The sophisticated flavours of rural Wales
To really return to the roots of traditional Welsh food though, you need to go foraging. To get a taste of what SAS trainees endure during their weeks of wilderness survival, sign up with Mountain and River Activities, an adventure company that was running foraging trips long before the likes of Noma chef René Redzepi made the pastime fashionable. Under the company’s guidance, a valley-side stroll can become a feast of wild food – think baked river trout tasting of lemon from wood sorrel and of garlic from wild ramsons. Dessert? Try whortleberries, washed down by acorn tea. Once refuelled, you will be ready to try their more-adventurous activities of hawk walking, caving and nighttime navigation using the stars.
But beyond the cuisine, it is the drink that is stealing the culinary show in Brecon Beacons – in the shape of Wales’ only distillery, Penderyn, 27km southwest of Brecon. The whisky still (just one, as opposed to the two- or three-pot system Scottish and Irish distilleries use) was designed to create a standout product: not an easy task with the world’s most famed single malt whisky distilleries not far away in Scotland. Made exclusively for the distillery, the Penderyn single malt produces an exceptionally strong and flavoursome spirit (initially 92%) that needs less maturation time in casks than other whiskies. In contrast to the 10 years an award-winning Scottish whisky would normally need, Penderyn’s Swansea City cask-strength port-wood finish, which garnered 2013 Whisky of the Year, was aged just seven years.
Gourmands will discover other reasons aplenty to linger in the national park. The internationally renowned Hay Literary Festival, which ex-US president Bill Clinton described as the “Woodstock of the mind”, takes place every May or June. And August (9 to 11 this year) sees the 30th anniversary of the Brecon Jazz Festival – the extravaganza that late jazz great Humphrey Littleton described as “one of Europe’s most important jazz festivals”, and where, back in the day, British music sensation Amy Winehouse honed her talents.
But to evade the crowds, the best solution is perhaps to simply recline in one of self-catering cottages in the heart of this mesmerisingly beautiful farming country. It is a sure-fire way to enjoy Brecon Beacons the best way possible: going wild, without relinquishing those creature comforts.