Coast, culture and candy floss in South Wales
- Recommended for:
- Activity, Beach, Short Break, Budget, Expensive, Mid-range
Base yourself at a swanky boutique hotel in Swansea and you're in prime position to explore the glorious beaches of the Gower Peninsula in South Wales
He was an intense, passionate and sometimes awkward man, was Dylan Thomas, product of the Swansea environs – poet, actor and fiction writer. Surely the prerogative - and perhaps even the template - for a great literary figure and creative genius. The Dylan Thomas Centre, in the city’s swanky Maritime Quarter, has a short and sweet exhibition dedicated to his short and colourful life.
He’s best known, of course, for the play Under Milk Wood, considered by some to be the forerunner of the modern soap opera. And there is something of EastEnders about this town. When I came here first, in the early nineties, it was proudly working class, toughing out the bite of the last recession. A makeover in recent years of prosperity has smartened up the town centre, and seen the addition of a couple of excellent hotels and a yachting marina. It’s grittily cosmopolitan, great value and a good base for exploring the The Mumbles, the traditional seaside town on its doorstep - and the Gower, Britain’s first designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Stay at the contemporary, boutique Morgans Hotel or at Morgan’s Town House, an adjacent, more economic, annexe furnished to the same Habitat-style high standards and also boasting the luxury marble-tiled bathrooms of the main building. Doubles cost from £90. Another classy and slightly cheaper alternative is The Grand Hotel, with doubles from £75 per night. Neighbouring the station since the 1930s, it’s modern, minimalist and still has touches of Art Deco splendour.
From town you can cycle, bus or drive your way along the prom to the Mumbles. With all the quirkiness of the Barry Island seaside town inhabited by the characters of Gavin and Stacey, the Mumbles also has a village feel and is a fun place to explore on foot. Choose to browse the gift shops selling trinkets as diverse as Welsh love spoons and the bespoke jewellery of local artists; feel the sea breeze in your hair at the amusement park; or head to Joe’s Ice Cream Parlour and indulge in a taste of Tuscany courtesy of the Cascarini family. They’ve been making rich, smooth ice-cream to a secret Italian recipe since 1922. A helping of the exotic Tuscan Cassata – Marsala-wine flavoured ice-cream with glacé fruit and cherries - goes surprisingly well with a moist, sultana-crammed Welsh cake.
The Mumbles also has the honour of being the gateway to the Gower Peninsula. Enjoy your creature comforts, then head for the great outdoors. It’s a walker's paradise, with 34 miles of coastline, rolling moorland and marsh to trek. You’ll also find yourself surrounded by beaches that could easily nudge their Cornish peers out of a beauty contest. There’s the golden sweep of sand at Rhossili Bay to the west, Bracelet Bay to the east (which is perfect for surfing), Pobbles Bay to the south, backed by pretty limestone cliffs, and the wonderful Langland Bay. You can easily walk from the edge of town to this palm-tree lined cove with its peppermint-green beach huts. The gently shelving sands make it ideal for families. If the idea appeals, park in Plunch Lane and pick up the cliff-top coastal path at the junction of Plunch Lane and Mumbles Road.
My favourite beach is Three Cliffs Bay on the south coast, protected between headland hills verdant with ruffled foliage. At the top there’s a des res for those on a budget: the Three Cliffs Bay Holiday Park, a very well kept camp site with cottages. Tent pitches cost from just £15 per night for two. For a more homely and rustic hideaway, try Parc le Broes, where doubles cost from £32 per person per night. This 19th century hunting lodge at Parkmill is also a pony-trekking hub. Join a group or book up a guided ride for one or two. But which itinerary to choose astride your sturdy native steed? A gallop across the sweeping arc of Three Cliffs Bay, or bridle paths that climb to vantage points that on a clear day reveal the Brecon Beacons, Lundy Islands and Devon?
When night falls, dining indulgence is just a rural wind away at Fairy Hill, an exclusive ivy-clad pile that is both restaurant and hotel. Locally inspired dishes such as fillet of Welsh black beef, oxtail ravioli, roast carrots and truffle mash or filo parcel of garden leeks, pine nuts and wild mushrooms with pak choi and parsley potatoes are typical mains on the evening menu. (Two courses £35, three courses £45). Sumptuous doubles cost from £175 per night including a mountain-sized Welsh breakfast. If you seek five-star luxury without pretension, attentive service without fusty formality, then you may have found it. Otherwise there’s always eating juicy fish and proper, fat chips out of the paper on the sea wall back at The Mumbles. However the mood takes you.