You might not associate Wales with posh getaways and I’m sure I’ll be cursed for even putting this up, given the turn of recent events in the Rugby World Cup. But sporting ails aside, I think everyone can use a quick, romantic getaway now and again, and Wales is somewhere you might not have thought of for great food, great wine and beautiful surroundings. One better, it’s relatively inexpensive.
The minute we pulled up outside the Harbourmaster Hotel in Aberaeron, West Wales, I knew I was going to love this place. Delightfully boutiquey and painted a delicate shade of boat blue, the entirety of the Harbourmaster calls upon a maritime theme, but gently – no tawdry buoys tacked up on walls with faux port hole windows here. Inside, it’s all bright tones – maroons, blues and sea greens – while each room is completely unique, right down to the bathtubs (I lucked out with an antique freestanding tub), terraces and bedding.
Aberaeron, which is situated along Cardigan Bay on the west coast of Wales, is a sweet, posh little town with a strong boating history (no surprise there, given the amount of water that flows near and through this place). Tipsy little fishing boats teeter next to more impressive shiny yachts in the modest but well-stocked marina, over which the Harbourmaster proudly looks.
Each of the hotel’s rooms are named for a different boat that once made anchor in Aberaeron’s little port, and many of these boats, we learned on a short walking tour through the pastel-painted town, were actually built here. This ship-building tradition explains the town’s lovely affinity for colour – pinks, maroons, navies and greens stand side-by-side, brightening up each Georgian house along the simple streets and once calling fishermen home from the water.
Back at the Harbourmaster, dinner is a relaxed but delicious affair, but that’s not to do down the food. Oh, the glorious food. Everything served in the hotel’s restaurant is sourced within a few kilometres of town, including the shellfish. Oysters the size of oranges arrived on a perfect platter as my starter, followed by a half lobster served with a delicate yet delicious side of gourmet chips.
Afterwards, retiring to the bar was no chore – it seemed everyone in town was there to sample locally produced ales, including the delicious Snowdonia Ale from Purple Moose Brewery just a few km up the road, as well as a wine list to rival the best restaurants in London. And with 17 by the glass to choose from – I opted for the spicy Man ‘O’ War Shiraz from New Zealand, while my friend tasted the laid-back Argentine Valle Perdido Malbec – you could really be there all night.
Double rooms at the Harbourmaster won’t set you back more than €150 per night, while the three-course evening set menu at £30 (€35) a pop is well worth it. This is a perfect little romantic getaway that can easily be done in a weekend from many places in Ireland, and makes for a nice change of pace without having to spend a pretty penny or venture too far afield. Nearby, several golf courses, as well as pony trekking, cheese tasting and boutique shopping in several local villages make for any sort of activity you could want.
Getting to Aberaeron from Ireland isn’t as difficult as you might think. Perhaps the easiest way is to take a short hop flight into Bristol from Dublin or Cork (Dublin being the cheaper option) and then hire a car for the scenic 2 hr 45 min drive to the coast.
Alternately, several fast ferry companies, such as Irish Ferries, offer regular service from either Dublin to Holyhead or Rosslare to Pembroke, including very reasonable €79 fares for vehicle crossing, which would allow you the freedom to drive yourself directly to Aberaeron, no fuss, no muss.