New year, new… COVID restrictions. With venues all over Wales – and the rest of the UK – feeling the burst of the pre-Christmas Omnicron bubble this January, 2022 hasn’t exactly gotten off the to post-pandemic bang we all hoped it would. Still, that doesn’t mean the country is totally devoid of safe activities and experiences at the moment. From restaurants to the great outdoors, here’s what you can go out and beat the January blues in Wales doing.
Food & Drink
Chance & Counters, Cardiff
If you’re looking to combine brain food with actual food, you’d do a lot worse than Cardiff’s best (and only?) board game bar, Chance & Counters. Located on the first floor of the city’s busy High Street, it’s a chill, nerdy haven for those who want to escape the hustle and bustle of Cardiff’s merrymaking crowds. In it you’ll find a regularly updated menu of well-curated – and presented – beers, cocktails and hot drinks along with accompanying homemade bar snacks and light meals, including some Veganuary-friendly options, and, of course, an equally large and expertly picked selection of board games to play. Don’t know what to choose or how to play? The staff there are always happy to nudge you in the right direction.
Events are suspended until further notice, but the bar is open for business as usual – just make sure you book a table in advance.
Bonta Deli, Caernarfon
Few casual eateries are as neatly turned-out as Bonta Deli in Caernarfon, situated on the delightfully named Hole In The Wall Street. Racking up rave reviews on TripAdvisor in the last year – the scourge and/or best friend of local businesses the world over – Bonta offers both dine-in and takeaway options: need a charcuterie board or showstopping Victoria Sponge for a rule-of-six compliant gathering? Ask them for a quote. If you want to stop by for afternoon tea or just grab a coffee, they have seating upstairs and outdoors, provided you’re brave enough for the oncoming cold snap this month.
Open every day apart from Sundays.
Not planning on being remotely healthy this January? Good for you – you deserve it, I’m sure. And if that’s the case, how about really indulging in some of the biggest burgers reasonable amounts of money can buy in Brecon, courtesy of HILLS? The family-run establishment was carved out of the remnants of Bishop’s Meadows Restaurant in 2017 and has gone from strength to strength since, weathering the pandemic with a Good Food Award 2022 and a cookbook. As their in-your-face branding indicates, these aren’t patties for the faint of heart, but diet-busting, beefy behemoths – except for the vegan options, which are still unapologetically calorific.
Table bookings are essential and fill up quickly.
The Lamb & Flag Wick, Glamorgan
Gastro pub The Lamb & Flag Wick was one of those unfortunate new businesses that opened in late 2019 rearing to go… then 2020 happened. Still, much like HILLS, the place has survived and come out the other side of this hellish time for the hospitality industry relatively unscathed and, again like HILLS, bagging itself a new Good Food Award. The Lamb & Flag Wick aims to “enhance the experience” of a typical “charming Welsh village pub,” elevating traditional dishes with modern presentational flair while promising to keep prices fair and “gimmick” free. Blow by for a pint in front of the woodfire hearth after a blustery winter walk or sit down for a proper Sunday roast.
Book a table to guarantee a spot. Note that there’s no food served on Mondays.
Tyddyn Llan, Snowdonia
Combining the cosy indoors with the bracing outdoors, Tyddyn Llan is a Snowdonian guesthouse offering a two-day walking package – ideal for a quick weekend break if you’ve had to self-isolate and are craving some fresh air and scenery like I am right now. As well as pledging a clean and safe visit with a smile, their 2022 Charter gives you the option of a Dinner B&B rate or the aforementioned package, which includes lunch and afternoon tea in Tyddyn’s Good Food and Good Hotel Guide recognised restaurant. Their ‘Best’ room to stay in, meanwhile, boasts a 5ft four-poster bed. Alternatively, you can take your pick of other outdoor escapades, including fishing on the River Dee, golfing at Llangollen, sailing, windsurfing, or strolling along the Mawddach and Dyfi estuaries.
Open on limited days and times for lunch and dinner bookings. You’ll need to enquire directly about staying in the hotel.
Tretower Court and Castle, Crickhowell
Though Wales is famous for its castles, a lot of them – and other similar heritage sites – are closed during the winter months, while others that might have otherwise been open aren’t due to COVID restrictions. One that you can still go to, however, is Tretower Court and Castle, a double-dose of history that includes a striking tower and a medieval court (a nice bit of refuge if the weather takes a turn). Dating back 900 years, the tower was built by Roger Picard II, a Norman-turned-Welsh lord, while the court was erected by the Vaughn family, who rose to prominence after the War of the Roses. The Great Hall has been made to look like it might have back in the 1400s, as has the garden – though you won’t see any of the signature white roses in bloom at this time of year, I don’t think (don’t take my word on that, I’m not a gardener…)
You can book tickets in advance or buy them when you arrive. Watch out for sudden closures if there’s bad weather.
National Botanic Gardens of Wales, Carmarthenshire
Now back in action after Christmas, the National Botanic Gardens of Wales has plenty of things to keep you occupied both indoors and out this January, including the Great Glass and Tropical Houses, a freshly refurbished cafe, Birds of Prey Centre, shop, and children’s play area – all adhering to social distancing and face-covering rules. Another point of interest: The Gardens bagged an international award for civil engineering a couple of months ago. The award, recognising projects across the globe that have made a positive impact on their local communities, was given to the Regency Restoration Project, which took five years and cost £7 million to complete, encompassing a number of new water features across a 300-acre plot of parkland. It’s apparently the largest of its kind in Wales, and worth checking out if you’ve not visited the Gardens recently.
You don’t need to pre-book but if you’d like to, you can here.
Heatherton World of Activities, Pembrokeshire
If it’s activities you’re after, you’ll find an alleged ‘world’ of them in Tenby’s Heatherton, which specialises in a wide range of family-friendly, blood-pumping fun across a single sprawling location. The more competitive types can try out Go-Karting, paintballing and two tree-tops trails, while the adventure seekers might prefer the Dragon ‘Tubing’ Slide, Giant Jumping Pillows, Adventure Golf and Bumper Boats. There’s also a helpful list of places to stay nearby, from hotels to glamping sites to caravans parks, here. As for COVID compliance, the site is offering, among other measures, Credit Passes to purchase online before you visit to better control numbers, which they strongly advise you do as weekends tend to book up fast and they have to adhere to a maximum occupancy capacity.
In general, booking is essential now, which you can do here.
Art & Culture
The Rules of Art?, National Museum Wales, Cardiff
Open since late October last year, National Museum Wales’ blockbuster exhibit The Rules of Art? is still up and running in Cardiff (and remains so until April 2032, in fact). Art lover or not, it makes for fascinating viewing: Using the 17th Century French ‘hierarchy of genres’ as a rule book to examine and ultimately tear up, the exhibition remixes its collection to connect archival pieces from across time, medium and origin to give their shared subject matter renewed meaning. As well as some newer names you might not be familiar with but will be interested to discover, The Rules of Art? includes some Big Name masters like Rembrandt, Picasso, Turner and more.
Admission is free but you’ll need to book a ticket in order to access the building.
Read our review below:
I Spy Lichen, Oriel Yr Ardd Garden, Camarthenshire
You may not be well acquainted with lichen – a “composite organism that arises from algae or cyanobacteria living among filaments of multiple fungi species in a mutualistic relationship” (phew) – but the members of Stitching Botanical sure are, and they’ve crafted an entire exhibition around the lifeform. According to the Botanic Garden of Wales, where the gallery is located, Wales may be home to the most diverse array of lichen, which I Spy Lichen aims to provide viewers with a better understanding and appreciation of through the medium of embroidery – an ever-growing trend among those young, bored and stuck at home.
You can access the gallery via the Botanic Garden. It runs until the end of the month.
Lexicon, Nofit State, Cardiff
With a huge number of live events unable to go ahead this month as planned, the ones that are managing to stay open are naturally selling out quickly. Case in point: NoFit State’s Lexicon, which was slated to be an in-demand show regardless. The festive extravaganza from the capital’s premier alternative circus troupe chose to stay the course after new restrictions were put in place from Dec 26, but the company has reverted back to older, social distancing measures and reduced audience numbers at performances since then. As such, tickets are very limited at the moment until the show closes on Jan 15, but it’s worth trying your luck if you’re pining to get your fix of live entertainment you won’t see anywhere else this month.
You can book tickets here.
words HANNAH COLLINS
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