“This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance. Even if you tour Europe, you’re probably not going to go here.”
These were the words, spoken by my mother, that enticed me to take a break from my busy Los Angeles life to join my parents on a trip to Pembrokeshire and its coastal towns of Saundersfoot and Tenby, two tucked away gems in western Wales.
However, thrilled as I was to be going to Europe, my mother’s description didn’t exactly sell the locations. She warned me that they were rather small towns, charming, but quiet. She hoped that the trip would serve as a much-needed rest for me, since I had recently completed my time at university. I wasn’t sure what to expect.
After touching down in England, we made our home base in Saundersfoot, a seaside escape about a 3.5-hour drive from London. There, I was quickly enchanted by the tiny treasures of the town: decorated windowsills stocked full of seashells and nautical decorations, the multicolored stones on the beach, and the signs around town marking the perfect places to “cwtch” – a Welsh word with no literal English translation, but most closely related to the word “cuddle.” The colored rows of homes and buildings formed pastel rainbows of pink, pale yellow, sky blue, and lavender, and the coastline went on for miles. Time seemed to move slower there, and with a sunset that lasted past 9:30 pm, the days felt like they stretched on forever.
My time there comprised of early mornings, munching on fried bread with rich Welsh butter, poached eggs and the occasional baked beans on toast. As I was unable to resist the call of the ocean, breakfast was followed by long strolls along the beach and through the abandoned mining tunnels that cut through the cliffs – usually ending at the Wiseman’s Bridge Inn, with its unbroken view of the sea. After this ideal morning exercise, I would pop into the shops in the town’s tiny center.
One morning, I caught a bus outside of the Saundersfoot Arcade, and paid £3.70 for a round trip ticket to the nearby town of Tenby, known for its still intact medieval walls. Another ocean-side haven, Tenby is also a poke-around type of town. Cozy restaurants serve a variety of local flavors – I devoured an apple and cauliflower soup, very good – and a plethora of resale shops offer an inexpensive treasure hunt.
While in Tenby, I boarded a boat to the nearby Caldey Island. One of the holy islands of Britain, Caldey Island is famous for its monastery. The kind signs posted by the island’s Cistercian monks – ones wishing that all who visit “will find here peace, happiness, the love of God & an awareness of his care for all of us” – makes it the ultimate location for rest and reflection. However, in addition to the peaceful atmosphere, the fudge and the shortbread made on the island are equally good for the soul.
My time in Wales turned out to be more of a retreat than a vacation. There were no tourist traps or bucket list excursions, or must-see museums. There were, however, miles of coastline, thick vegetation, constant bird song – and plenty of places to just pause and think. Travel is all about having new experiences, and this, strangely enough, was as foreign to me as anything – time alone with my own thoughts.
I can’t claim any life-changing epiphanies, but this atmosphere did inspire self-reflection – I should apologize to him, I thought, I should reach out to her. Small realizations, but ones that mattered.
My mother was right, I will probably never get to Saundersfoot again – but what a shame it would have been to never have gone at all.
Written by: Julia Stier
Julia Stier is an LA-based actress, playwright, and songwriter. When she’s not in rehearsal, she loves to travel and write about her experiences. You can learn more about Julia at juliastier.com