On the Taste Trail in Eryri (Snowdonia)
For a flavour of the region’s finest food and drink, travel writer Huw Thomas hits the road on a gastronomic tour of Eryri (Snowdonia).
In Wales, 2023 is the Year of Trails, an opportunity to head out and explore new places and experiences. That’s the only excuse I need to embark on a journey to North Wales to sample Eryri’s tasty food and drink scene.
Day one – honey and high spirits
I make an early departure from home in Monmouthshire and head north along the A470, the winding spine of Wales and one of my favourite drives. As the rolling contours of Mid Wales give way to Eryri’s more rugged and rocky mountainscapes, I feel my appetite rising in anticipation of experiences ahead.
My first stop is in Llanberis, the lively lakeside town spread out beneath the looming peak of Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon), to visit Snowdon Honey Farm and Winery. If, like me, you generally buy your honey in the supermarket, the sheer variety on offer here is staggering. A tasting under the expert guidance of the shop’s proprietor Deryl Jones (a boundlessly welcoming and knowledgeable character) reveals a complex palette of flavours influenced by the location of each hive.
There’s also an impressive selection of locally made fruit wines and honey-packed Welsh mead (perfect for sweet-toothed drinkers). I leave the shop clutching an armful of gifts for everyone back home, plus some wildflower honey fudge bursting with floral aromas to keep me going on my journey.
Along the way
If you’re travelling from South or Mid Wales on your own food and drink journey, there are plenty of places to stop off and refuel. Try Brigands Inn in the little village of Mallwyd, a historic coaching stop serving meals and light snacks (the pork and stuffing sandwich comes highly recommended). Alternatively, there’s The Cross Foxes just outside Dolgellau, a welcoming pub/restaurant popular with locals and travellers alike.
Continuing north towards the coast, my next stop is Aber Falls Distillery in Abergwyngregyn. Located a short distance from the tumbling cascade that provides both its name and its supply of fresh water, the distillery’s striking visitor centre features an airy café, shop and even a lab where you can concoct your own unique flavours of gin.
While you might be familiar with Aber Falls’ range of gins, whisky has always been the focus. By law, whisky has to spend at least three years and a day maturing in its barrel (just one of the interesting facts I picked up during my visit). In order to get them through this lengthy waiting period, the company turned to gin, which can progress from still to bottle in a matter of weeks.
That their gins went on to win a number of international awards is testament to Aber Falls’ knack for turning out a great spirit. With whisky production now fully on stream, they’re exporting all over the world and have recently expanded their distilling operation to keep up with demand.
The distillery tour is fascinating insight into the incredibly complex process behind making whisky, as well as an introduction to a host of colourful and arcane distilling terms (did you know the small amount of spirit that evaporates during the maturing process is called the Angel’s Share?).
The tour concludes with a chance to sample a few of Aber Falls’ tipples. I’m no whisky expert, but by the end I’m confidently noting the differences between a batch matured in an old bourbon cask and one made in an Italian Barolo wine barrel.
My evening is spent at the historic The Black Boy Inn, tucked away inside Caernarfon’s medieval city walls. It’s a higgledy-piggledy, character-packed maze of a place that’s been welcoming guests since the 1500s. The hearty, home-cooked meal by the fire in one of its snug bars is well worth the risk of occasionally bonking my head on a low-slung beam.
Day two – a Llŷn getaway
The second leg of my journey takes me onto the Llŷn Peninsula, Eryri’s dramatic ‘arm’ projecting out into the Irish Sea. First up is a visit to brewery Cwrw Llŷn in the village of Nefyn, to meet up with its founder Iwan ap Llyfnwy. What started as a hobby for Iwan in 2001 has outgrown its two first locations, with the brewery now headquartered in a large premises that’s both a place for Cwrw Llŷn to make its beers and a social space for drinkers to gather and enjoy them.
The two sides of the business are linked by a large window, allowing patrons in the cosy bar area to watch the brewers at work. Iwan tells me that the open bar hours have become very popular, particularly during the warmer months when visitors can spill out of the bar into Cwrw Llŷn’s sunny outdoor areas.
The brewery’s range – everything from light blonde beer to rich ruby ale – is inspired by people, places and stories from Llŷn and beyond (I recommend the Porth Neigwl IPA, named after the wild beach at the peninsula’s western end). It’s a bit early in the day to really dig into Cwrw Llŷn’s selection, so I’m happy to leave with some samples I can explore once the car is safely parked for the night.
Along the way
For a spectacular coffee stop, take a diversion from Lithfaen down the looping, rollercoaster-esque road that leads to Nant Gwrtheyrn. As well as a Welsh language and cultural centre, this restored former quarrying village is home to Caffi Meinir, where you can enjoy refreshments alongside some of Llŷn’s finest sea views. Alternatively, pay a visit to Cwt Tatws near Tudweiliog, a unique blend of coffee shop, deli and chic boutique overlooking Porth Towyn beach.
On to Llanbedrog on Llŷn’s southern side to visit Oriel Plas Glyn y Weddw. This grand Victorian mansion on a wooded hill above the sea is home to the ‘oldest art gallery in Wales’ and much more besides. Before popping in to browse through its galleries, I take a little time to explore the network of paths that wind through the surrounding woodland and wander through the grounds, dotted with a collection of striking sculptures.
The work of art I’ve really come to see isn’t hanging on Plas Glyn y Weddw’s walls. Rather it’s the gallery’s new café, a spectacular structure resembling a huge silver sea urchin. Designed by artist Matthew Sanderson it’s a bold but sympathetic addition to the historic building.
Filled with natural light, it looks just as good from the inside, where you can take your pick from some suitably artful dishes. I opt for a vibrantly green leek and pea soup, accompanied by a prawn sandwich on soft fresh bread – the perfect lunchtime pick-me-up before I continue on to Cricieth, a pretty little resort town overlooked by the ruins of its medieval castle.
For dinner I make my way down to Dylan’s, located in a curvy art-deco building just metres from the beach. This small independent chain of restaurants is a North Wales institution (you’ll also find them in Llandudno and Menai Bridge, along with its recently opened bakery, deli and proposed restaurant in Conwy), with a reputation for contemporary cuisine crafted from the freshest Welsh ingredients.
I choose moules marinière, made with sustainably harvested Menai mussels and served with chunks of freshly baked bread. Picked directly from the seabed of the Menai Strait, these unique shellfish are a mainstay of Dylan’s menu. Though they’re a little smaller than many of the more common varieties, they punch well above their weight when it comes to taste. Each one is a burst of sweet, sea-fresh flavour – the perfect accompaniment to my view of the sun going down over the waves.
Day three – awesome ales and delectable delis
I make my way from Cricieth to Porthmadog for a visit to the award-winning Purple Moose Brewery and its founder Lawrence Washington. A one-time music student who turned his creativity towards brewing, Lawrence has built a beer-fuelled mini-empire in town – taking in the brewery, a shop and two pubs (The Australia and recently acquired Station Inn).
Lawrence gives me a tour of the brewery, allowing me to peek into one of the foaming vats where the latest batch is maturing, before we head over to The Australia for lunch. It’s been a fixture on the high street for as long as anyone can remember, but Purple Moose’s takeover has given it a new lease of life. Inside, I find a bar lined with the brewery’s beers and menu offering tempting twists on traditional, unfussy pub grub.
On Lawrence’s recommendation, I choose a steak and ale pie, made with Purple Moose’s own Dark Side beer – one of a number of dishes incorporating the brewery’s products. It’s a good choice. This isn’t one of those disappointing puff pastry lids floating on a ramekin full of stew, but a proper pie packed with tender chunks of beef in a rich beery gravy. It’s a bit more substantial than my usual lunchtime fare, but I demolish every bite.
After lunch, there’s time to pop into The Brewery Shop (conveniently located just two doors down the from The Australia). Alongside shelves groaning with the Purple Moose’s own beers are a host of products from across Wales. With cider, whisky, gin, rum, vodka and much more represented, it’s an incredible showcase for the Welsh drink scene.
Along the way
Head to Y Groser, Harlech’s high-end take on the traditional corner shop, for some of the best produce from Wales and beyond – plus a deli counter stocked with wonderful Welsh cheeses and fantastic pies, pastries and sausage rolls. If you’re passing through Dolgellau, make a stop at Dylanwad. This family-run wine merchant, café bar and deli serves great coffees and snacks, alongside an extensive selection of fine wine by the glass.
From Porthmadog, I make my way south to the colourful seaside resort of Barmouth, beautifully located at the mouth of the Mawddach Estuary (The Sunday Times recently listed it as one of the ‘Best Places to Live 2023’ for its ‘small-town friendliness with the most majestic of backdrops’). Still full from lunch, I build up an appetite with a walk up onto Dinas Oleu. Standing tall above the town, this rugged hillside became the first National Trust property when it was donated by local landowner and philanthropist Fanny Talbot in 1895. With stunning views over Cardigan Bay and the Llŷn Peninsula, the climb up its gorse-dotted slopes is well worth the effort.
Appropriately enough, my trip’s final port of call is The Last Inn, an atmospheric 15th-century tavern with low-slung ceilings and plenty of cosy nooks in which to cwtch up and nestle. Surrounded by reminders of Barmouth’s salty maritime history it’s the ideal place to relax and reflect on my food and drink tour of Eryri. The indulgences of the past few days mean there’s probably going to be a diet on the cards, but I wouldn’t hesitate to do it all again.
I’ve only been able to scratch the surface of Eryri’s food and drink scene. For a fuller picture on what’s on the menu go here.
Out and about
Eryri’s food and drink are just for starters. There’s plenty more to enjoy in the mountains and along the coast of this part of Wales.
Walkers can explore some of the most spectacular sections of the Wales Coast Path, with a selection of convenient circular walks. You can also get a taste of our inland waters with wonderful lake walks, or explore one of the UK’s newest UNESCO World Heritage Sites on the Snowdonia Slate Trail. For inspiration on more activities and adventures across the region, check out Eryri Snowdonia 360.
It's good to be green during your visit. We’re working towards a Plastic Free Yr Wyddfa, so you’ll find places you can refill your water bottles for free all over the region. And if you want to get around without the car, you can hop aboard the Sherpa’r Wyddfa bus service or travel sustainably by train via Wales on Rails.