Take A Foodie Tour of Wales

Llansantffraed Court chef, fine dining, restaurant

A hub of artisan producers, exciting restaurants and stunning boutique hotels, Wales is the perfect location for a foodie getaway.

There are few destinations that take the ‘eat local’ mantra more seriously than Wales. With stunning scenery, delicious food and a thriving restaurant scene, it’s fast becoming the location of choice for food lovers in the know.

The region has long since peeled off the ‘gastronomic desert’ label slapped onto it unfairly by critics who rarely ventured west of the Hammersmith flyover. In the sixties, it could even be argued that the esteemed Franco Taruschio – he of the famed Walnut Tree Inn at Abergavenny – was one of the first to popularise the concept of informal fine dining allied to the championing of fresh local produce.

So where’s the good food in Wales nowadays? And what are the trends that have seen Abergavenny become host to the best food and drink festival in the UK, and in the process acting as a barometer of the movement in Wales generally? One tried-and-tested introduction into Wales’s food scene is Welsh Rarebits, an exclusive collection of 36 hotels, membership of which is by invitation only.

When we say ‘hotels’ we don’t mean big, impersonal establishments and international brands. The vast majority of Rarebits are privately owned and run, and range from seaside hotels to country houses, historic inns to cool boutique boltholes, townhouses to restaurants with rooms. Since one of the criteria for membership is to be found in the kitchen, you can confidently expect to your chosen Rarebit to serve more than cheese on toast.

Restaurant James Sommerin, Penarth, Cardiff, Michelin Star

Here’s a whistle-stop tour of just a handful of Rarebits – a good cross-section to give you a flavour of what to expect.

At the gateway to Wales near Abergavenny stands Llansantffraed Court. Its owner, Mike Morgan, is well known in Wales for his passion for food – and it shows in his menus. Provenance and food miles are high on the agenda. “Luckily for us,” says Mike, “Monmouthshire is blessed with amazingly dedicated small producers.” Specialities include Welsh Black beef, organic pedigree Welsh mountain lamb and succulent Brecon venison.

It’s the same story at Felin Fach Griffin near Brecon, named Dining Pub of the Year – a country pub redefined and reinvented. Laid back and properly comfy, with nicely worn sofas, log fires and a cosy winter warmth the Scandinavians call hygge, it’s serious only when it comes to its food, which is on a different planet from typical pub grub. Great ingredients are sourced right on the doorstep (including their own kitchen garden), so expect daily and seasonal menus to feature Welsh beef and lamb, plus game from local estates.

Restaurant James Sommerin at Penarth is the creation of one of Wales’s Michelin-starred chefs. Ask anyone who knows anything about food in Wales and the name James Sommerin soon crops up. His track record as an inspired and uniquely talented chef speaks for itself.

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Seafood is another Welsh top-notch speciality – so much so that much of it ends up on plates in France and Spain as well as locally. Shellfish include crab, lobster, mussels, scallops and even oysters (not forgetting Penclawdd cockles sold fresh in Swansea Market, with – of course – dash of vinegar and pepper). There’s plenty of fish too – sea bass, hake, mackerel, turbot and sole to name but a few.

St Brides mussels

And since Pembrokeshire is defined by the sea it’s no surprise that Rarebits hotels here make the most of the local catch of the day – taste the freshness while soaking up the clifftop views from St Brides Spa Hotel at Saunderfoot on the south coast, or Newport’s Llys Meddyg in the north.

Glyn Roberts has been cooking up a storm at Castle Cottage, Harlech, for longer than he cares to remember. Not that he’s lacking any of his original passion for the profession. He’s a typical top-end chef – get him talking about his favourite subject (yes, you’ve guessed it) and you might be there until dawn peeks over the battlements of Glyn’s historic neighbour, Harlech Castle. His dishes are inventive but full of honest-to-goodness flavour, a testament to the integrity of the local produce.

On the Isle of Anglesey, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, is the colourful town of Beaumaris. The Bull has a destination restaurant renowned for its modern cuisine and boasts 3 AA Rosettes.  It’s a 400 year old Inn complete with original beams as well as having a trendy boutique hotel next door, The Townhouse.

The Bull, Anglesey, North Wales, fine dining, food

And any foodie tour around Wales has to take in Tyddyn Llan near Bala, where Michelin-starred Bryan Webb attracts accolade after accolade with the regularity of a metronome for the skill and quality of his cooking – not to mention the overall dining experience presided over by his wife Susan.

You don’t even have to travel to Wales to sample its bountiful larder; we haven’t mentioned its artisan farmhouse cheeses yet, which even the French have been known to praise. Rarebits’ ethos of quality has been applied to Gourmet Wales, a mail-order scheme that brings the best of Welsh food and drink to your doorstep. A variety of hampers for all occasions are available. Treats include top-quality meats, fine pies, terrines, coracle-caught smoked sea trout, marmalades, jams, pickles and chutneys, Anglesey sea salt, honey, waffles, shortbread, oatcakes, chocolates and an eclectic choice of wines – not forgetting those artisan cheeses.

And the award goes to…

Welsh Rarebits and Great Little Places members came away from the AA Hospitality Awards 2017 with a clutch of accolades last night.

The prestigious event was held in London and was attended by world-renowned chefs, prominent hoteliers and restaurateurs, hospitality gurus and key media. The Awards are a highlight in the industry calendar and recognises the excellent service provided by the very best establishments.

Wales’ first contemporary art hotel, Twr y Felin Hotel, was awarded AA Hotel of the Year, Wales.

The stunning Mansion House received AA Guest Accommodation of the Year, Wales.

Bryn Tyrch Inn is one of our newest members and triumphed in the Pub of the Year (Wales) category.

Michelin Star Restaurant James Sommerin scooped a whopping 4 Rosettes at the Awards.

These achievements reflect our Collection’s high calibre of accommodation and fantastic hospitality provided by our members. Our congratulations go out to all the winners.

A stay to remember at Twr y Felin

Twr y Felin Hotel, a former historic windmill, now has a very modern interior. It is Wales’ first contemporary art hotel and is filled with stunning specially commissioned art – there are bold and striking paintings to admire everywhere. Located in Britain’s smallest city, St David’s, the hotel is now home to 21 no-expense-spared rooms – most with views over the Pembrokeshire coast and landscape. All are furnished to the highest of standards, including ours which was Ramsey Room. Located in the eaves of the hotel on the 2nd floor with three windows, two of which have scenic views of the coastline.  Room facilities were fantastic too: super comfy super king-sized bed, bathrobes, slippers, aromatherapy toiletries, Sky TV, iPod docking station and tea and coffee making facilities. That evening we dined at the two Rosette Blas Restaurant, which has a locally sourced menu influenced by the seasons. We devoured all our courses – all beautifully presented and cooked to perfection. Breakfast the next morning was an absolute pleasure! There was a fantastic range to choose from. Every member of staff were friendly, helpful and offered fantastic customer service – we were well looked after.

Watch a film showcasing Twr y Felin Hotel here:

The next day we were taken on a tour of the exclusive group of hotels. The first stop was Penrhiw Hotel, a former priory transformed by high-end interior design – it’s luxurious bedrooms have a masculine, minimalist look with abstract art on the walls. Located in a peaceful spot above a wooded valley on the fringes of St David’s and just a 5 minute walk to the cathedral – it’s a perfect escape from rush and stress.

Watch a film showcasing Penrhiw Hotel here:

Finally we witnessed Roch Castle, a restored 800 year old Norman castle, now with stylish and contemporary features. The views were obscured with mist on our visit, but it added to the dramatic atmosphere. Perched high above the landscape with panoramic views across to St Brides Bay and inland across Pembrokeshire countryside. Boasting a cool and chic interior, yet remaining warm and welcoming – and should be on your list of places to stay!

Watch a film showcasing Roch Castle here:

 

Top places in Wales to propose this Valentine’s Day (or any other day)

Are you planning a romantic surprise this Valentine’s Day? Whether it’s a proposal or a picnic, Wales is full of the most beautiful settings to enjoy with the special person in your life.

For that extra special surprise, you don’t have to take them on Valentine’s Day – take them somewhere special ‘just because’ to really melt their heart.

Here, we’ve picked some of our favourite stunning settings. Let us know what you think on Twitter @Rarebits

Lake Vyrnwy, Llanwddyn

Referred to as a ‘reservoir’ in Powys, the reality is much more captivating than the description. Originally built with the purpose of supplying Liverpool with water, the lake is now the setting for water sports, horse riding, cycling and other activities.

A truly breathtaking sight, the lake is also home to Lake Vyrnwy Hotel and Spa.

Roch Castle, Pembrokeshire

What could be more romantic that a real life castle? Roch Castle is a restored Norman castle, with all the mod-cons and features you’d expect from a luxury hotel.

Four waterfalls walk, Ystradfellte

 The four waterfalls walk is a popular route in the Brecon Beacons, which takes in a quartet of waterfalls along the Afon Mellte. The walk culminates in the Sgŵd yr Eira, where the footpath passes behind the waterfall itself – the perfect location for a romantic gesture.

If you want to make a weekend of it, take a look at Peterstone Court Hotel and Spa.

 Barafundle Bay, near Stackpole

Named as one of the best beaches in the world by Passport magazine, Barafundle Bay offers nothing but natural beauty. If you’re visiting, be sure to pack a romantic picnic as there aren’t any facilities on site.

If you’re heading down that way, why not use Elm Grove as a base for exploring? The house, based in Tenby, has been in the same family for 150 years. Or The Stackpole Inn makes an ideal spot to explore this corner of Pembrokeshire.



Portmeirion Village

An Italianate village in North Wales, Portmerion Village is one of a kind. If you had dreams of proposing abroad, but lack of planning or budget hampered that wish, take a look at this village.

Give the perfect gift this Christmas

It’s that time of year again, so it’s time to start searching for those special gifts for your loved ones. Whether you’re buying for family or friends, our vouchers are the perfect present to wake up to on Christmas morning.

We want to offer more flexibility this year, so we’re offering gold, silver and bronze options. Each voucher can be purchased for single or multiple night stays at a selection of our award-wining hotels and are redeemable at selected hotels depending on the category you choose.

You can purchase our vouchers online and receive them in the post up until the Royal Mail’s last official postdate. Alternatively, if last-minute Christmas shopping is more your style, you can buy our e-vouchers anytime and they’ll land in your inbox instantly.

 

Gold

One night stay with breakfast – £195 / Two night stay with breakfast – £375

One night stay with an evening meal and breakfast – £295 / Two night stay with an evening meal and breakfast – £550

Our gold vouchers offer the upmost luxury and are redeemable at a number of our finest hotels. Whether they’re after a relaxing spa break or a cosy countryside escape, your lucky loved one is bound to find something they’ll enjoy.

gold-voucher

Gold vouchers allow the recipient to stay at any of the following:

Bodysgallen Hall Hotel and SpaHotel PortmeirionSt Brides Spa HotelTyddyn LlanPenmaenuchaf HallGliffaes Country House HotelLake Vyrnwy Hotel and SpaFairyhill and Tre-Ysgawen Hall Hotel and Spa

 

Silver

One night stay with breakfast – £165 / Two night stay with breakfast – £300

One night stay with an evening meal and breakfast – £265 / Two night stay with an evening meal and breakfast -£475

Enjoy some country house comfort at Llansantffraed Court or indulge in a spa treatment at Penarth’s boutique Holm House with our silver vouchers.

silver-voucher

Silver voucher recipients can choose to stay at any of the following hotels:

St George’s HotelGwesty CymruPeterstone CourtPorth Tocyn HotelThe FalcondaleThe Felin Fach Griffin HarbourmasterPen-y-Dyffryn Country HotelHammet HouseHolm HouseLlansantffraed Court and Warpool Court

 

Bronze

One night stay with breakfast – £135 / Two night stay with breakfast – £250

One night stay with an evening meal and breakfast – £215 / Two night stay with an evening meal and breakfast

The hotels on offer with our bronze vouchers certainly aren’t lacking in luxury. Foodies might choose the Bear Hotel to experience its award-winning cuisine, while the spa facilities at the Sychnant Pass Country House offer the perfect way to relax after exploring Snowdonia.

bronze-voucher

Bronze voucher recipients can chose to stay in the following hotels:

Castle CottageThe Hand at LlanarmonThe BullManorhaus RuthinManorhaus LlangollenBear HotelSychnant Pass Country HouseTyn RhosCaemorgan MansionThe Metropole HotelY Talbot TregaronThe Castle Hotel and Ty Mawr Country Hotel

For advice on things to do and experience while visiting one of our hotels, check out our discover Wales section