A quiet foodie movement is going down in the historic market town of Abergavenny. Not only is there a famous food festival – which The Guardian describes as “an annual festival for spotting rising stars in Britain’s artisan food firmament” – but there are two gastro hotels, one of which recently won ‘AA Hotel of the Year Wales 2016/2017’, a brand-new artisan bakery, many independent cafes, a Christmas food fair and a Michelin-starred restaurant that draws in gourmands from near and far.
This was more than enough to entice us, so we made the journey up by train (very easy) and checked into The Angel hotel – the recent AA winner. A beautifully renovated Georgian coaching inn that, back in the day, hosted Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, the Angel sits at the bottom of the high street, a 15-minute walk from the train station and a stone’s throw from the castle.
It serves one of the best afternoon teas in the UK, and has won a clutch of awards from The Tea Guild. It also boasts one of the town’s best restaurants – The Oak Room. As if that wasn’t enough, it has Wales’s first and only apres-ski bar, which sits in the backyard and does a mean Swiss fondue over the winter months, as well as festive parties.
We arrive just in time to sample the afternoon tea. The Angel is one of only nine hotels outside London to hold an Award of Excellence from the Tea Guild, and in 2011 won its national award, which is like an Oscar for the afternoon tea world, if you like.
The Angel’s high tea is taken in the cosy Wedgewood Room between 3-5.30pm, and includes beautifully made cakes, fresh sandwiches, choux buns, quiches, mini sherry trifles and delicious home-made scones – all of which arrive on silver tiered trays, accompanied by a selection of more than 20 loose-leaf teas, served in Royal Albert bone china. For only £27.80 a head, it constitutes a fantastic bargain. Worth coming to Abergavenny alone for. I needed a well-earned rest afterwards.
The Angel’s 34 guest rooms are divided among the main house and a few renovated outbuildings. Our room was out the back in what’s called The Mews – the former stables – but it was very cosy, and had views of the surrounding rusty-coloured mountains. Our bed was one of the comfiest we’ve stayed in for a long time. Bed fans, like myself, will be in heaven.
Out & About
The next day we ventured into the mountains. Abergavenny lies between seven hills on the Welsh/English border, and is known as the Gateway to the Brecon Beacons National Park. You don’t have to go far to be immersed in nature. The surrounding Black Mountains can be seen from the town itself, and nearby Sugar Loaf – at 1,955 feet – can be hiked in a day.
We were lucky enough to catch the hills on a crisp sunny day, when the foliage was a beautiful copper colour, and the skies bright blue. Anna and Luke from Drover Holidays in nearby Hay-on-Wye were our guides, and the Angel kindly supplied us with mince pies and mulled wine to fortify our walk. What more could we ask for!
Back in town, we popped into the wonderful Art Shop & Chapel – owned by the same family behind The Angel and The Abergavenny Hotel. Part gallery, part art shop, part cafe, it has a wonderfully cosy atmosphere and sells lots of local goodies.
It was market day so the town was a bustling hive of activity, and a the Art Shop & Chapel we sampled some locally brewed craft ales and biodynamic wines alongside a delicious home-made blue cheese tart, pumpkin soup and smoked haddock salad. Everything was fresh and tasty, and reasonably priced.
All in all, Abergavenny is a real find. Only an hour from Cardiff, and two hours from London, it’s well within reach for a fantastic foodie weekend combined with a spot of outdoor adventure. Pack you thermals and your biggest appetite and enjoy!
Review by K.A.Monk