Where to stay
Bryn Berwyn Country House Hotel Hidden in the hills behind Tresaith Beach, this beautifully refurbished, boutique bed and breakfast has friendly staff, bright rooms and bold, modern decor. Doubles from £150. Tresaith SA43 2JG, 01239 545028, brynberwyn.com
The Castle Hotel A Grade ll listed building in the centre of Georgian Aberaeron with eight rooms, restaurant and the option to eat breakfast on the pavement terrace, watching the world go by. Doubles from £110. Market Street, Aberaeron SA46 0AU, 01545 570205
The Cliff Hotel & Spa Look beyond uninspiring beige buildings to find 76 plush rooms and suites given over to pampering, with panoramas, golf course and the stylish Carreg Bar & Restaurant to complete the picture. Doubles from £99. Gwbert SA43 1PP, 01239 613241, cliffhotel.com
The Gwbert Hotel An old-time neighbour and parent of The Cliff, this classic bed and breakfast has a more old-fashioned feel. Rooms are large and comfortable and The Flat Rock Bistro overlooking the estuary offers hearty breakfasts. Doubles from £95. Gwbert SA43 1PP, 01239 612638, gwberthotel.com
Harbourmaster Spread over three historic buildings in Aberaeron, Harbourmaster has 13 boutique rooms and a brilliant restaurant – headed up by MasterChef: the Professionals semi-finalist Ludo Dieumegard. Spacious rooms range from suites with sea views to a cottage and converted warehouse. Doubles from £160. Pen Cei, Aberaeron SA46 0BT, 01545 570755, harbour-master.com
Massive Cardigan Bay makes up much of Wales’ west coast. Littered with pretty coastal towns and boasting mile upon mile of beautiful beaches and hidden coves, the southern section in Ceredigion county stretches from Cardigan in the south up to Aberaeron.
By road or rail The area is best accessed by car: the closest train station is a 50-minute drive south in Carmarthen.
Guides With pick-up offered from Carmarthen, these can be a great way to explore. Local lad Ewan and wife Laura from VIP Wales do fascinating tailored tours showing the ins and outs of Ceredigion countryside and cuisine. Full-day tours from £85pp. 07496 057269, vipwales.co.uk
Vist Wales is full of useful information and plenty of inspiration to help you when planning your trip. visitwales.com
Where to eat
Prices are per person for three courses, without wine, unless stated
Afon Mêl Mead and honey maker with a tea room, a live bee exhibition and educational tours ideal for kids. Honey from £6, adult entry to exhibition, £3.75. New Quay Honey Farm, Cross Inn, New Quay SA44 6NN, 01545 560822, afonmel.com
Bay View Restaurant Situated in The Penrallt Country House Hotel, looking over its lovely grounds as well as the bay, the menu draws on produce from West Wales, with seafood from Cardigan Bay and meat from the Preseli Hills. An afternoon tea menu includes Prosecco, Champagne or gin options, served Monday to Saturday. From £30. Penrallt Hotel, Aberporth SA43 2BS, 01239 810088, penrallthotel.co.uk
Crwst This French-inspired, award-winning bakery and brunch spot has taken Cardigan by storm. The café produces stellar food and supports community charities. The sizeable hash browns aren’t optional: they’re a true game-changer. Just leave room for a doughnut. Brunch from £6. Priory Street, Cardigan SA43 1BU, 01239 611278, crwst.cymru
Dà Mhìle Distillery A family-run farm that began by making Caws Teifi cheese and branched into brilliant alcohols: the seaweed gin is a standout. Cheese-tasting available at the small shop, where you can pick up multiple award winners and new Welsh halloumi. Cheese from £4.95. Glynhynod Farm, Llandysul SA44 5JY, 01239 851998, damhile.co.uk Fisherman’s Rest Cardigan’s easygoing riverside café offers simple lobster and crab lunches that show off local shellfish. Mains from £8. Quay St, Cardigan SA43 1HR, 01239 612359
In the Welsh Wind The award-winning gin distillery, with a whisky on the way, offers tasting sessions and gin-making classes. Make sure to try the Palo Cortado barrel-aged gin. Tasting tour, £25pp. Gogerddan Arms, Tan-y-groes SA43 2HP, 01239 872300, inthewelshwind.co.uk
Pizza Tipi A stylish wooden shack that seems to have spread organically out of the riverside. Once a single tent, Pizza Tipi is now Cardigan’s favourite late-night, stone-baked pizza spot. Big pizzas, big flavour and a must-try, double-sided garlic focaccia. Pizzas from £7. Cambrian Quay, Cardigan SA43 1EZ, 01239 612259, pizzatipi.co.uk
Tafell A Tân This Llangrannog pizzeria became an overnight sensation during the pandemic, their perfectly-fired pizzas catering to the whole community and best enjoyed beachside. Pizzas from £8. Llangrannog, Llandysul SA44 6SW, 01239 654675, tafellatanpizza.co.uk
Yr Hen Printworks Considered the best restaurant in town within months of its 2021 opening, Yr Hen offers beautiful small plates made with local, sustainable ingredients, as well as crafted cocktails. Three small plates, side and dessert from £23. Carrier’s Lane, Cardigan, SA43 1FA, 01239 612646, yrhenprintworks.co.uk
Food and Travel Review
The grass beneath the black Aberdeen Angus cows ripples and whips in the fresh wind blowing off the sun-tipped sea. Bigni Farm’s pasture drops like a precipice on a rollercoaster ride: hurtling down and rising steeply up again towards the cape, where a church perches on the edge of the cliff side, its white paintwork bright in the blistering afternoon sun.
Sunlight is one of the big surprises of Cardigan Bay. After all, Wales is not best known for its sweltering summer days – our wealth of packed waterproofs standing testament to expectations. The other unexpected element is the distinct lack of sheep.
As it turns out, the quintessential Welsh animals are painstakingly hard to keep alive. Sweet but utterly stupid, these days they wander haphazardly into countless life-threatening situations, culling their numbers in the process. Stories of farmers swapping suicidal sheep for calmer cattle crop up throughout our trip. As one local starkly puts it, ‘It’s like they just want to die’.
Cattle are by no means strangers to this quiet Welsh land of rocky coastline towns, sprawling agriculture and award-winning produce. Alongside fishing, the area was traditionally used for sheep, cattle and potato farming. Today, little about Cardigan town’s quaint tatterdemalion terraces or the bay’s endless coastal countryside screams gourmet hotspot. Their county, Ceredigion, has been long overshadowed by illustrious southern neighbour Pembrokeshire, the two split by the dark green waters of the River Teifi. But a new, unsung generation of producers are breathing fresh life into Cardigan Bay’s agriculture and gastronomy.
At first glance, Myrddin Heritage doesn’t look much like a pig farm. Hidden behind an unassuming house, its muddy paddocks plummet down to a riverine valley enveloped by oaks and sheltered by hazy Ceredigion hills. Owen Morgan doesn’t look much like a farmer either, wellies notwithstanding. Perhaps it’s because the 35-year-old only gave up his council job five years ago to farm pigs full time. Or maybe its the way he’s knelt in the grass petting his favourite slow-growing sow, surrounded by animals who have come to investigate the sound of fingernails on bristly, black belly. It’s a summertime nativity tableau: goat, pony, cat and Owen, smiling indulgently at the blissful porcine blimp in the middle.
Farming pigs here is not only unusual but hard work, especially for first-generation farmers. ‘It’s difficult, not coming from a farming background – especially if you’re going into pigs,’ Owen explains.
‘Traditionally, with lamb and beef, farms would be passed on from generation to generation and you’d continue it because that’s what your grandfather did. Whereas we’ve done things a bit differently.’
‘Differently’ means farming outdoor, free-range pigs, despite the animals being sensitive to the changeable Ceredigion weather, because, says Owen, ‘that’s just how it’s meant to be’. He and wife Tanya learned the basics in Australia but when they returned to their Welsh homeland they looked to a different tutor: the internet.
Like most other things, farming has clearly entered a new digital age. ‘Without social media we wouldn’t have had half the business that’s come our way,’ says Owen. They’ve gained customers, met collaborators and sold to chefs, all through social channels. They even learned how to make sausages and chorizo from YouTube – and it paid off. Their catalogue of burgers, black pudding, sausages, gammon and charcuterie is as extensive as it is exquisite. The pork and chorizo burger is one of the highlights: a succulent slab that oozes umami all the way down your chin. The flavours are a beautiful balance of salt, spice and sweet, free-range pork.
Instagram shots of these paprika-stained quarter pounders have proven invaluable for marketing such an overlooked meat. In this land where lamb and beef dominate, most people aren’t familiar with pork beyond the standard cut. ‘It’s about trying to get the message across that you only get so many chops from one pig. We try to use everything, not just look for an unlimited supply of one cut. Education is the biggest thing,’ says Owen. ‘That’s why we’re using social media.’
Bringing different ways of thinking about food to Cardigan Bay clientele forms a large part of its nascent culinary scene. At 23, Erin McCudden, owner of Cherry Picked Farm Shop and one of Myrddin Heritage’s stockists, is one of the area’s youngest business owners. Her shop in Sarnau, near pretty seaside town Tresaith, wouldn’t look out of place in central London, with its cavernous trove of local produce mixed with Spanish imports. But in these rural parts it was viewed by many with wariness and a degree of scepticism.
‘It’s taken a long time to build up a customer base because traditionally minded people around here don’t understand this,’ Erin gestures at the perfectly aligned, kaleidoscopic shelves and tables piled with focaccia, slavery-free chocolate and local tipples. ‘I had a lot of negativity to start. I think people can get a bit tunnel-visioned when facing new ways of doing things.’
Despite initial misgivings, Erin now has her regulars: salty sea dogs and taciturn farmers who come for their olive loaf, Spanish wine and smoked chorizo. Locals might start off with a stubborn stance, but the proof is in the produce. It’s just that good.
Great produce needs great restaurants, though: an area where the region has fallen short in the past. Cardigan town, previously Ceredigion’s commercial centre, was once a busy fishing and boat-building hub. Things changed in the late 1800s when its estuary silted up, shipping stopped and the economy suffered. In the past few decades, the town’s industries all but dried up as people moved to find work elsewhere, taking their potential with them.
Today, there’s change on the brine-flecked breeze.
Those same jobseekers have returned as producers, merchants and restaurateurs in their own right. Realising the untapped market on their doorstep, they’re looking to create the jobs that weren’t there for them.
‘Over the past two years I’ve seen it change massively,’ says Erin, whipping up a spiced caramel latte with a broad smile. ‘Before, there was nothing and now there’s Crwst in Cardigan, Pizza Tipi and Yr Hen Printworks too. We’re so lucky.’
Crwst (pronounced ‘crust’) café and bakery is another of Erin’s suppliers and one of the biggest names pushing Cardigan’s culinary movement forward. Owners Osian and Catrin Jones’s award-winning success can be baked down to two things: dedication and doughnuts. Their offsite bakehouse is overrun with row upon row of the sugar-dusted pillows, their impossibly light fillings of lemon, caramel and chocolate crème bursting from the top of warm, yeasty sourdough. An Instagram dream, the doughnuts have spread Crwst’s name along the coast and beyond with the mouthwatering ease of a hot, buttery knife. Crwst began out of Osian’s grandmother’s kitchen, just down the road from the town-centre café, and despite its success, the couple are firmly entrenched in the community, supporting charities, creating jobs and hosting events, all backed by baked goods and wholesome, lip-smacking brunch. Sitting on a broad, sunlit corner that once housed a car showroom, the café’s menu revamps beloved classics without hiding the humble greatness of a well-cooked egg. Homemade beans on toast with Myrddin Heritage chorizo is a mountain of slow-cooked pulses atop Crwst’s signature sourdough. The vinegary tang with a touch of cumin soothes the chorizo’s salt and soaks its way into the well-baked bread. Elsewhere, Crwst’s award-winning honey butter renews the inescapable brunch-time stack of pancakes: a second coming covered in heathery, honeyed notes with tart compote and local yoghurt.
While Crwst rules the daytime, dinner belongs to Yr Hen Printworks, the town’s newest and best restaurant. In a similar story to the bakery, Yr Hen’s owner Chris Welch breathed life back into an abandoned building in Cardigan’s centre: the Old Hope Chapel. Here, a new restaurant goes hand in hand with hopeful regeneration.
Yr Hen’s small plates restaurant is the talk of the town: it’s hard to go anywhere without a well-earned recommendation. Chef Will Hemming was born 20 miles down the coast in Trefin, Pembrokeshire – ‘the dark side’ as it’s known in Cardigan. Despite his grievous Pembroke affliction, Will worked his way up to head the Savoy’s Simpson’s in the Strand, before moving to chef-studded Bray. Now he’s come home to roost, and the locals have been more than happy to take him and his fare into the Cardigan fold. Will has the right mindset to fit in around here, after all. He is determined that his food should be sustainable and local and he’s always looking for more suppliers based nearby. To make that easier, social media has once again proved invaluable.
‘It’s especially good for finding small producers,’ Will says. ‘I look through feeds and tags. I try to find people or look at what others are doing and what they’re using.’ A passing mention of local pork and Owen Morgan inevitably crops up. ‘We’ve already been messaging on the ‘Gram,’ Will says with a laugh.
Although much of what Ceredigion has to offer has been winkled out of the social media sands, often it’s about who you know.
Chris Welch’s father-in-law Richard, owner of Bigni Farm, provides all his beef. Sometimes opportunities walk right through the door. ‘There’s a local guy from Llechryd who dropped a load of tomato samples off,’ Chris explains, leaning against one of the reclaimed wooden tables. ‘He grows them at home. Then there’s Dai Crab Evans, who does boat tours. He dropped off a load of mussels, but I think there was a hidden agenda. His dad was in the next evening so we gave him a portion – which I suspect was probably the whole point.’
Everyone knows everyone here and after a few days you do start to recognise the names and faces. We’d already met Dai and learned about the town’s history on his Teifi river tour. While his mussels don’t make it on to our evening’s menu, their loss is mollified with black beef, buttermilk chicken, triple-cooked chips and the most remarkable 72-hour sourdough. There’s sweet beetroot paired perfectly with sharp walnut ketchup, Bigni Farm’s tender Welsh steak with onions, but the surprise stand-out is the slider – juicy, organic beef in a soft bun topped with earthy, washed-rind Golden Cenarth cheese. It’s both simple and spectacular.
‘If you’ve got a good product, you don’t need to do that much to it,’ Will explains. ‘We need to showcase the stuff we can source around here and inspire the next generation of chefs to come to Cardigan and work with someone like myself and to hopefully help the area develop.’
He’s not alone in his efforts to bring in new blood and lure back the old. Ellen Wakelam and her partner Alex Jungmayr set up In the Welsh Wind in 2018. The gin and whisky distillery near Aberporth’s pretty cove took over an old abandoned pub, where Ellen used to make the trek seven miles from Cardigan for a disco in the good old days. Now the shiny, copper-plated space is home to a whole team of local youths, learning the distillery trade.
Their gins, inspired by ingredients once traded on the Ceredigion coast, exploded on to the market in a hail of awards and their brand new, highly awaited whisky, tucked away in bulging wood barrels, has locality in its DNA. ‘We’ll be the only distillery in Wales to keep everything in Wales,’ says Ellen.
‘Nothing will be going further than five miles from this distillery before it gets sold in a bottle.’
Like all those we meet, Ellen and Alex are ardent advocates for the area. Love for Cardigan Bay feeds its producers and purveyors, who present a united front in their efforts to raise the region from the silt of its somewhat stilted past. It helps, of course, that most of them grew up together. Ellen lived near the cousin of Crwst’s Catrin. Llangrannog’s new and booming beach-based pizza spot Tafell A Tân is run by Kate and Huw Reed, himself a schoolfriend of our tour guide Ewan. They feel each other’s success as their own and it shows in every heartfelt recommendation.
Recognition isn’t just a regional matter, though: travelling around Cardigan, you practically trip over the food and drink awards. In New Quay, Afon Mêl have spent 25 years using the hedgerows to keep their bees happy and their honey deep in florals. Their musky heather mead, which coats the throat like caramel, is the only mead ever to have won a Great Taste Golden Fork award. Caws Teifi, the cheesemaking arm of Dà Mhìle Distillery, has created an artisanal cheese counter that includes Oak Smoked Teifi, which has twice been voted the best smoked cheese in the world.
And when the international spotlight overlooks the area, its faithful ambassadors are only too happy to take their goods global. Ludo Dieumegard, MasterChef semi-finalist and head chef at Aberaeron town’s exceptional Harbourmaster hotel and restaurant, regularly travels abroad to promote the region’s produce, particularly lamb. As the Frenchman points out, ‘This country’s great. The suppliers and farmers are superb. Now, as a chef, I tell people: I don’t cook any more. I get good produce and heat it up.’
Make no mistake, Cardigan Bay is done being dwarfed. Its charms are finally being brought, baked and brewed on to the world stage by a remarkable crop of food and drink makers, with their eyes on the future and the verdant land at their feet.
Words by Jo Davey. Photography by Mark Parren Taylor. They travelled courtesy of Visit Wales.
This feature was taken from the June 2022 issue of Food and Travel. To subscribe today, click here.
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