Over the coming months, we will be looking at some of the fabulous places that the UK has to offer in terms of holidays, great food and how you can start supporting the environments that you visit without cutting corners or forgoing the luxury and lifestyle that you want to experience when you are away from home. Destination Conwy has a world of culture, local food and breathtaking scenery to share with those looking to travel to Wales and supports its local communities every step of the way.
I had the opportunity to visit the area of Conwy earlier this month with our photographer Ben, and while we were there we stayed at The Royal Oak Hotel in Betws-y-Coed, the principal village of the Snowdonia National Park, which consists of mountain and moorland, divided by roads and little villages such as Betws-y-Coed.
The Royal Oak Hotel is a Victorian building, sitting opposite the Snowdonia National Park Visitors Centre, which makes it the perfect base for anyone looking to explore the surrounding area. The River Llugwy runs alongside a good portion of the main road where the hotel is situated and the sounds of running water fill the air.
The hotel still has a lot of its original charm, with a comforting air and very welcoming staff. After checking in, we took the stairs up to our room (there is no wheelchair access) situated on the second floor. The single rooms provided ample space for one person, with an en-suite bathroom, and of course, tea and coffee facilities. On our first evening, we dined in the Llugwy River Restaurant, which is inside the hotel. The restaurant is beautifully laid out, gently lit and prides itself on serving locally sourced, Welsh food provided by teaming up and supporting the local producers. The first page of the menu is full of information about where the food we were to eat originated.
Every dish from our meal was presented beautifully and was more than enough to satisfy our hunger after a long journey. The highlights for us were definitely the amuse-bouche of sweet potato, apple and ginger soup and the steak my companion ordered. Considering the restaurant’s ethos of locally sourcing all of the ingredients, the price of £25 per person was more than fair; my companion and I agreed that we would have paid that for his steak alone.
After a much-needed rest in comfortable beds, the next morning to travel to the Bodnant Welsh Food Centre. Chris Morton, the managing director gave us a tour of the centre and shared with us some of the histories of this extensive estate. The Centre began life in the 18th century as Furness Farm but sadly fell into disrepair in the 1960s. Restoration began in 2010 and it has since become the open and modern collection of buildings it is now, without losing any of its charms.
The main hub of the business is the farm shop where over seventy-five per cent of the total they sell is Welsh produce, including what has been produced on the Bodnant Estate. The sheer size of the farm shop is a testament to its success. The whole shop is clean and open, with so many food options you don’t know where to look next.
We sampled some of the cheese made in the Food Centre’s very own dairy; their Aberwen cheese is made using a 300-year-old Welsh recipe and has won bronze in the World Cheese Awards. The centre’s extensive meat counter was fully laden with choice cuts – and you could even view the butcher preparing the various meats behind the counter.
The Wine Shop is the newest addition to the Centre, having only been opened last year yet already stocking a great selection of local and world wines. Wales itself boats 17 vineyards.
The on-site Cookery School offers a variety of courses suitable for all levels and all the ingredients used can be found for sale in the farm shop; allowing the students to not only make some interesting new foods but know they are using locally sourced ingredients.
Chris informed us that the school is ever-changing, as they find new courses to teach and new people to teach them. Adjoining the vast cookery school is a dining room with amazing views, so the students can enjoy the feasts they have themselves created.
We took lunch in the Hay Loft Restaurant and were very excited to try some of the delicious foods we had seen on sale in the farm shop. We did not leave hungry and even ended up sharing a dessert as between the soup and steak we had consumed we were full to the brim.
Just before we left the Welsh Food Centre we had the pleasure of meeting Dai Chef, who has only recently started working in the kitchen. With many years of experience under his belt and pride in Welsh Food, he is looking to bring together the local food available at the food centre and make food that is inherently Welsh but with a modern twist.
The Food Centre is definitely more than just a pit stop for people who are visiting the area. There was so much going on, it was a shame when the time came that we had to leave. We would have loved to sample their ice cream which is made on-site and perhaps even had a spot of tea (had we the room). With a small play area provided for children, be prepared to stay late into the afternoon when you stop in to visit destination Conwy.
Our next stop in our discovery Destination Conwy weekend was the St Tudno Hotel in Llandudno which is situated on the promenade opposite the pier, with fine views of the sea. We stepped inside to take afternoon tea and were greeted with well presented and friendly staff. After a quick perusal of the menu, we chose our sandwiches, cakes and tea, and settled down to watch the waves and take a little time to relax.
Tea was presented exactly as one would expect tea to be served, dainty dishes, a cake tower, silverware and all – and the tea itself, which won a Tea Guild of Excellence Award in 2012, perfectly matched our nibbles. We both agreed we could have sat and relaxed for hours. After we had taken tea we went on a short tour of the hotel, viewing the rooms and features available and were quite surprised to find, tucked away, the addition of a small swimming pool for guests.
The St Tudno Hotel also carries its own piece of history, being the place where Lewis Carroll met a young girl named Alice Liddell; the girl who inspired the much-loved character of Alice in Wonderland.
While this is an interesting piece of history, the hotel has not placed its whole worth on it. Their principal suite may name the Alice Suite but the hotel has much more to offer than just being somewhere for fans to tour the birthplace of the famed character. With its prime location on the promenade, the hotel would be a perfect place to stay by the sea or maybe even just pop in for tea.
The weekend was definitely an eye-opener in terms of what Wales can offer for a UK getaway. For those who can’t or won’t leave the country, Destination Conwy doesn’t mean you must lose out on history and scenery and plenty of activities.
North Wales is stunning; the rolling hills edge the horizon at every turn and inspire the need to just go for a walk. We were fortunate enough to visit just as the weather started to take a turn for the better, so don’t let anyone tell you the weather is miserable in Wales. Everywhere is easily accessible by road, and with the smooth drive and beautiful scenery, the route to wherever you wish to visit is an experience in itself.
For more details on Destination Conwy and the breathtaking experiences that North Wales has to offer visit www.conwy.gov.uk