:: Wales – land of the red dragon, castles, slate, cheese and vast numbers of fluffy white sheep. I can say without a doubt that it is the most beautiful place I have ever been to.
And it’s not just the breathtaking landscape which I fell in love with but the charming little pubs with their cosy fireplaces and rustic wooden beams; the towns so tiny that there’s only one, one-way road through the entire place; the bracing (ok, at times freezing) wind that is ever present and ever refreshing; and the warm openness of the locals who are always ready to stop for a chat and share their stories.
Not to mention the rich history that envelopes the country and provides layer upon layer of antiquity and mythology. Many sites throughout Wales are connected with King Arthur and his legendary deeds, as well as the Roman and Saxon invaders.
With all the photos I captured it was very hard to choose which ones to share but hopefully these will convey the best of the Welsh atmosphere…
I was delighted to discover that Wales boasts a strong gastronomic streak bolstered by a wealth of fresh, local produce. One of our first stops was to Madame Fromage in Cardiff, a delicatessen style cafe which is known as one of the best specialty cheese shops in the country.
Castell Coch is a glorious gothic masterpiece located on a steep, wooded hillside north of Cardiff. It was commissioned by the third marquess of Bute, who desired a rural retreat to complement his main residence, Cardiff Castle. Although I visited several castles during the trip, this was certainly my favourite.
The best meal I ate in Wales was served at the Hardwick in Abergavenny, South Wales. Chef Stephen Terry’s menu embraces British cuisine with French, Spanish and Italian twists but ensures that local produce and tradition shines through. Everything we ate, from the baked-that-day bread to the hearty pudding, was just divine.
For starters I had carpaccio of rare roast Herefordshire beef with anchovy, garlic and rosemary dressing.
Main was the roasted salmon on braised greens with mashed potato and creamy chive sauce.
A wonderfully indulgent dessert of medjool date loaf with toffee sauce and crème fraîche.
Cream tea has long been a tradition of Britain, and Wales has its own version. Along with the customary scones with jam and clotted cream, tea is served with Welsh cakes (small cakes a little like pikelets cooked in a griddle pan) and bara brith (a bread made of yeast and dried fruit).
This cream tea was eaten in the postcard perfect village of Betws-y-coed, a beautiful place characterised by flowing water, ancient woodlands and an abundance of charming bridges. Pont-y-Pair (below) was built in 1468 and translates as ‘the bridge of the cauldron’.
After Betws-y-coed I spent a couple of days in Llangollen, a lovely town in North Wales situated on the fast-flowing River Dee. The town boasts many sights and activities, including white-water rafting, the canal with horse-drawn boats and the Llangollen Steam Railway with their holiday ‘Mince Pie Special’ that runs along the Dee Valley.
I had dinner at Gales Wine Bar, an inviting little nook opposite the B & B in which I was staying. The menu offers a range of tapas-style starters and hearty mains that changes daily based on the availability of local ingredients. I began with marinated artichokes and golden, molten croquettes of Caerfilly cheese (a white, crumbly cheese made from cow’s milk) before moving on to a main of linguini with wild mushrooms finished with fresh parmesan and truffle oil.
Sausages feature on just about every British menu and I got my fix at the Corn Mill, just off Llangollen’s main street and perched on the River Dee. After a day of sight-seeing and exploration, a hearty meal of sausages, braised greens, mash and onion gravy goes down a treat.
This is quite possibly my favourite view from the trip – the patchwork panorama from atop Dinas Brân.
The ruins of the medieval castle Dinas Brân stand high on a hill above the town of Llangollen. After buying some tasty bites from the local delicatessen and cheese monger’s, I sweated the climb up the almost vertical hill, passing masterfully agile sheep and watching the view grow more and more spectacular with each ascension.
And voilà – my picnic on top of the world!