If you’re on a budget but love to travel, one way to somewhat satisfy your wanderlust is to explore your own country, rather than forking out the majority of your pocket money on expensive flights. Although I’ve been lucky enough to go abroad this year, I’ve also had several opportunities to be a tourist in my own country – which I’ve grasped with both hands.
Over the Valentine’s weekend, I was offered the chance to go to Swansea as part of the tourist board’s exciting #SwanseaBayMoments campaign and as soon as the trip was booked, I immediately began researching activities, things to do and of course – places to eat. An itinerary was kindly prepared for us by Visit Swansea Bay, which took into account our desire to visit Mumbles – a gorgeous little ‘suburb’ just outside of Swansea, filled with unique boutiques, independent cafes and some very delicious ice cream. With two days to explore, we set off from Bournemouth on the Friday afternoon, excited for what lay ahead!
Day One (Feb 13th)
The train from Bournemouth to Swansea wasn’t a particularly long one (4 hours) with only one change, which made the ‘travel’ part exceptionally easier than the majority of trips I’d taken. Sion actually went to college not far from where we were going, so we had arranged to meet a couple of his friends upon arrival in a local restaurant.
The journey from the station to the hotel was largely uneventful – however when we arrived at The Premier Inn Waterfront – our new home for the weekend, Friday 13th disaster struck. There had been a slight miscommunication with the booking and we were slightly stranded until it could be resolved. Luckily, within half an hour, an arrangement had been made and despite the slight hiccup, I was very impressed with how Premier Inn dealt with the situation. What I thought might have been a bumpy start to our trip was soon a distant memory as we quickly unpacked and set off for dinner.
The location of the hotel was faultless, just a five minute walk from all the action – but quiet enough for a peaceful nights sleep and a beautiful view overlooking the marina. To access the main town, restaurants and museums, you simply needed to cross the sail bridge and venture across the road.
Initially, we’d planned to eat at somewhere called the Smoke Haus – but at 8pm on a Friday night, it was unfortunately fully booked, so we headed to Cosmo, a mammoth all-you-can-eat buffet venture with pretty much every cuisine you could imagine. Both Sion and I waddled back to the hotel (they did have a pudding display too – which I couldn’t resist) for an early night, anticipating a very busy Saturday!
Day Two (Feb 14th)
We woke up early (ish) and headed down for breakfast, before swiping our coats and scarves (despite being sunny, it was deceptively cold) and heading to the city’s main bus station. The ‘2’ takes you straight to Mumbles – although we made the rookie error of jumping off as soon as we saw a sign that told us we’d arrived, without actually realising we were several miles away from the town (wait until you see row upon row of cute little boutiques).
By the time we finally made it, we were absolutely starving – and more than ready for our pre-planned lunch at the very pretty Verdi’s – a family run gelato and snack bar which overlooks the pier and the stunning coast. Obviously popular, the place was jam packed full with groups of girls catching up over lunch, families and couples alike – however, we were very impressed by the super speedy service and extensive menu despite the busy period!
We opted for foccacia’s (I had brie, cranberry and rocket – which was delicious) – followed by an ice cream sundae, piled high with mini marshmallows, caramel sauce, chocolate ice cream and wafers. Calories don’t count if it’s Valentine’s Day…
Eager to walk off our rather hefty lunch, we took a stroll up to the very top of Mumbles – the pier itself, which offers some very photogenic views all round!
Then, in the spirit of the day itself, we headed to The Lovespoon Gallery – a tiny but gorgeous little place located in the heart of Mumbles which showcases the traditional Welsh symbol of devotion. Carved from one single piece of wood, the Lovespoon was often given in the place of a wedding ring as a token of affection where expensive jewellery couldn’t yet be afforded. The designs we saw were absolutely spectacular (I’m not sure the pictures quite do them justice) – however for £1,000 a pop, I think Sion may have a little more saving to do!
After a little more shop browsing, we decided to head back to the hotel to get ready for our special Valentine’s dinner, hosted at The Dragon Hotel in their rather swanky Brasserie. I’ve never actually been out to dinner on the day itself before, as I know restaurants tend to bump up their prices significantly in preparation for the romantic rush – so to be taken out was a real treat in itself.
We were greeted with a bubbling glass of prosecco (always the sign of a good evening) and made all three of our course choices in one upon request of the waitress, who warned us it would be a busy evening ahead.
Starters consisted of tomato and red pepper soup and Sion’s duck breast and pickled mushrooms. Both dishes were delicious – although I was a little disappointed the croutons didn’t arrive with my soup as they sounded incredible – brioche and croutons? Who knew?
Our mains followed suit, with an amazing fillet of beef with creamy potatoes for Sion (the table remained quiet for a good five minutes, which is always a sign it’s gone down rather well) and chicken and prawn rice for me. I’ve recently started re-introducing meat again after three years being a vegetarian and this was by far the best chicken-related dish I’ve tasted since. It certainly re-invigorated the taste buds and has left a whole range of new and exciting ideas for dishes in my head!
Dessert was also a rather unusual concoction – but one that worked nevertheless – a passion fruit and marshmallow cheesecake with mango sorbet! I’ll let the pictures do the talking.
Overall, we had a fabulous meal food-wise and a really lovely Valentine’s evening, tainted ever so slightly by the service of the staff in The Dragon Brasserie, which could definitely be improved upon for a faultless dining experience. I appreciate the night itself is a busy one, but in a current market which thrives from repeat business, I feel that a touch of extra care by the waitresses and waiters would add the cherry on top of the cake! On several occasions, the staff were seen giggling and chatting behind the bar while food lay for a good five minutes on top of the hatch – and we weren’t asked once whether we’d like more drinks which was a little strange. However, as I’ve said – the food was incredible and we’d probably return if we were in the area just for the menu alone.
Day Three (Feb 15th)
Our final day in Swansea started out with another amazing breakfast spread laid on by Premier Inn. Although I usually stay with luxury specialist hotels, I was really pleasantly surprised by how high quality their breakfasts were – with every preference catered for. We had a busy day ahead so I wanted to fill up as best I could!
After checking out of the hotel, we wandered down to the main marina area where the National Waterfront Museum was located. Originally, we had a visit planned here however due to waking up slightly later than anticipated – and with a train booked at half past one, we decided to head straight to the Dylan Thomas Centre – which was opposite the place we’d booked for lunch and so would work out well timing wise.
Dylan Thomas is a rather famous poet in Wales, however despite counting myself fairly to do with literature (I did study it after all), I hadn’t actually heard of him. Sion, who went to school in North Wales said that he was quite often spoken about in his lessons however not knowing anything about him at all made his exhibition all that more interesting. Training as a journalist and evidently having a way with words, Dylan successfully wrote and published many stories, which were displayed rather beautifully – with an entire ‘box room’ with projections on all sides of him reading one – which really made you feel as though you were there with the man himself!
We spent an hour in the exhibition browsing at our leisure as we were the only ones in there, before heading over to Cafe TwoCann for our lunch reservation. Tucked away in a new development, away from the main town centre, Cafe TwoCann isn’t able to have the same kind of footfall that many competitors get business from – however it was extremely popular nevertheless, with pretty much all the tables filled before 12 – immediate recognition of just how fabulous a place it is!
We ordered some bread and olives to share while waiting for the lunch menu to begin – although I couldn’t resist a hot chocolate too – one of the most magnificent hot drinks I’ve ever seen with mountains of cream and mini marshmallows!
Although you wouldn’t necessarily imagine a cafe to run such an extensive lunch menu, the starters, mains and dessert selection was amazing – with something to suit and excite all tastes. I opted for the filo salmon with watercress and spinach, in a creamy parsley sauce with potatoes. It was absolutely delicious and had it not been early in the day, I would have polished off the whole plate easily. Sion opted for a monster burger and we both couldn’t resist the Vanilla Creme Brûlée for dessert (who could?).
Overall, we had a fantastic trip and we have Visit Swansea Bay to thank! Weekend breaks, in my eyes – absolutely match up to going somewhere abroad, as they allow you to take time out from the stresses and strains of daily life and explore somewhere new and exciting. Swansea is a beautiful place, with lovely people and so much to see. I noticed when I was there that a range of families, couples, young people and older generations all looked to be enjoying the area, as it honestly does offer something different for everyone. If you’re in need of a weekend break inspiration – I’d definitely recommend popping Swansea on your list!
* My stay was provided by Visit Swansea Bay however as with all of my posts, all thoughts are entirely my own and I was under no obligation to provide a positive review. If something goes amiss, I will always let you know and no compensation or complimentary stay will ever effect my views.