ESCAPE LONDON – Something for everyone at Swansea Bay, Wales
It’s not often you get to experience a whole area of a country, but that’s exactly what happened to me when I visited a little corner of Wales called Swansea Bay. I have much affection for Wales, its somewhere I’ve visited more times that I can even count – but I’ve stuck to the inland countryside, the rolling hills and valleys of Monmouthshire and Carmarthenshire. I spent New Year this year in climbing Snowden in 100mph winds – yes, next year I’ll stick to parties! It’s a stunning part of the world with so much to offer, call me biased, but I jumped at the chance to visit Swansea a place I’d heard people talk about as a great UK destination, but never cared to visit – until now.
Leaving London at 5pm on a Friday evening and hitting the rush hour traffic hard – it was seven hours later that we pulled into the picturesque and MUCH welcome sight of the King Arthur Hotel in Reynoldston. The hotel is situated down a very narrow long and winding road, which at 1am was a bugger to navigate, however, when we got there it was all worth it. The hotel is soooo adorable it’s everything you want from a weekend getaway. It’s way off in the remote countryside with a fantastically traditional bar area set in the most picturesque surroundings.
King Arthur Hotel, Reynoldston, SA3 1AD – Tel: 01792 390775
After a hearty breakfast and a sad goodbye to the hotel it was off to our first adventure.. SURFING.. OK so its freezing March and I know that the Irish sea isn’t known for its warm and balmy waters, so to I wasn’t looking forward to this as much as I would have done in say HAWAII! However, Swansea was on offer and I am not one to shirk a challenge, so off I went. The surfing was to take place at Rosshili Baym, which is a STUNNING bay in the Swansea area, with a really buzzing café and great views where the mountains meet the beach. We went to meet our instructors Simon and Jamie who were waiting for us at the surf shack. Warm greetings ensued and a brief lesson and then the wetsuits were handed over.. here we go! Unfortunately we were too late for dinner, but the kitchen had made us a heap of sandwiches, which we enjoyed sat next to the enormous roaring fire. Steve the super friendly and accommodating bar man was available for our every need and the welcome was so warm, it was a great start to our Swansea adventure. The hotel had been around for 150 years and it’s a real treat, I’d go back there tomorrow if I could. The rooms are set in the old stable and are enormous and private. It’s such a great destination and well worth the journey.
OK so dear reader I am one for a challenge, but I also know when to quit when I’m ahead and after swallowing half of the Irish sea, and not being able to even lie on the board for more than 2 seconds before wiping out, I chipped out leaving my more able partner in crime in the cold, COLD Irish sea. He really loved it and came in soaked and gloating 40 minutes later, whilst I pretended to be happy for his surfing success – my competitive side was seething! It definitely a laugh and something different to do in a stunning setting – if you can find a balmy day with the water temp somewhat higher than the cold March temperature we experienced, I think it’s a great holiday activity and something you can take away and remember for a long time, I mean how many people do you know have surfed in the Irish sea? The instructors were a real delight too, so if you’re in the area look them up.
With our muscles weary we took our salty selves off to Bay Bistro in Rossili Bay for a well earned – lunch, well some of us had earned it more than others – ahem! Rossili Bay is in one word STUNNING and Bay Bistro is a quaint café with an adjoining surf school, sat high on the cliffs overlooking the panorama of the bay. It was packed even for early spring and its not hard to see why it is simply a must see for anyone who visits this area of the world.
Gower: Rhossili Visitor Centre and Shop, Gower, West Glamorgan SA3 1PL, Tel: 01792 390519
The café is really cute and quaint and it serves enormous portions to hungry visitors. We tucked into a hearty homemade soup, enormous salad and a flavoursome curry. Great homely food and service with a smile, oh and it is licensed too.
Now for a history trip, I had heard of the area Mumbles before, so was looking forward to visiting, apparently this is where the Welsh rich and famous live and where seaside glamour is par for the course. Well, its simply gorgeous! It’s so chic and untouched, it’s a real gem even the high street was unobtrusive and still had that nostalgic untouched village feel to it. When looking around there is a castle overlooking the town and this was to be our next port of call.
Confession here – I’m a total castle freak, I blame my dreams of being a princess or damsel in distress, so this was right up my street. We met our volunteer guide Roger in front of the bold impressive gates of Oystermouth castle, he took us for an extremely informative tour of the ruins that lasted 2 hours. His knowledge was impeccable and if you’re looking for something historic to do with maybe kids or an parents, then this would be a great activity. Features of the castle include ancient graffiti art from the 14th century, the medieval maze of deep vaults and secret staircases. We climbed up to the top of the tower and had the most incredible view of the whole of Mumbles and Swansea Bay, it really was a good thing to do and if you go ask for Roger – his passion for the castle and good humour was everything you want from a guide.
Bay Bistro, Newton Road, The Mumbles, Swansea, SA3 4BE
Next to our hotel for the night in Swansea, we were to stay in Swansea’s premier 4* Dragon Hotel, located right in the centre of the city near the main High Street and bars – a great location for any visitors hen/stags, corporate parties or weekenders. We had a huge suite and could just about see the sea. We weren’t there long enough to use the leisure facilities, but there are numerous bars and the staff were lovely! Just what we needed after a full day of sight seeing. The breakfast the following morning was amazing – a full buffet with good quality food and really attentive staff – recommended.
The Dragon Hotel, The Kingsway, Swansea, South Wales SA1 5LS, Tel: (0)1792 657100
Now if it’s a view you want then where we went for dinner is the place to go, the Grape and Olive. Is the restaurant at the top of Wales’ tallest building with 360 degree views across the five mile sweep of Swansea Bay, towards Mumbles. Unfortunately we were sat overlooking the Tesco, which as mighty as it is, doesn’t compare to the bay. The food and service we had was disappointing on the night as there was an huge party that they were catering for, but lets be honest you’re not going for that. It would be a lovely place to watch the sun go down with a snack and a cocktail for sure – just make sure you get a sea facing seat!
Grape and Olive, Meridian Tower, Trawler Road, Swansea SA1 1JW, Tel: 01792 462617
On our final day we took in the Dylan Thomas museum, which was great, the National Waterfront Museum, and stepped back in time to Swansea Museum. All were really educational and particularly the Swansea museum which houses a real Egyptian Mummy. They’re all really close to each other and worth a look if you get tired of the shops.
Lunch was at the Café TwoCann, which was exceptional, our waitress Alexia was so lovely and really made us feel welcome – the food was lush as they say in Wales and we happily whiled away the time on a gorgeous lunch and a bottle of white wine. It’s housed in an old shipyard and the chorizo risotto with butter bean and black pudding was the best starter I’d had in ages – top marks. Plus they sell jewellery and other home bits and pieces – dangerous after a few wines, that is for sure.
Unit 2, J Shed, Kings Rd, Swansea SA1 8PL
So our Swansea adventure was at an end – worn out but deliriously happy and content we started back to London vowing to return – its definitely got something for everyone, from city to history to sea, to fab food to great countryside and just stunning scenery. We’ve already planned a trip back in the summer – hopefully that Irish Sea will be much warmer!
Emma, Heart London Magazine