As part of our series on the eight Welsh Protected Landscapes, Sian Lewis visits the Gower Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and tries local delicacies, ales and 'Welshman's caviar'
Make sure you come hungry both for food and beauty when you pack your bags for Gower. This little peninsula may be of modest size at just 70-square miles, but it's magically packed with wonderful places to explore, from epic stretches of perfect coastline to moorland villages, quiet woodlands and proud stone castles. It stands to reason that the place where Dylan Thomas loved to ramble be well known for its natural beauty and wealth of history, but one of my favourite reasons to head to this magical corner of South Wales is the incredible local produce on offer. Food here is fresh, plentiful and simply prepared to show off the flavours of the land, salt marsh, moorland and sea.
The reason Gower's grub is so fabulous lies in its geography. Until the twentieth century the peninsula acted rather like an island, cut off from the wider world due to poor roads and a lack of trainlines. Locals had to be self sufficient to some degree and turned to the land and the water for sustenance. An emphasis on fresh, locally sourced delicacies is as strong on Gower now as it ever was.
Ready for a gastronomical safari? It's impossible not to come back from the peninsula laden with handmade treats. For a caffeine buzz to kick start a day of exploring outdoors try Gower Coffee, created by surf-loving local Marcus Luporini. Each blend is named for one of the local beaches, with the strength of the bean matched by the intensity of the break. Try their Slade Bay roast and you'll be hooked.
After something a little stronger? The peninsula's very own Gower Brewery creates a heavenly, award-winning nectar known as Gower Gold. If there was ever a reason to stop off for a long pub lunch it's to sample a pint of it - best served cold after a long day wandering on the cliffs in the sunshine.
As for the main course, the flavours of the coast are ever present. Local women from the North Gower villages of Crofty and Penclawdd once picked cockles in the Burry Inlet, striding out into the marshes barefoot even in the depths of winter to gather the fruits of the sea and pack them off to Swansea on the backs on donkeys. You can still buy cockles from stalls in Swansea market today, although the times have changed a little and now it's hardy Landrovers out working the sands. At Selwyn Seaweeds the Selwyn family still collects cockles, mussels and delicious seaweed, which is sold to local restaurants to make 'Welshman's caviar' or laverbread, or dried in strips as a tasty snack.
If there's one taste of Gower you must try it's the enticingly-named salt marsh lamb. Sheep graze the marshes eating samphire and sea lavender, and the result is a delicate flavour you'll dream of for weeks afterwards. If you visit Weobley Castle pop in to the farm shop next door and buy a shank of lamb from Gower Marsh Salt Lamb to take home.
Round off dinner with something sweet. Kate Jenkin's award-winning brownies, made from her cottage kitchen with fresh Gower free-range eggs, have achieved a cult status among chocolate-obsessed foodies. Be warned if you decide to try one - you'll be hooked forever on a cocoa high.
Gower changes dramatically with the seasons, and so do my gastronomical explorations. On a cold winter's day head I always head to Reynoldston and warm up at my favourite pub - the King Arthur Hotel. The ever-blazing fire in the bar is heaven after a tramp on the moors, especially with a local ale and a plate of something hearty. When summer arrives Gower is ablaze with colour, from the green cliffs to bright market stalls. At Nicholston Farm you can really get among all the produce yourself and pick your own raspberries and strawberries and veggies such as broad beans and asparagus.
From pub grub to a doorstop-sized slice of cake in a cafe, you'll always eat well on Gower. But if you're after something extra special I'd suggest two must-try eateries. The Coalhouse may be new but it has already amassed an army of fans of its beautifully restored interior, stunning panoramic views of the coast and, of course, its marvellous menu. If you struggle to pick from the fabulous selection on offer I'd suggest the hake, cockle and laverbread chowder.
From the coast head inland to Gower's woodlands and seek out Fairyhill Hotel's restaurant. Head Chef David Whitecross sources all his ingredients within a 10-mile radius, including veggies from the walled garden and eggs from the ducks wandering about in the hotel's grounds. It's definitely worth turning up early for a stroll around the beautiful parkland surrounding Fairyhill's ivy-clad walls before tucking into a showcase of local flavours such as sea bass, Welsh black beef and laverbread.