Where can you find the best ice cream outside Italy? In Wales. That’s right – for some of the greatest gelato away from the streets of Rome and cafés of Naples, head to the Welsh valleys and seafronts. There, more than 100 years ago, Italian immigrants brought with them the greatest of gifts by establishing a café culture and a Welsh-Italian tradition that is still thriving today.
Early Italian immigrants came to Wales at the turn of the 19th Century, with 80 percent arriving from the same town: Bardi in northern Italy. They settled in Wales at the peak of the Industrial Revolution and opened the first cafés to service the thousands of coal, steel and dock workers. This was followed by a second wave of Italian migration to Wales after the Second World War.
Known as ‘Bracchis’, after one of the most well-known Welsh-Italian families, these cafés helped to introduce ice cream to Wales, with ice cream carts and parlours becoming a common and much-loved sight in the valleys and beyond.
You can still find a taste of Italy in almost every part of Wales. These modern-day ice cream parlours carry their dual heritage with pride.
Café Sidoli’s, Ebbw Vale
Sidoli’s is one of the most famous Italian family names in Wales, made so through its award-winning ice cream recipes. Benedetto Sidoli arrived in Wales in the early 20th century from Bardi, bringing with him traditional family ice cream recipes. He soon began trading to local businesses in the valleys.
Benedetto’s two sons, Terry and Raymond, developed and grew the business, followed by Mark Sidoli and now the fourth generation, Stef Sidoli. The original Caffé Sidoli’s is in Ebbw Vale, serving traditional ice cream, Italian coffee and snacks. There's another site at McArthur Glen designer outlet in Bridgend.
Joe’s Ice Cream, Swansea
You haven’t been to Swansea until you’ve had a Joe’s. The legendary ice cream is a tradition in these parts, with a North Pole (two vanilla ice cream wafers served in a boat covered in sauce) regularly named as one of Wales’ favourite dishes. The Joe’s Ice Cream seafront parlour in Mumbles is probably its most famous home, but the St Helen’s Road shop in Swansea is where it all began.
Joe Cascarini followed his father, Luigi, from the Abruzzi Mountains in northern Italy to Swansea, bringing with him his passion for ice cream. With a secret recipe from Italy, Joe sourced the finest ingredients in Wales and introduced Swansea to the joy of Joe’s Ice Cream.
Fecci and Sons ice cream parlour, Tenby
Fondly known by visitors and locals as ‘Top Geo's’ after its founder Geo Fecci, Fecci’s Ice Cream Parlour is a stalwart on the Tenby ice cream scene. At the centre of the much-loved seaside town since 1935, Fecci’s serves traditional Italian ice cream, coffee and snacks to thousands of tourists, year in year out.
Little ice cream lovers will love the chance to choose their own ice cream creation, from a pirate ship to a snowman, and watch it come to life with lashings of whipped cream, sauce, sweets and flags.
The list of ingredients in the original handwritten copy of founder Hannah Cadwalader’s secret recipe famously include ‘6lbs of shan’t tell you and a great deal of love and care.’ The Cadwalader family were from Criccieth in Gwynedd and began selling vanilla ice cream from the window of their general store in the 1920s. Cadwaladers ice cream soon became a huge part of the culture on the Llŷn Peninsula.
Although the company was sold in the 1980s, the current owners of the company still use the original recipe. To ensure the famous flavour remains, it is regularly taste-tested by loyal customers, some of whom have been enjoying Cadwalader’s vanilla ice cream since the 1930s.
Parisella’s ice cream parlour, Conwy
Parisella’s has been manufactured in Conwy since 1949. It was set up by Domenico Parisella, who emigrated to the UK from Italy in 1912. Originally sold via a motorised tricycle, the Parisella ice cream van business grew throughout the 1950s and 1960s, and the Parisella name is still synonymous with ice cream in North Wales.
An artisan ice cream factory reopened on the original site in 2006, and Parisella's award-winning products are available in over fifty outlets throughout North Wales.
Pietro Sidoli is believed to be related by marriage to Giacomo Bracci, the pioneer of the Italian ice cream and confectionary shops in South Wales. During the tensions of the Second World War, Pietro was forced to move away, but soon re-established himself in the Welsh community after the war ended.
His Porthcawl café still maintains the same reputation, popularity and traditions of the original Welsh Italian cafés and is a regular haunt for lovers of a classic seafront ice cream sundae topped with cream and wafers.
Artillio Conti was just 13 when he made the journey from Bardi to Wales. He saved enough money to open a café in Ystradgynlais with his two brothers. Their empire soon grew to a total of 17 Conti's cafes across South and West Wales.
The café in Lampeter is now under the stewardship of Jo, a fourth-generation Conti. It serves wholesome local produce, Conti's multi-award-winning ice cream and coffee.