Painted a deep midnight blue, the Harbourmaster Hotel sits seaside in the picturesque fishing village of Aberaeron. It's a comfortable seaside stay with a modern maritime theme, original Melin Tregwynt fabrics throughout and lovely views of Cardigan Bay.
13, including two suites, plus two rooms next door in the Harbourmaster's cottage.
11am. Check-in, 4pm.
Double rooms from £165.72, including tax at 20 per cent.
Rates include a full Welsh breakfast or late brunch, and tea and cake between 3pm-5pm in the bar.
Should you happen to 'siarad Cymraeg' (speak Welsh), the team at the Harbourmaster are all bilingual. The hotel is filled with artworks by Welsh artists such as Muriel Delahaye and fabrics by the Welsh fabric designer, Melin Tregwynt.
The Hotel is closed on Christmas Day.
At the hotel
Small library of books, WiFi throughout and a few umbrellas to borrow from reception. In rooms: flatscreen TV, Molton Brown products, and tea- and coffee-making facilities; the warehouse rooms also have a minibar and air-conditioning, and the two cottage rooms share a small kitchen and lounge.
Our favourite rooms
Set at the top of an elegant spiral staircase, the top floor Madona Suite has exposed stone walls, a pitched ceiling with original beams and views of both the harbour and bay – in case you can't decide which is prettiest. For the leisurely sightseer, enjoy harbour views from the comfort of your king-size bed in the spacious Aeron Queen room. If you're looking for more privacy, book one, or both, of the two rooms in the hotel's cottage next door; just like the main hotel rooms, Albion and Pandora have bespoke Melin Tregwynt bedheads and furnishings, harbour views, plus a private kitchen and lounge with a wood-burning fire.
A bucket and wire for crabbing from the harbour walls, and stout walking boots or wellies for exploring the coastal path – keep an eye out for dolphins.
The Gambia room in the warehouse is specially adapted for disabled guests; it's accessed by a lift and has a wheelchair-friendly wet room.
Over-five's only. Children must have their own room, and there's a small kid's bedroom in the cottage.
Go for table 2 for a window seat; or 18 by the snugly fireside. If it's a special occasion, or if you want to dine in privacy, ask for table 14.
Go for a more windswept version of your usual stylish selves.
Set on the ground floor of what was once the home of the eponymous harbourmaster, the oak-floored, art-walled restautarant is a mainstay of the modern Welsh culinary scene, serving a seasonal menu built around local produce, including Welsh cheeses and meats, organic veg and the best of the day's catch.
Overlooking the harbour, the hotel's bar is a lovely spot to sit with a coffee or a pint of Welsh ale (Harbourmaster has its own brand) and watch the boats bobbing on the water. No-reservations needed, although this local favourite can fill up quickly on weekends; highlights including classic Welsh beef burgers topped with Snowdonia cheddar and linguine with fresh Cardigan Bay crab. The bar staff are dab hands with a cocktail shaker too.
For lunch, 2.30pm; for dinner, 9pm.
Continental breakfast can be brought to your room.
The closest airport is in Cardiff, a two-hour drive from the hotel. There isn't much public transport heading west from the airport. The best option is to hire a car.
The nearest railway station is in Aberystwyth, 16 miles away; a 30-minute bus service links the two towns. By train, Aberystwyth is just under five hours away from London; catch a train to Birmingham from London Euston, then swap to the Transport for Wales service down the coast to Aberystwyth.
Depending on your start point, either take the A487 along the coast to Aberaeron, or follow the inland A482 right to the end of the track. There's free parking at the hotel.
Worth getting out of bed for
Take a walk along the coastal route for breathtaking views. There are lots of other ways to get breathless, from horseriding to fishing – just ask at the hotel reception. The nearest sandy beach is four miles away in New Quay. A festival of Welsh ponies and cobs takes place every other August in Aberaeron, with dressage displays, jousting competitions and a fancy-dress pageant. Find out more at www.aberaeronfestival.com.
For fresh seafood and succulent burgers, try the The Hive on the Quay, just around the corner from the hotel on Cadwgan Place. Stick around for their famous honey ice cream and live music (on Friday evenings). The Pepper Pot in New Quay is another favourite for seafood and hearty meat dishes; or, if you’ve been doing the coastal walk, swing by the Lime Crab for locally-caught fish and chips. The half-hour drive north to Aberystwyth will seem well worthwhile once you sit down to a meal at Y Pysgoty, an award-winning fish restaurant on the harbour side. One of the owners, Rhiannon, honed her craft at none other than the Harbourmaster. If you’re after something with a more Iberian lean, book a table at Ultracomida, an authentic deli and tapas bar on Pier street. Medina is a choice spot for mod-Mediterranean food, and is particularly popular with vegetarians. For artisanal pizzas, pasta and cocktails, try the Harbourmaster’s good-value eatery Baravin, which occupies an enviable spot on the seafront.
Cadwgan Inn (+44 (0)1545 570149) is Aberaeron's oldest pub, and a quaint spot for a pint. The Ship Inn in Tresaith is the perfect place for a drink looking out over the beach.
‘Ah, Wales…’ declares Mr Smith with a misty-eyed reverence usually reserved for glorious declarations of past sporting victories, ‘…land of my fathers.’ (Two great-grandfathers, tops, if Mrs Smith’s memory serves her correctly).
As we drive through winding valleys and along beautiful coastal roads, our relief at leaving the Big Smoke and the M5 behind us makes the reasonably long drive feel rather cathartic. As we came over the brow of what was to be the last in a long procession of particularly steep hills and blind corners, we at last came upon Aberaeron. This fishing village is painted to perfection, its buildings forming a pitched crescendo of pastels and primaries. The Harbourmaster Hotel is a jaunty midnight blue; we decide the overall effect is a little like a seaside version of Cheyne Walk in Chelsea. It draws a swift, ‘Oooh, isn’t it pretty?’ from Mr Smith, before he remembers that he is in Wales, where a bloke should probably keep this kind of comment to himself.
The Harbourmaster Hotel shines in the midday sun that has somehow managed to penetrate the angry cloud heading in from the Irish Sea. Within, we find a bar with dark wood panelling and white walls, furnished with intimate tables and luscious-looking leather couches. Photographs of local characters, lifted perhaps from the pages of Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, set the tone. After a warm greeting from the owner Glyn (friendly, easy charm is the usual Welsh way), we are led to our room, up an extraordinary winding purple and mauve staircase, light streaming in from lighthouse-evoking windows.
An enormous wrought-iron bed sits in the centre of our good-sized room. The couch, a soft leather number with bright hand-woven woollen covers on the back rests, is typical of the hotel’s style: considered, comfortable and quirky. Best thing, though, is the beautiful view across the harbour. After checking out the en suite bathroom, which achieves the requisite understated chic (Molton Brown, fluffy white towels), we take a stroll along the little beach and admire the views – on a clear day you can see all the way to Snowdonia. It is here that Mr Smith displays his amazing knowledge of coastal defences (no, really, it was very interesting) and the difference between flotsam and jetsam. We appear to be the only people enjoying the bracing conditions, which leads to more than one romantic clinch, half in an effort to defend ourselves from the seasonal chill!
After popping into the Cadwgan Inn, Aberaeron’s oldest pub, for a quick pint, we decide we’ve experienced quite enough activity for the day, and retire to our room. We watch the sun set from our sofa, indulging in tea and truly delicious local butter biscuits that prove so moreish that we find ourselves blithely ringing reception for more. Mr Smith blames this gluttony squarely on the sea air. A brief siesta later, we came down to dinner in the restaurant next to the bar (a quick mention when booking is advisable, since the clientele is both local and loyal).
Aperitifs drained, we are led into an intimate dining room. Here, very appropriately, seafood dominates. Some fine mussels for starters, followed by excellent skate and delicious Welsh lamb shanks. Initially surprised by some truly London prices, we are impressed by the wine list. We take dessert and digestif in the convivial comfort of the bar by an open fire, which perfectly counteracts the blustery conditions raging outside, complete with boats frenetically jiving up and down in the harbour.
Pleasantly satiated with food and a not insubstantial quantity of the cellars’ cheekiest numbers, Mr and Mrs Smith retire with a DVD from the hotel’s film library. A battle between Dune and Bridget Jones’ Diary hard-fought, we settle down in the company of Hugh and Colin. The evening culminates in a short hop to our wonderfully cosy bed, and an extremely revitalising slumber.
On waking, we draw the curtains and drink in the perfectly framed powder-blue sky and coastal vista. We’d been so comfortable that we've slept through breakfast (shame, if it was anything as good as our dinner the night before), and only made it down at midday to check out after a quick coffee and chat with Glyn and Menna, paragons of warmth and amiability.
Until recently, Wales had little to offer in terms of the urbanite-pleasing getaway. The Harbourmaster Hotel is a true pioneer. Along with contemporaries such as Llety Bodfor in Aberdyfi, it heralds, hopefully, a convincing Welsh renaissance, which, in the resounding words of the newly patriotic Mr Smith, truly will be Bread of Heaven.