In our A Total Trip series, writers document what they spent on a recent getaway. In this edition, Lonely Planet guidebook writer, Kerry Walker, shows us how much a coastal family break costs in Pembrokeshire, Wales.
Cornwall hogs Britain's coastal limelight, but Pembrokeshire is just as heart racingly beautiful. At the mercy of the Atlantic and fickle Welsh weather, this corner of southwest Wales has been my great escape since moving to Mid Wales eight years ago. The region is pretty special: seaside villages that are pure Enid Blyton, great arcs of golden sand snuggled in among cliffs around since dinosaurs walked the earth, stormy seas and coves where you'd gladly be shipwrecked. The food scene is increasingly exciting, too, with a flurry of chefs getting clever with locally farmed, fished and foraged ingredients.
I went with my partner and three-year-old daughter for a late July long weekend trip. We had Skomer Island (for the puffins) and beaches in mind, but we also wanted to hit some of the best restaurants, with a strong focus on seafood.
Accommodation: £170 for two nights in a king-size ensuite cottage at Monk Haven Manor, including breakfast. £390 for a night in a double ocean garden view room at St Brides Spa Hotel in Saundersfoot, including breakfast.
Pre-booked tickets to Skomer Island: £110 (two adults plus child).
On the ground
Arrival: En route to Monk Haven, we stop in the button-cute seaside village of Little Haven to eye up lobsters and buy a couple of delicious crab sandwiches (£15) at Lobster and Môr for a leisurely beach picnic. Our B&B is a steal, enveloped in lush, stream-woven gardens that bristle with palm trees, figs, apple trees and bamboo. Our lovingly converted room was once an apple store and is a rustic dream, with its log-burning stove and lilac-scented garden with a hot tub and barbecue. The upstairs double gives us plenty of privacy from our daughter, who sleeps on the sofa downstairs.
Activities: The ivy-swathed manor is just a skip through ferny woodland to Monk Haven beach, where we splash in the rock pools before picking our way over gorse-clad cliffs for 1½ miles to cliff-flanked Lindsway Bay, a great smile of golden sand reached by a flight of steep steps and a boulder scramble. As lovely as any beach on British shores, the beach is near empty, and the sun even popped out.
Dinner: You can still see fishermen hauling in their catch in nearby Dale - the kind of breezy, feel-good seaside village that makes you want to up sticks for the coast. The food at The Griffin heightens the feeling. This whitewashed inn has been at the heart of the community for 300 years. It's headed up by chef Simon Vickers and front-of-house Sian Mathias, who ditched careers in architecture and marketing to serve seafood. Now Pembrokeshire's freshest fish is thumped on their counter daily.
Though packed, they squeeze us in on a bay-facing table. Seafood shines here, so we dive in with plump, creamy scallops served with samphire as a starter, followed by a perfectly cooked cod loin in fishy broth. My daughter has fantastically fresh fish and chips, polished with chocolate brownie and ice cream. With a local Cwrw Haf ale, a large glass of pinot grigio rosé and an apple juice, the bill comes in at £145.20, plus 12.5% service charge (£18.15). It's not cheap, but the quality is right up there.
Breakfast: An early breakfast (included in our stay) at Monk Haven Manor fires us up for the day with fresh fruit, toast slathered in homemade preserves and cooked-to-order dishes using garden-grown produce, including a spot-on full Welsh and fish special.
Activities: We stop off for picnic supplies and drinks at a local minimarket (£14.50) before heading to the jetty at Martin's Haven for a 10.30am boat to Skomer Island, paying £6 to park (bring cash). Picking up our tickets at the gift shop, we spend £6.80 on an island guide, puffin magnet and chocolate. The bumpy boat ride takes just 15 minutes.
Even the relentless drizzle can't dampen our spirits on this magical isle, honeycombed with burrows that house 42,513 puffins, one of the UK's largest colonies. Not everyone is a fan of the Welsh rain, but puffins are - numbers are on the rise. Coming here is worth every penny. On our soggy walk to The Wick, we get within a hair's breadth of puffins chatting, groaning, bringing in sand eels for their furball pufflings and flying like toys off the shaggy cliffs. We eat our picnic in a bird hide, watching gulls and kittiwakes.
Dinner: Dinner is at the Saint Brides Inn in Little Haven, a white-and-blue old seadog of a boozer full of exposed stone, good cheer and nautical knickknacks. After braving the rain, we feel deserving of treats. Artisan breads with olives segue into a mixed starter of calamari, king prawns and cod bites with chili dipping sauce, two seabass mains with buttered new potatoes and seasonal veg, fishcakes (for my daughter), two ice creams and a sticky toffee pudding. A local ale, glass of rosé and an apple juice notch the bill up to £89.75 and a £10 tip brings this to £99.75.
Lunch: After a morning hanging out in Monk Haven, we drive east to bigger, busier Saundersfoot in the crook of its namesake bay. We snag an outdoor table at the much-hyped Stone Crab, a funky little shack in the harbor. The weather behaves for our alfresco lunch, which begins with rustic bread, olives and aioli, moving onto a spectacular seafood sharing platter for two, with grilled scallops, pan-roasted garlic king prawns, sweet chili calamari, smoked mackerel pâté and a bottomless bowl of white wine-steamed mussels. Two sparkling rhubarb drinks and a local beer bring the bill to a reasonable £52.
Check-in: After some beach time, we check into clifftop St Brides Spa Hotel, where our generously sized room is like a gulp of sea air with its breezy palette of blues and ocean-gazing balcony. Bonus: an overnight stay gives me a free 90-minute session in the spa. A sauna and a bubble in the hydrotherapy infinity pool overlooking the bay are brilliant pre-dinner pick-me-ups.
Dinner: Floating above the bay, the hotel's glass-walled The Cliff restaurant takes in the full sweep of the coast, now sinking into moody blues. It's an arresting backdrop for a candlelit dinner. We order an Aber Falls gin and tonic, a glass of pinot grigio and a large bottle of sparkling water to go with two bang-on starters of seared scallops with roasted cauliflower, capers and raisin purée. I share a pea, mint and Welsh feta risotto with my daughter, while my partner goes for an aged fillet steak with short rib, mushroom tart and green peppercorn. Both outstanding. Two glasses of Malbec, one shared sorbet and a pineapple pavlova later, the bill comes to £149.05.
The final tally
Overall spend: on the ground (£503.45) + accommodation (£560) + Skomer Island tickets (£110) = £1173.45 (US $1493.43)
Peak-season stays and eating took a hefty chunk of the budget. We opted for a B&B for the first two nights, then splurged on a luxury hotel with a spa for the final night. We didn't skimp, but still, I felt our pound went further in Pembrokeshire than in Cornwall. Aside from a day trip to Skomer, most activities were free - from hanging out on deserted bays to walking a stretch of the 186-mile, coast-hugging Pembrokeshire Coast Path, beach swims and stargazing.