One of my 2016 New Year’s resolutions was to step up my travel blogging game. Looking for help from my new travel friend, Jenn Malka – who I met over Instagram while traveling in the Philippines – she recommended joining Travel Massive, a networking group that meets monthly. On January 28, 2016 I attended my first ever Travel Massive event sponsored by Visit Britain. When I arrived to the Hotel Shangri-La penthouse, I was encouraged to enter the night’s giveaway: an all-expense-paid round trip for two to Pembrokeshire Wales. Why not?!
After schmoozing with LA-based travel industry peeps for a few hours it was time to reveal the Pembrokeshire Wales prizewinner. Right before the announcement I turned to someone and said, “I never win this shit.” Then I heard… “We’re so excited that tonight’s winner will be stepping foot in Europe for the first time!” – OMG(B) I WON! – “And we want to make sure Justin Walter’s first trip is to Wales!”
I still can’t believe how eight months later a simple tweet brought me to Pembrokeshire Wales. Leading up to my trip, what surprised me the most was how so many people had the same reaction to Wales – get out as soon as possible! Wales seemed to have a reputation as “boring” with “nothing to do.” Most people I talked to (who had actually NOT been to Wales themselves) recommended using the prize to visit London.
As someone who spent a week in Wales, I can honestly say to all the haters – you’re wrong! Wales is one of the most magical destinations I’ve ever been. Breathtaking coastlines… colorful, quaint small towns… a non-touristy, slow-paced lifestyle… endless outdoor adventure… friendly residents… simply put, Wales is lovely. My trip couldn’t have come at a better time in my life when I needed an escape to slow down and begin reconnecting with myself, travel and nature. Visit Britain gave me the opportunity to do just that and Pembrokeshire Wales gave me an experience full of #OMGB moments.
MY TOP 10 #OMGB MOMENTS IN PEMBROKESHIRE WALES
1. SEEKING THRILLS WITH CELTIC QUEST COASTEERING
Immediately after winning my prize one of the Visit Britain reps told me I needed to go coasteering. Huh?! I had never heard of coasteering! Turns out it’s a sport that involves rock climbing, cliff jumping and swimming along a rocky coastline and actually originated in Pembrokeshire Wales. YES. PLEASE. My first coasteering experience was with Celtic Quest Coasteering and I highly recommend them. The company is owned by a quirky, vivacious woman named Cleo who has a team of experienced, personable, charismatic and incredible guides (ie: #OMGB moment 8). We spent an adrenaline, humorous and fun-filled 2-3 hours swimming, climbing, and jumping our way from Abereiddy Beach to the Blue Lagoon. Jumps started small and culminated in a 10+m leap into the Blue Lagoon.
2. PUMPING ENDORPHINS WITH PRESELI VENTURE
Another great option for coasteering is Preseli Venture. This company has “Endorphin Blaster Adventure Days” that include coasteering, sea kayaking and surfing. I loved that Preseli Venture uses different coasteering locations (than Celtic). Even though I had just been coasteering two days before, Preseli was a completely different experience. I felt so blessed to have two unique, incredible coasteering experiences in Wales. Preseli does a phenomenal job of picking secluded areas with no views of towns, cars and other people. For my coasteering trip they took us to St. David’s where we were treated to an entire morning of serene, gorgeous cliffs, caves and coves.
After a morning of coasteering, we returned to the Preseli Venture eco lodge for a warm, hearty and delicious home cooked meal. We also opted to sign up for an afternoon adventure of sea kayaking. Soon enough we were paddling in the waters of the Coastal National Park. Alongside the coast we kayaked in and out of caves and along beaches. The guides were extremely knowledgeable about natural rock formations and native sea life and were also pros at helping us tackle choppier waters.
3. HIKING THE PEMBROKESHIRE COAST PATH
Pembrokeshire Wales is home to one of the most picturesque and stunning coastlines in the world. The best way to enjoy it – hiking! The Pembrokeshire Coast Path National Trail is a 186 mile long walking path from Amroth (south) to St. Dogmaels (north). It would take about 10 to 15 days to walk the entire path which ascents and descents 35,000 feet, but luckily it is extremely easy to enjoy it in shorter increments.
We chose to hike north from Whitesands Beach to Abereiddy Beach (Blue Lagoon) – an eight mile stretch that took us a little over four hours. It reminded me of trekking “the W” in Patagonia with its wide array of landscapes (beaches, cliffs, coves, valleys, bays, fields), wildlife that included wild horses and weather that changed drastically within minutes. Along the path we were constantly stunned. A must do to experience the beauty of Pembrokeshire Wales!
4. GETTING SPIRITUAL AT ST. DAVID’S AND BISHOP’S PALACE
Spending a few hours at St. David’s Cathedral and (the ruins of) Bishop’s Palace allows visitors to explore ancient buildings that have been around for over 1,500 years. Since its formation, daily prayer and worship services have been offered here and still run today. Beyond enjoying wonderful scenery, history and architecture, St. David’s offers a spiritual journey of following in the footsteps of a patron saint. In 2000, the Queen also crowned it the smallest city in the UK.
5. WANDERING THE STREETS OF TENBY
Hands down my favorite small town in Pembrokeshire Wales is Tenby! A trip to this picturesque harbor town gives travelers access to miles of sandy beaches, medieval town walls, and cobbled streets full of colorful restaurants, shops, cafes and my favorite… English pubs! I suggest getting lost in the streets and having an impromptu photoshoot against the vibrantly painted buildings. After that, the best thing we did was buy a deck of cards and hop around on a spontaneous pub crawl. If you haven’t had a classic fish and chips meal, Tenby is your spot.
6. LIVING LIKE ROYALTY AT THE WARPOOL COURT
Typically when I’m traveling, I stay in budget accommodations for a max of two nights and then move on to the next location. It’s an understatement to say staying at Warpool Court Hotel was a treat. For starters, my jaw dropped at the breathtaking view as I entered the room. The window looked like a Monet painting. The hotel staff made us feel at home no matter where we were on the grounds. Gorgeous views from the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path are just a short walk from the back patio. This castle-like lodging gave me the rare travel opportunity to actually unpack my backpack and to enjoy Pembrokeshire Wales at a slower pace than I’m used to.
7. GETTING HIGH AT THE BLUE LAGOON
If there’s one thing that has showcased the beauty of Pembrokeshire Wales to the world, it’s the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series competition. Every Welsh person I met lit up and spoke with such pride when we talked about Pembrokeshire hosting the championship event at the Blue Lagoon. You couldn’t ask for a more perfect location. Located on the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path, the lagoon offers a dramatic locale surrounded by incredible views.
8. TRAVELING LIKE A LOCAL WITH DAVE
One of my favorite things about traveling is making lifelong friends. On day two during my Celtic Quest Coasteering adventure I met Pembrokeshire-native Dave Goodridge. Dave was one of our guides and from the moment we hit the water, we bonded over our previous travels. After coasteering, Dave kindly offered to show us Pembrokeshire Wales from a local’s perspective – hell yes!
Over the span of three days Dave took us around Pembrokeshire as if we had been lifelong friends. We went hiking to a secret seal beach overlook that Dave grew up visiting. Dave drove us through the countryside at night on a one-of-a-kind brewery pub crawl (including Bessies) while I blasted the Jurassic Park theme song. After three pubs (Dave insisted on being the designated driver #thoughtful), Dave brought us to his home at 12am so we could meet his family who welcomed us with open arms, food, drinks and laughs. On one of our last nights, Dave organized a beachside bonfire for us under the full moon where he and his childhood friend cooked up the best roast beef and potatoes I’ve ever had. Experiencing Pembrokeshire through Dave’s genuine generosity, kind soul, worldly perspective and adventurous spirit is an #OMGB experience I’ll treasure forever.
9. MARY: OUR TOUR GUIDE TURNED BESTIE
Before heading to Pembrokeshire Wales I was told by Visit Britain we would be given a tour guide for the duration of our stay. To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to it. I am an independent traveller who really values exploring on my own. Having Mary Baker of Archaeotours as our tour guide was by far one of the best experiences in Wales. From the moment Mary picked me up at London Heathrow Airport we instantly connected. This Pembrokeshire-native is one of the most giving, kind-hearted, funny and (in a British accent) brilliant people I’ve encountered in my travels. As a service, Mary drove us around wherever we wanted to go, whenever we wanted to go like an adopted soccer mom. Beyond that, Mary became a dear friend. Coming from different walks of life, we bonded over common human experiences. We can’t thank Mary enough for showing us around Pembrokeshire Wales, making us laugh, teaching us Welsh history, giving us travel advice and opening up her heart.
10. STUFFING OUR BELLIES IN SOLVA
While I was traveling around Croatia I met two girls from England who told me I must go to a Sunday carvery during my Pembrokeshire Wales visit. On our first and only Sunday of the trip we headed to small town called Solva where we stuffed our faces. Walking into the restaurant where Welsh families gathered for this gluttonous tradition, the Sunday carvery was definitely a rite of passage. Post-feast, walking around Solva is a great way to burn off some carvery calories. While walking the colorful streets, we visited a boat-filled harbor and spent the rest of the evening watching the town’s children jumping into the water while enjoying the coastline.
Next time you see a travel contest and think, “I never win this shit,” enter it. Someone’s gotta win and it might just be you. I can’t help but smile looking back at how a 138 character tweet – a tweet! – brought me to such a magical destination. Thank you Jenn Malka for making me join Travel Massive and thank you Visit Britain for giving me this opportunity to create these #OMGB moments.