Everyone visits Cardiff, but hardly anyone ventures into these "forgotton" valleys. If you don't, you are missing the absolute BEST that Wales has to offer.
From Pontypridd, the town at the gateway of the Rhondda, you can go one or two ways. Follow the signposts through the picuresque village of Trehafod, into the bustling market town of Porth, which boasts excellent cafes, restaurants and shopping facilities, surrounded by breathtaking mountain scenery. Up the hill from Porth and you come into Trealaw. From the summit of the hill you can see down into Porth (famous for its Pop Factory theatre) and Pontypridd. The next town you come to (via a slight detour - but worth the effort - is Tonypandy). Nestling in the depths of the valley, and again surrounded by breathtaking scenery, this little town is well worth a visit. From Tonypandy, go back on yourself a little and continue out of the valley, through Llwynypia, into Ystrad. This village is full of miners cottages - it's like going back in time. After Ystrad, the valley widens and you arrive in Treorchy, the next largest town after Porth. Treorchy boasts a good theatre and wide selection of pubs and cafes, together with a fine range of small but enticing shops. Up the valley again, then, and you come to the smaller village of Treherbert. From Treherbert, you could leave the valley and head for the mountain, but if you travel on through the village you come to Blaenrhondda and Blaencwm. Blaencwm is a tiny hamlet, nestling in a dip and completely surrounded by high mountains.
Alternatively, you can leave Porth by another route and head up the other side of the Rhondda. You pass through the village of Ynyshir (a visit to St. Anne's Church is a must) before travelling steadily uphill to Pontygwaith, which leads straight into my favourite village of all, Tylorstown. Mention Tylorstown to a stranger and they will just stare at you, bemused - nobody has heard of this fantastic village. It boasts chapels and old-fashioned shops, a few good pubs, but most of all, absolutely fabulous scenery. From Tylorstown, make a diversion up Penrhys Hill and you will see what I mean - views right across the valley. Words cannot describe the beauty of this place, yet I have yet to see it appear in any kind of tourist guide or book. Back down the hill to 'Rhondda heaven' and from Tylorstown you reach Ferndale - a quaint little village - and then the smaller hamlet of Maerdy. Maerdy is the 'end of the line' - you hit the mountain!
So, to review - next time you are in the Cardiff area, make sure you take the time to drive around the Rhondda. You will be absolutely amazed. Take lots of film for your camera, though - you'll need it!