changed in that time.
"It used to be very quiet down here, even five years ago," he said.
"But now it's very busy, particularly when the weather's good."
A wheelchair user, he said he was particularly appreciative of the investment made making the promenade accessible to all.
More than £1.5m has been spent improving parking, landscaping the surrounding area, installing new railings, signs, lights and street furniture.
The beach attracts para-kiters, walkers and recently, seafront developers
A further £2m has been spent on leisure facilities, including a sandcastle play area, skateboard park, amphitheatre, piazza and improved toilets.
As well as the new cafes, there are modern sculptures and over 240 new seafront houses have been built with more to follow.
Neath Port Talbot council leader Derek Vaughn said in 1998 the authority took the decision to invest in the area and chase Blue Flag status.
"The regeneration works carried out in the area will make Aberavon a more attractive place to visit, live and invest in," he said.
"The Blue Flag is the icing on the cake."
For childhood friends Jean Morgan and Moira Patterson, who grew up together in Cwmavon in the 1930s, the changes could not be more dramatic.
"It used to be very dirty and I remember there was a wreck on the beach that used to be very dangerous," said Mrs Morgan.
"The front was mainly sand dunes then. There was one arcade you could play games along with the Alexander cafe and the beach hotel but that was it."
Mrs Patterson, who emigrated to America 60 years ago and was back this week visiting her friend, said: "It's really so pretty and beautiful, but it's changed a lot."
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