Hands up who fancies a foodie road trip around Wales over the coming summer months? I can’t wait to visit friends, to share great times and epic views – or book a cheeky day off to go wandering on my own. My favourite part of planning a break is to pick the best places to eat, and as the author of Welsh food guidebooks I've got tasty memories dotted around Wales.
Pre-Covid, I could never have driven through Harlech without sampling a taste of Hufenfa'r Castell's sea buckthorn ice cream. South-bound for Barmouth, and Lobster Pot, a takeaway crab was a must for lunch, before driving to Llanelltyd for a sunset view of Cader Idris over supper at Bwyty Mawddach.
In Swansea, Joe’s and Verdi’s were always big draws, before a visit to Beach House Oxwich. And when I think of Cardigan Bay, it’s the food memories that hold their sway. From the fish and chips at The Shed, Porthgain, and enjoying the al fresco vibe at the Harbourmaster, Aberaeron. Not forgetting an apres-swim mocktail at Dylan’s Cricieth, a glass of Viognier from Portmeirion and an iced bun from Becws Islyn, Aberdaron.
Despite all the challenges still posed by the Covid pandemic, I’m confident that we can still enjoy these gastro destinations in the fresh Welsh air over summer. But do you know what’s really got me excited this year – for the first time since I was a kid? The prospect of planning picnics all over Wales! Thanks to the abundance of great produce good times are guaranteed, with views to break your heart come rain or shine. Just imagine such freedom following that lengthy winter lockdown.
You could plan your feast in great detail, by pre-ordering your treats online, or pick ’n mix your picnic ingredients at delis and farmshops along your way. And whether you’re more of a Dylan Thomas-style lollygagger than a Jan Morris-esque adventurer, there’s a picnic to suit all comers. So grab your hamper, a raincoat, a swimsuit and bucket and spade, for a fabulous day to remember.
Now, where to begin a Welsh picnic pilgrimage?
I’d start in the gorse and heather of Uwchmynydd, at the tip of the Llŷn Peninsula. I’d savour the view of Ynys Enlli over a flask of Dwyfor coffee, and a fresh bread sandwich – or shell-shaped shortbread – from Becws Islyn. Then I’d grab some beers from Cwrw Llŷn (including Brenin Enlli bitter and Porth Neigwl IPA) for a saunter between Nefyn and Nant Gwrtheyrn. And on the central ‘Maes’ in Pwllheli, I’d head to local fishmonger Pysgod Llŷn for a local lobster and smoked mackerel paté, then pop next door to Gwin Llŷn fine wines for a complementary refresher.
Onwards, to Eifionydd, and Cadwalader’s ice cream in Criccieth, before making a bee-line to Dylan’s for a perennial picnic favourite - their award-winning Picallili. Along with a basket of scones, spread with Welsh Lady preserves from Y Ffôr, I’d include some cavern-aged Dragon cheddar sarnies too, before savouring the ‘perfect peace’ of Y Lôn Goed – a lovely tree-lined idyll, not far from Chwilog.
After that, I’d head for Dyffryn Nantlle, and Pant Du Vineyard and orchard. A bottle of their rhubarb cider would go down very well whilst admiring the view of Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) from Llyn Nantlle. And as for a trip to the beach I’d consider a beer from Bragdy Lleu, Penygroes, all named after legendary characters from the Mabinogi. I can’t imagine anything nicer than an afternoon at Dinas Dinlle. Perhaps a post-swim bottle of Blodeuwedd golden ale, with notes of meadow flowers.
On to Ynys Môn - the isle of Anglesey - and I’d aim straight from Menai Bridge to the foodie- cluster of Brynsiencyn. I’d call in at Hooton’s Homegrown Farm Shop - where you can pick your own strawberries - and at the till I’d add to my bill a bottle of Strawberry and Pink Peppercorn Gin from Llanfairpwllgwyngyll Distillery.
Then, just a few steps closer to Afon Menai, I’d visit one of Wales’ world-class food meccas, Halen Môn. I’d happily break the bank over the gift shop treasures, and fill my basket with such picnicky pleasures as the smoked honey mustard, Bloody Mary ketchup and Jones o Gymru Halen Môn Seasalt and Vinegar Crisps! The perfect accompaniment to a sunset swim on the Welsh lovers’ isle of Ynys Llanddwyn. Or for a different take on a knock-out picnic date, head inland to Melin Llynnon, Llanddeusant. There, you can order a spectacular ‘cake-away’ from chef Richard Holt’s patisserie.
Clwydian Range and Dee Valley
Back on the mainland, and on to Dyffryn Clwyd, my first port of call would be Blas ar Fwyd. You’ll find the deli’s produce online and in shops all over Wales, but a visit to Llanrwst is a must to choose your picnic hamper of dreams! My own must-have additions to a Blas ar Fwyd basket would be the coleslaw, and potato and chive salad and - oh, go on then - a trifle, or three. And remember to stock-up on other local foodie products, including Siwgwr a Sbeis cakes and Llaeth y Llan yoghurts (the goosberry flavour is my summer favourite). You’ll find sausage rolls aplenty at Edward’s butchers in Conwy, as well as endless ideas for summer barbecue parties. And further east on the A55, make a detour for Hawarden Estate Farm Shop - Jacky’s ginger cake (from Bala) would be the perfect pick-up on a hike along the Clwydian Range and Dee Valley.
And speaking of the Dee, or Dyfrdwy, follow the river back towards its source above Llanuwchllyn. Along the way there’s the Rhug Estate near Corwen, with a farm shop filled to the brim with their own organic meats, and local favourite, Wrexham Lager. And before you spread your picnic blanket along the shore of Llyn Tegid in Bala, call in to Stori Beers and Wine for non-alcoholic refreshers. I promise you, for less than a fiver, you’ll get a ‘diolch’ from your designated driver!
Mid Wales marvels
Crossing the Berwyn mountains over to Sir Drefaldwyn (Montgomeryshire), prepare your taste-buds for a hit of umami! The tasty beef jerky from Trailhead Fine Foods near Welshpool would go down well with a bottle of Monty’s Brewery Sunshine golden ale. Further west, in Caersws, fill your hamper with award-winning Radnor Preserves. Pair your favourite ham or cheese sarnie with the leek and cider chutney, or for a really ravishing relish, go for the Smoky Campfire marmalade.
Mead and more…
For yet more summer food adventures, head south-west to Ceredigion, with its abundance of perfect picnic spots, from Cors Caron to Aberaeron. And as for the cheese board of your dreams, consider locals Hafod and Perl Wen Cenarth alongside a gouda-style Welsh Nettle cheese and a Halloumi by Caws Teifi.
Then for lashings and lashings of ginger beer, turn to Llanllyr Source from Lampeter. Or for a native summer tipple to really wet your whistle, consider the earthy, mellow sweetness of Welsh mead. Fill your basket with a bottle of Afon Mêl - you’ll find it online or from the meadery itself between New Quay and Synod Inn. Or for a dash of fruity fun, go for the cherry and rhubarb light mead option by Shire Meadery of Penrhyncoch. Go on, you know you’re curious, and if not now, then when? The best picnics provide a mix of nostalgia and the chance for new flavour fun.
West is best?
Another opportunity knocks just south of the Preseli hills. Grab your chance to taste a Pembrokeshire beef ‘biltong’ snack by From Our Farm in Narberth. Then wash it down with a refreshing bottle of Elderflower Blonde ale by Bluestone Brewing Company in Cilgwyn. Even better when combined with a hike up Carn Ingli before a dash down to the sea at Traeth Mawr.
And when Carmarthenshire calls, head for Castell Carreg Cennen, or Cefn Sidan – and call in to one of Wales’ foodie holy grails, Wrights Food Emporium. Along the shelves in Llanarthne you’ll find a wealth of local treats, like Gwenyn Gruffudd Welsh honey and Jin Talog gins. From there head north towards the majestic Bannau Brycheiniog - the Brecon Beacons.
Whether I’m scaling Pen y Fan or reciting the legend of Llyn y Fan Fach, what’s handy to have at hand are charcuterie meats from Trealy Farm as well as a crunchy Cradoc's cracker! On the Blorenge above Abergavenny, or after conquering Crug Hywel, I’d happily savour a rosé from Ancre Hill Estates, or a bottle of Apple County Cider. And as night fell over Monmouthshire, I’d ‘be prepared’ with some foodie no-brainers: a snifter of Penderyn whisky, and a box of chocolates from The Mallow Tailor! I’d also have packed a sleeping bag for a magical night of star-gazing. My only quandry beforehand - which hot chocolate do I pack? Pendragon Drinks or Crwst?
Then at break of dawn, or ‘toriad gwawr’, I’d prepare coffee. Yes, ‘un mawr!' or a big cuppa! After a Coaltown, Poblado, Heartland or Welsh Coffee Co I’d definitely be raring to go. But go on with the adventure or head straight home? The answer would involve another food odyssey and the pleasure of the Welsh open road.
Follow Lowri @lowrihafcooke on Instagram for more information and inspiration on all things food and drink in Wales.