An idyllic weekend in Tenby, Pembrokeshire
A visit to Pembrokeshire is worth the trip any season and in any year but 2018 is Wales’ Year of the Sea, when it is celebrating its outstanding coastal scenery and inviting visitors to special events and attractions, so now is a really good time to jump in the car or onto the train and head west from London.
‘‘The sea washes away all the ills of men”. Euripides had the wine-dark Mediterranean in mind when he wrote these words all those centuries ago but in 1810 they were Sir William Paxton’s inspiration for his new bathhouse in Tenby, built to attract the wealthy and fashionable of the Regency period. So he put these words in Greek top, front and centre on his building and people have been coming in droves ever since – not just the upper crust but all the slices and breadcrumbs of British society – to play on the beaches, paddle in the sea and promenade along the streets.
With its stunning cliff-top setting, sweeping sandy bays on either side, Tenby is very much the holiday heart of Pembrokeshire, but in a county where the sea is never more than 14 miles away, its coast is another important draw. The Pembrokeshire Coast National Park is the only one in the UK established because of the wild beauty of its coastline.
The county has a wide range of accommodation to choose from but if you are looking for a special home from home, then Coastal Cottages of Pembrokeshire are the go-to people. They offer more than five hundred and fifty holiday cottages to choose between, from small, quaint and quirky to stylish, grand and modern, and for all budgets.
Ours, for a weekend break, was in Penally, a quiet hill-side village just south of Tenby and an ideal place for exploring the area. Up a green lane, past an ancient well and a ruined medieval chapel, the cottage was comfortably and tastefully furnished, had a modern well-equipped kitchen, and was just right for a couple (with or without a dog – many of the properties are pet-friendly).
A weekend isn’t long enough to do justice to all Tenby and Pembrokeshire have to offer but we gave it our best shot. A good starting point for a town tour is Castle Hill where the excellent little Tenby Museum and Art Gallery displays all you need to know about the area’s history while the gallery features works by local boy Augustus John and his daughter Gwen.
From the hill, look out to the nearby islands of St Catherine’s and Caldey and across the bay to the Gower Peninsular. The sweeping golden beaches below are overlooked by tall, cliff-top Victorian houses, painted in an eye-catching array of pretty pastels.
When the tide is out, a visit to the fort on St Catherine’s Island is an easy excursion. Built in the mid-19th century, it became a fabulous private home before falling into disuse. It’s now an atmospheric and quirky function venue – one of its upcoming events is a Titanic-themed pop-up cinema night.
From Castle Beach, boat trips cross to the monastery island of Caldey home for centuries to various orders of monks and currently owned by the Cistercians, living in the imposing and beautiful Abbey. You probably won’t see the monks but you will love the peace of the place, ancient monastic buildings like the Old Priory and the cliff-top walks – you might see an Atlantic Grey seal if you’re lucky.
Back within Tenby’s medieval walls and streets you drop the bucket and spade and pick up a knife and fork in one of many excellent eating places. Our favourite was the atmospheric Plantagenet Restaurant, located in Tenby’s oldest house, where the stonework is as interesting as the food is excellent (Modern British – our main course of sea bass on a bed of beetroot risotto and samphire was superb).
For those preferring to use finger and thumb, no trip to Tenby would be complete without some good fish and chips, and the town hasaward-winningg D. Fecci & Sons. Apart from the standard menu, for those who need it they offer wheat-free fish, coated in a batter of ground rice and potato. (The family also owns an ice-cream parlour – and a laundrette whose motto really should be ‘‘We wash away all the spills of men….”).
Coastal Cottages’ concierge service can advise on and book a local restaurant for you or if you prefer to eat in your cottage but don’t want to cook, chilled home-made meals can delivered from their Dine at Home Menu; they can even arrange for your own private chef to whip up a two or three course meal of your choice. To get your stay off to a great start, they can arrange for one of a range of food hampers to await your arrival.
And if you want more of your holiday to come to your cottage, the concierge service also offers a range of massage, beauty and yoga therapies. Their website lists a whole raft of other activities (except rafting…) to suit everyone, from cycling to stargazing, to make your stay in Pembrokeshire an unforgettable one.
Before heading back to London we drove along the coastal road to Freshwater West beach, popular with surfers and film crews (part of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was filmed there). The sky was big, the beach gorgeous and the crab roll from Café Mor (a beach shack serving up delicious local sea and street food) the best we’d ever tasted.
We left for London sorry to leave so soon with so much left to see and do, (and with many of our ills not quite washed away yet), but very much looking forward to coming back again; and probably again after that.
Thinking of visiting Pembrokeshire yourself? Why not pin this post for later
Jenny was a guest of Coastal Cottages of Pembrokeshire.