Pembrokeshire has the same stunning coastline and fantastic food as Cornwall - but without so many queues and crowds. Time to explore the delights of an underrated gem...
Cornwall has long been the king of the domestic coastline but on a recent visit I found Pembrokeshire poised to steal the Duchy's clothes. While Cornwall can be overrun by stag parties and the queues for Rick Stein’s restaurants, Wales’s southwest peninsula is far less populated yet equally well endowed.
My personal recommendation would still be to go out of high season though, as long walks along the rugged coastline and stunning beaches are best taken in spring and autumn, out of reach of the bucket-and-spade brigade.
It's the perfect base for exploring the nearby market town of Narbreth. Dominated by its ruined castle, the high street is an eclectic mix of independent boutiques, galleries and retro fashion stores. While my wife unearthed some vintage bargains, I checked out the delights of the weekly food market and found carmadon ham, Welsh Black beef and award-winning local goat cheeses very much to my taste.
Also worth a visit is Britain's smallest city, St Davids. It is bizarre to see such a majestic cathedral in what is really little more than a small market town. Founded by St David in the sixth century, the present-day cathedral was built in 1181. The streets of the city itself are dominated by art galleries. Pembrokeshire has recently overtaken St Ives as the place with the most artists per capita in the UK and has 59 mostly artist-owned studios and galleries, making it the perfect place to buy a souvenir of your visit, especially as much of the artwork reflects the stunningly beautiful surrounding landscapes.
Like Cornwall, Pembrokeshire is surrounded on three sides by the Atlantic and is already a hot spot for surfers. Home to Britain's only coastal National Park, it is also the perfect place to stretch your legs and fill your lungs full of Welsh sea air. They have even developed their own sport of coasteering, an adrenaline-inducing mix of coastal scrambling, swimming and cliff jumping.
On the southern tip, Barafundle Bay has been widely acclaimed as one of the best beaches in the world. It is a 20-minute walk across the headland from Stackpole Quay and when you first see it from on high it looks more like a Mediterranean island than the Welsh coast. On a Sunday September morning, there was just one other couple sitting on the sand as we arrived and, as if on cue, they vacated the beach to leave it for us to enjoy in solitude.
The beach is just one landmark on a wonderful stretch of coastline and is walking distance from the nearby The Stackpole Inn
, a quintessential country pub with low-ceilings and blossoming beer gardens. It does fab food (think gamey local pies) and has a couple of very cute attic rooms as well as eco-friendly rooms in the garden.
If you're coming from London, as we did, Pembrokeshire is around a five-hour drive. But spare a thought for the Druids; it took them considerably longer to lug the bluestone from here to Stonehenge. It seems they recognised Pembrokeshire's magical qualities a long time before we did.