With its dramatic views, historic sites and gourmet offerings, this easy-to-access island has something for everyone. Words: Gabrielle Jaffe
There aren’t many places in the UK where you can look out to sea and see snow-capped peaks at the same time. Anglesey is one of them. Separated from the Welsh mainland by the slender Menai Strait – which at its narrowest is just 250m – Anglesey has views back to Snowdonia from much of its coastline.
Ever since the iconic Menai and Britannia Bridges connected the island to the mainland in the 19th century, travellers have flocked here and, in what must be one of the earliest PR stunts, the town that became the first railway stop in Anglesey extended its name to become the longest in Europe: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (though locals refer to it today at Llanfair PG).
Yet despite the easiness of access, it isn’t overcrowded and still retains its laid-back island charm. This, together with its dramatic coastline, historic architecture and refined culinary offerings, make Anglesey an ideal place to unwind and hit refresh.
6PM ALL IN THE NAME
Crossing Britannia Bridge, I spot the name of its designer, legendary Victorian engineer Robert Stevenson, carved into its towers. I can’t resist making a small detour before dinner to visit the railway station at Llanfair PG. Whipping out my camera, I struggle to keep the entire name in the frame.
Llanfair PG. Photo: © Crown copyright (2014) Visit Wales
7PM TASTY MUSSELS
The Menai Straits’ unique topography makes it an excellent place to farm mussels. Where better to sample this local bounty than Dylan’s – a restaurant that overlooks the straits from which its award-winning seafood is sourced. Momentarily distracted by an artfully presented trio of hamburger sliders – whisked past by a waitress – I return to my senses and order ‘celtic dragon’ mussels, steamed with a spicy tomato sauce. My tastebuds are rewarded for my choice (01248 716714, dylansrestaurant.co.uk).
10AM A WILD RIDE
Opening the curtains of Felin – a converted 15th-century mill house I’m renting from Menai Holiday Cottages (menaiholidays.co.uk) – I see my carriage awaits. The tide is high, so Rib Ride Adventure Boat Tours can pick me up directly from the front door. Skilfully manoeuvring past tidal whirlpools, the skipper points out sights such as a flight of green cormorants. But the most spectacular visual feast is at Puffin Island. April-July is the season to see these birds but this small rocky islet is home to seals all year round. Oohing and aahing, I watch the pups wiggle down the beach into the waves. Braver adults swim just five metres from our boat. Tickets from Menai Bridge to Puffin Island and back cost £32 (adults) and £22 (children aged 4-16 years). Alternatively, book the entire boat, seating 11 riders, from £195 an hour (0333 1234 303, ribride.co.uk).
11AM CASTLE RUINS
Having admired the impressive figure of Beaumaris Castle from the boat, I’m keen to explore it back on dry land. Up close, this 13th-century fortification seems straight out of Games of Thrones. High up on the crumbling castle walls, I feel like a queen surveying my domain as I gaze out at the boats on the straits. From here they look like toy models. Tickets: £5.25 (adults), £3.90 (children); (01248 810361, beaumaris.com or cadw.gov.wales).
Beaumaris Castle. Photo: Gabrielle Jaffe
1PM SHOP SPLENDOUR
Beaumaris itself is a classic Georgian seaside town, with a wooden pier and elegant pastel houses. After grabbing a homemade pasty from Central Bakery at 22 Margaret Street, I explore the town’s boutiques, delis and antiques emporiums. At Cole and Co (01248 811312, coleandco.com), I ogle locally made soaps and candles. My eyes light up on entering Penny Farthing on Church Street, an old-fashioned sweet shop stocked with traditional jars; the shopkeeper tells me Kate and William were regular visitors during the three years the Prince was stationed on Anglesey as a Search and Rescue pilot. But my favourite gourmet goodie of the afternoon is the creamy fig gelato I scoff at Red Boat Ice Cream parlour (01248 810022, redboatgelato.com).
7PM PRIVATE DINING
Legs weary, I retreat to my cottage where dinner is prepared for me by a chef from Menai Cottages’ ‘Book a Cook’ service (see website). I savour the seared scallops, followed by Welsh lamb, then a chocolate mousse with salted caramel ice cream. It’s a treat to have a restaurant-quality meal in the privacy of my own rented accommodation – and, best of all, I’m spared the washing up!
10AM DAFFODIL HAVEN
I begin the day with a stroll through Plas Newydd, a National Trust property on the shores of the Menai Strait. The reviving scent of pine and dewy grass hangs in the air and the grassy verges rolling down to the waters are blanketed in daffodils. The area is known for red squirrels but today the gardens are hopping with bushy-tailed bunnies. It’s the perfect spring scene. Adult garden tickets are £7.70 per adult, and £3.85 per child (01248 714795, nationaltrust.org.uk).
11AM SALT OF THE SEA
Before driving north, I stop off at Halen Mon, which supplies salt, harvested from Anglesey seawater, to Marks and Spencer, Harvey Nichols and some of the world’s top restaurants. The visitor centre offers a chance to see behind the scenes and have a guided salt tasting. I skip the tour, and instead pick up ceramic jars filled with this local delicacy and a sea salt-infused chocolate bar from the shop. Tour: £6 (adults), £4 (children); (01248 430871, halenmon.com).
12PM PUB WITH A VIEW
To the northwest, separated from Anglesey by the tinniest of channels, Holy Island is best known for its ferry services to Ireland from Holyhead. Away from this busy port, the island is a haven of natural landscapes. From the decked terrace of the White Eagle Pub in Rhoscolyn, I take in the splendour of the bay below as I polish off a plate of beer-battered haddock (01407 860267, white-eagle.co.uk).
1PM PADDLING TALES
In 2009, all of Anglesey was designated a Geopark. The exposed layer cake cliffs of its coastline tell a unique story and Andy Short, a trained geo-guide and sea kayaking instructor at B-active, is the perfect story-teller to unravel this geological tale. After pulling on 5mm wetsuits provided by Andy, we’re given a crash course in paddle strokes and set off from Rhoscolyn’s Borthwen Beach. Gliding through the waters, Andy points out the metamorphosed rocks and igneous plumes, and throws in local human history for good measure. Adult price for a sea kayak taster with B-Active is £40; (07833 424046, b-active-rhoscolyn.co.uk).
Treddur Bay. Photo: © Crown copyright (2014) Visit Wales
4PM TO THE LIGHTHOUSE
My head is still brimming with geological facts as I take in the scenery at South Stack, to Holy Island’s northwest. Descending the 400 steps down to the 19th-century lighthouse, I observe the faulted rock of the 300ft cliff-face. Back on the headland, in the RSPB’s Ellin’s Tower Observatory, there’s talk of an earlier peregrine sighting. Peering through the binoculars provided, I watch gulls diving in the setting sun – a wonderful conclusion to my time in Anglesey. RSPB centre: free entrance (01407 762100, rspb.org.uk). Prices for visiting South Stack Lighthouse are £5.80 per adult, £3.15 per child; (01407 763207).
NEED TO KNOW
MENAI HOLIDAY COTTAGES
This collection has dozens of self-catering options all over Anglesey, including Felin cottage (pictured above). Prices from £193 for three nights in a cottage sleeping two (01248 430258, menaiholidays.co.uk).
Occupying a prime location on Beaumaris seafront, this stylish Georgian hotel exudes old-fashioned charm. Double rooms with breakfast start from £80 a night (01248 810415, bulkeleyhotel.co.uk).
HOW TO GET THERE
Easily accessed via the A5 or A55 via Bangor, Anglesey is around a five-hour drive from London and a two-hour drive from Manchester and Liverpool. Alternatively, direct trains from London to Bangor take around three hours and 18 minutes (thetrainline.com).
For more information on the area, go to visitanglesey.co.uk.