Travel: Surprising SwanseaBy Caroline Cook
February 05, 2013
Opening the curtains on our first morning in Swansea I squealed.
And a high-pitched squeal, of something along the lines of ‘look at that view!’.
Having arrived under a cloak of darkness, with our train running so late the hotel had to keep its restaurant open, we hadn’t seen anything of the boats bobbing about in the Marina.
So looking out to the waterfront, on one of those rare winter days when everything is covered in a crisp, frosty glow, it was a welcome surprise – and a relaxing antidote to our swift arrival.
My partner Ben and I had dashed in with 30 minutes to go before the restaurant closed, but the staff served us as if we were the first guests of the night.
After tucking into a heart-warming traditional Welsh Cawl, it was time for bed, ready for an early start to visit Mumbles.
On our way to the bus stop we stumbled across a stretch of sandy beach, which drew another exclamation for its stunning winter view. Already we were beginning to see some of Swansea’s dual personality, a contrast of grey, urban British High Street, and little secret spots with beachy edges and lapping waters.
Mumbles falls into the second half, a quaint village with a sloping high street and Oystermouth Castle on the hill. Like all traditional seaside towns there was a rickety looking pier (being renovated so access is restricted) and a games arcade with a retro bowling alley – none of those fancy lights, just a few balls and some skittles lifted up by string.
We stopped for lunch in Verdi’s, which has the prime spot on the pier.
Barely a seat was spare inside the glass-walled cafe, and I am sure those on the terrace outside would be brimming over in summer.
Verdi’s is an Italian cafe, reflecting Wales’ diverse heritage which saw a huge swath of Italian immigrants pour into the country in the 19th and early 20th Century.
When the Italians came so did the ice cream, peddled in carts and barrows at first, and then in cafes and ice-cream parlours. By the 1920s there was an Italian cafe in nearly every Welsh town.
The Italian legacy has lasted well in Verdi’s with homemade pizzas and Focaccia breads stuffed with pesto, mozzarella and sun dried tomatoes. But it is the ice cream you should visit for.
After Mumbles we headed back to Swansea, again hopping on the bus, which is easy to get around on and priced at £4.20 for a day ticket.
The centre of Swansea is like any other British High Street with all the big retailers you’d find at home.
Looking for something different we made a beeline for the indoor market. There was lots of your typical market fare – fabrics, make-up stalls, toys, clothes – and plenty of food stalls. Turn down one avenue and you would be greeted with huge buckets of freshly-caught prawns and mussels, head down another and you’d find Welsh cakes sizzling on a griddle.
With the smells making us hungry it was eager for our evening meal at Wales’s tallest restaurant Grape and Olive. Located on Swansea Marina the restaurant towers at 351 feet with residential apartments on the way up to the fresh, modern dining area on the 29th floor.
Being seated on the side facing away from the city centre and towards the bay, our view was largely blackness which was disappointing.
But we were distracted by the food, tucking into a tender Chateaubriand with Béarnaise sauce which was sliced at our table and accompanied by steak chips and green beans smothered in a rocket pesto.
The restaurant sources Welsh products with beef and pork from Celtic Pride.
After a taster slate of desserts, with a warm ginger cake that makes my mouth water just thinking of it, we climbed another staircase and sipped cocktails in the bar.
And there we saw the view.
Sitting on the other side of the restaurant we saw lights glimmering below, toy cars zipping along the road and a ferris wheel, in town for the Waterfront Winterland.
Another relaxing sleep was followed by a hearty cooked breakfast in the hotel and a visit to the Waterfront Museum.
The push-button displays, dress-up boxes and interactive exhibitions are ideal to entertain the family.
Then it was to the Waterfront Wonderland in Museum Park to whizz around on the ice rink to round up the visit.
As the darkness fell and we headed to the train station the rain started pounding down leaving Swansea looking a little grey behind us.
But despite the rainy facade, we left behind a place which has plenty of secret spots, foodie delights and charming nooks for a cosy weekend away. And not forgetting, it’s got one heck of a view.
Caroline was a guest of Visit Swansea Bay for the weekend.
She was a guest at The Marriott Hotel, Swansea for two nights. Prices range from £47.50-£62 per person per night.
Caroline ate at The Marriott Hotel in Swansea, Verdi’s in Mumbles and Grape and Olive in Swansea.
The Waterfront Museum offers free entry.
Waterfront Winterland provided complimentary ice skating and funfair vouchers.
For information on making the most of your stay visit www.visitswanseabay.com