“ Caravan Park in Saundersfoot, Pembrokeshire, Wales. „
"Where can I go on holiday next year? Needs to have nice beaches, cliffs for walking, interesting places to visit and temperatures in the mid to high twenties in August."
This is a question that I posed on facebook last Autumn and I eagerly awaited suggestions. I live for my holidays and having recently returned from the 2010 one I was keen to rebook and give myself something good to look forward to again.
Among answers such as California and Skiathos, Pembrokeshire was suggested, alongside a warning that we probably wouldn't get the required temperatures, but then I don't think California would give me a mere 25 degrees in August either! A bit of internet research and review reading confirmed that if we crossed everything and prayed a bit for some sun, everything else looked pretty perfect about Pembrokeshire and we knew we'd enjoy exploring an area of the UK that we'd not been to before.
Most holidays that we take are caravan based ones and this suits our families' requirements really well, as well as our budget, so a search for sites ensued. There are so many sites to choose from in Pembrokeshire and particularly around the area of Saundersfoot and Tenby. After ruling out all of the large sites with huge pools and entertainment packages which just aren't our thing, the five star and 2009 best caravan park in Wales award winner, Swallow Tree Gardens looked like a firm winner. Having now just returned from there I am pleased to say that I was right and it was a winner and I can very much recommend it to others.
**Where is it?**
The answer to that is that it is in the middle of nowhere, but within walking distance of civilisation - perfect! Saundersfoot is a quaint little harbour town on the Southern coast of Pembrokeshire, which in turn is at the south western tip of Wales. Leaving Saundersfoot and heading west up the hill towards Tenby, a private wooded lane on the left leads you to Swallow Tree Gardens. The caravan site is situated in a large clearing in this wood which is mixed evergreen and deciduous trees. It is a long established site, as a photo in reception shows 1960s styles vans on site and holds an enviable location right on the edge of the wooded cliffs. Like many British harbour side resorts traffic can be quite busy so fortunately it is possible to bypass using the A478 towards Tenby and enter Saundersfoot from the West with the caravan site being on the right before the town is entered.
Once on site I wouldn't recommend driving into Saundersfoot - by foot it is just a 10 minute walk along the wide expanse of sandy beach when the tide is out, about 15 minutes at mid tide when part of the coastal path needs to be used to enter the beach just before the harbour and 20 minutes at high tide as, as well as the coastal path, a road with beautiful houses will need to be climbed and then the town is entered via the main road. All in all a pleasant walk to enjoy all that is awaiting you at the other end.
Saundersfoot is an unspoiled and not overly commercial small seaside town which was pitched just right for us. The main entertainments we enjoyed was watching the fishing boats unloading, a visit from the lifeboat, a bit of crab fishing and of course sitting around the harbour devouring chips or ice creams. The harbour walls appeared to be a haven for fishermen. The beach is great too - pure sand with lifeguards supervising a section and kayaks for hire.
**What makes this site so good**
Where to start? Well firstly the location on the edge of the cliffs meant that we didn't have to get the car out and drive if we wanted to go for a walk, go to the beach or wander into Saundersfoot. Two exits from the site lead directly onto the internationally acclaimed Pembrokeshire coast path which is wooded at this point. A couple of minutes walk down the steep path led right onto the beach. And a fabulous beach it is too. At high tide there is just a small pebbled cove with a few rock pools. This very rapidly expands to reveal a private sandy cove with many rockpools which was just idyllic with superb views in the foreground of Monkstone point which is pretty impressive and divides this bay from the Tenby beaches and in the distance across to the Gower. On a very clear day we could even see right over to Somerset on the far horizon. We were surprised at how far the tide went out and eventually there will be quite a walk to find the sea, but the positive side is that you are then linked to Saundersfoot and there is acres of sand to play ball games on.
The appearance of the site is a major plus too. It is immaculately landscaped with the grass being regularly cut and each van has a planted garden area around it with shrubs and flowering bushes. In August it was a riot of colour with rhododendron bushes and red hot pokers in abundance. The whole site is also surrounded by trees, so feels very green and private. It is large enough though to not feel a shady enclosed site. There is also a lot of green space between the caravans and there is no feeling at all of rows of caravans being packed in side by side. Cars are left in three car parks around the site which also enhances the appearance and safety.
I have to rave about the restaurant. This is located in the main reception block near the entrance of the site. It has an internal seating area that I would guess seats about 40 people and a stunning terrace with wooden benches, umbrellas and some impressive planting, not to mention the odd infernal wasp! The views from here were to die for; over the purple flowering budleia and the roof tops of the log cabins and then the trees of the cliff path to the gorgeous blue of the sea and the peaks of land in the far distance. For those of you who have read my previous reviews you will know that I love a cream tea in a beautiful setting - well I've found another perfect place to sit and eat them, although I have to say that the cream tea is not the strongest thing on the menu here. The giant size scone was warm and served with a bowl of butter and jam and a prepacked plastic pot of Roddicks clotted cream - mine was still a bit frozen. Served with a pot of tea which I didn't have it would set you back £4. The roast beef Panini with mustard sauce was one of the most delicious things that I have ever tasted - I don't think they could have packed more beef in if they had tried. I had to go back and have this on second occasion; it was just so mouth wateringly good. The other paninis, filled baguettes and toasties that our party ate all appeared to be equally delicious and cost between £4 and £5 - £2.75 for toasties. My daughter also tried the fish portions and chips which looked excellent with large crispy chips. This cost £7.50. These items are all on the lunch menu which is officially served between 12 and 4, but seemed to be quite flexible. There is also an al carte evening menu which we didn't try out but this serves a range of starters and main courses ranging from Crispy chicken at £11 to £Lobster at £24 with a good range of options between and standard children's menus of sausage, meatballs or chicken with chips or chicken curry for £5. The restaurant is open to non residents too and some friends of ours reported having eaten a really good evening meal here.
Alongside the restaurant is the indoor heated pool with patio doors leading onto the terrace. A £5 deposit is paid that provides you with an electronic entry device to ensure residents and their guests only use the pool. The pool surroundings were very pleasant with a couple of loungers beside. At 5'2" I was just able to stand up at the deep end and could swim a decent length up and down. The temperature was just right, until you tried to enter after using the adjacent sauna or steam room when it was freezing! A small corner of the pool is sectioned off to provide a play area for tiny tots - it looks like a Jacuzzi really and how I wished it was one; that's the only thing that was missing for me in the leisure complex. On the two occasions that we used the pool there were only about 8 other people at the very most in the pool and for short times we were even on our own, which was heaven. A swimming instructor was on hand for children to be booked in for private lessons and this service seemed to be well used and the quality of lesson appeared to be excellent. There is no lifeguard and inflatables, diving and jumping in are all forbidden, much to the disappointment of my 12 year old.
I didn't venture into the gym as this also required an electronic entry device which is obtained when you've paid a £15 fee for the week and had a full induction programme. I was on holiday so in no way inclined to put myself through all of that just for the purposes of review writing! Spa treatments are also available ranging from £5.95 for a lip wax, £21 for a 45 minute manicure, £26 for a 30 minute back massage. The variety of treatments available is vast, but sadly I did not participate.
Free wifi access in the caravan was popular with our family and although we debated whether to leave the laptop behind for a rest we were glad to have it on a wet day and to look up details of the local area, and felt this was part of the more luxurious provision of this site.
The hills - oh the hills! The site is completely located on the side of a hill so you will need to walk up or down hill to reach other areas of the site and I couldn't recommend it at all for people with any mobility difficulties. Nor would it be suitable for anybody wishing to play ballgames; despite the open plentiful open green spaces it's just not possible. A game of frisby was about as much as we could manage and I missed the chance to knock around with a badminton racquet as I often would while camping. I wondered how on earth the caravans are ever positioned initially as they certainly can't just be driven into place. Ours was partly submerged at the back and the front was wedged up on posts.
There is no playground on site and no real focus for children to meet friends so I wouldn't have liked to stay here when my children were younger. At 12 and 16 my girls are now quite happy to read and play card games while at the van and it was not a problem. In my opinion this site is best suited to middle aged fit and active people and is a fantastic base for exploring the Pembrokeshire coast path.
We had a sea view and I imagine about half of the vans would, but the trees do block the views for those vans lower on the site.
The onsite shop is so tiny, as to make it almost useless unless you want an icecream or milk, so we shopped while out and about, although the nearest reasonable sized store was a Sainsburys in the middle of Tenby with a multi story carpark next door.
Wooden lodges form the upper range of accommodation on site and they did look lovely from the outside. They cost between £300 in February to £1000 in the school summer holidays. The caravans are priced according to their age and the equipment provided. We chose the cheapest which did looked slightly dated from outdoors, but internally was immaculate and well equipped and offered everything that we could need. The beds were a good size compared to other caravan ones we've stayed in and were very comfortable and heaters were provided in all bedrooms as well as the lounge. This cost us £675 for a three bedroom caravan for a week in August and the more luxurious ones are nearer to £900. This is pretty expensive for a caravan, but the site felt luxurious so we felt that it was just about worth it. Facilities do improve with more luxuries such as Sky and MP3 facility, insulation and gas BBQ in the top end accommodation. We had a digibox and DVD player in ours and the TV was a large dated looking one, but did the job well enough. Cots and high chairs can be prebooked. Pets and smoking are not allowed.
I made our booking over the phone and paid a 10% deposit after which I received an E mail confirmation. Three weeks before the holiday I paid the remainder of the bill over the phone. I think that I had to use a debit card to avoid a charge for using a credit card.
Arrival is due to be after 4pm, but we had a phone call the day before letting us know that our van was vacant and that we could arrive at any time after 9am. We really appreciated this as it meant that with an early start we arrived about 11am and were able to enjoy an extra day of holiday, as usually by the time you've unpacked the day is almost over. Reception was welcoming and provided us with just the one set of keys and the pool pass. We needed to make up our own beds with the bedding provided - a rather miss matched assortment that didn't match the room decors, but all clean although some duvet poppers didn't work. In the posher cabins the beds will be ready and waiting for you all made up. That done and the holiday could be enjoyed until we were required to vacate again at 10am the following Saturday with strict instructions to leave the van clean! With no cleaning implements except a broom and dustpan and brush we took this to just mean tidy and swept and that a cleaner would be in to do the full works.
The site does also have about ten touring pitches which are flatter and at the top of the site with views. They are serviced by a wash block but this needed a key so I was not able to look inside. There is also a launderette.