It’s 1999 in the Welsh market town of Abergavenny, Monmouthshire. Faced with falling consumer confidence in British produce following the BSE crisis (a.k.a ‘mad cow disease’), local farmers, Martin Orbach and Chris Wardle decide to set up a community food festival.
Fast forward 20 years, and Abergavenny Food Festival has grown to become the largest festival of its kind in Wales, not to mention one of the top food and drink festivals in the UK according to The Telegraph and Conde Nast Traveller.
Over the weekend, thousands flocked to Abergavenny to celebrate the festival’s 20th anniversary. I was delighted to be among them for my second year at the festival, having attended for the first time last year. Based on my experience, I’ve put together an essential guide to Abergavenny Food Festival, which I’ll be updating in the run-up to the festival every year. Don’t say I’m not good to you!
- 1 Abergavenny Food Festival: What’s On
- 2 How much do wristbands and tickets for Abergavenny Food Festival cost?
- 3 Parking at Abergavenny Food Festival
- 4 Where to stay for Abergavenny Food Festival
- 5 When is Abergavenny Food Festival 2019?
- 6 Top 10 tips for first-timers at Abergavenny Food Festival
Abergavenny Food Festival: What’s On
Food and drink stalls
Abergavenny Food Festival 2018 boasted no less than 250 different food and drink stalls spread across ten Producers’ Markets dotted around the town.
I finally got round to trying a burger from Hereford-based burger dons, The Beefy Boys.
A thick, meaty medium-rare patty was nestled in a golden brioche bun, topped with bacon, lettuce, gherkins, red onions, crispy bacon, American cheese, Swiss cheese and ‘secret sauce’. I could barely fit my fat little fingers around it, let alone cram it into my mouth, but that didn’t stop me from devouring the lot in a matter of minutes. Pure filth!
Feeding my newfound brownie addiction, I hotfooted it over to the award-winning Gower Cottage Brownies – once described by BBC Good Food magazine as “the best brownies we’ve ever tasted.” After arming myself with a slab of gooey, chocolatey goodness and helping myself to a few spoonfuls of Brownie and Blondie Butter, I was on the lookout for my next foodie find.
I didn’t have far to go. I first came across Cottage Sweets’ melt-in-your-mouth marshmallow at Big Welsh Bite in Pontypridd last month and when I spotted the stall on Abergavenny’s Castle Street, I bounded over to it like an excited child who’s just spotted the ice cream van. Unable to decide upon just one flavour, I settled for a variety bag.
Over its 20-year history, Abergavenny Food Festival has attracted the attention of top food critics, restaurateurs, food producers and campaigners, who have taken to the stage to share their thoughts with the festival audience.
This year, speakers included the so-called Godfather of Spanish cooking, José Pizarro, praised food critic, Grace Dent, and food and wine writer, Fiona Beckett, to name just a few. While some talks are free to attend, you can expect to pay up to £16.50 to listen to some of the speakers.
Every year at Abergavenny Food Festival, the Market Hall is adorned with carefully crafted creatures created by local artist, Bettina Reeves. There is a different theme each year and for 2018, the space was transformed into an under-the-sea world complete with super-sized fish, crabs, octopus and shells – a subtle nod to Visit Wales’ focus on 2018 as the ‘Year of the Sea’ for Wales.
Besides marine wildlife, the Market Hall also houses around 30 stalls run by local food and drink producers.
Meanwhile, the Market Hall Stage plays host to a series of cookery demonstrations throughout the weekend. This year’s highlights included a Bollywood brunch from Imran Nathoo, wild Welsh seafood with Matt Powell and Welsh Waygu beef with Gareth Ward, chef owner of the Michelin-starred Ynyshir in mid Wales.
Don’t miss the other cookery demonstrations taking place over at The Castle. For 2018, this included cooking-over-fire demos (using Kadai Firebowls) from the likes of Hangfire BBQ and Genevieve Taylor, alongside demos from Pipers Farm and River Cottage.
If you’re not content with just watching the food being prepared, sign-up for a 90-minute cookery class at The Castle’s Cookery School with the likes of Venetian home cook, Skye McAlpine, vegan cookbook author, Katy Bestow and husband-and-wife-team, Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich of highly acclaimed Middle Eastern restaurant, Honey and Co. For 2018, cookery classes were priced from £27.50 – £32.50.
During Abergavenny Food Festival, the ancient grounds of Abergavenny Castle are brought back to life with family fun and entertainment in the form of street food trucks, free speech events and cookery demos.
When darkness falls, the Castle becomes the setting for a lively party featuring live music, fireworks and, of course, copious amounts of food and drink! Too tired to party? Head over to the Night Market in the Lower Brewery Yard and spend your Saturday evening scoffing street food and guzzling cocktails from the Night Market Bar.
New for 2018, the Castle Street car park festival site incorporates The Farmyard, a family area complete with a Kids’ Cookery School. The Farmyard invites festival-goers to get up close and personal with farmers, animals and produce, encouraging us to think about how our consumer choices can impact on the farming industry.
For 2018, a designated Farmer’s Market sold farmed ingredients and educated people about different farming methods, while a string of talks and debates included contributions from local forager, Liz Knight and Wales’ most successful egg exhibitor, Dave Herbert of Hermit Crab Eggs.
What better way to top off your Abergavenny Food Festival experience than by tucking into a lavish banquet with your nearest and dearest? This year, festival-goers were tempted with a tantalising selection of five ‘feasts’, priced from £16.50 to £60. Seeing Pembrokeshire chef, Matt Powell’s Welsh Sunday feast unfold on Hungry City Hippy’s Instagram story had me kicking myself that I hadn’t snapped a ticket up!
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Beautiful @wrightsfood cardigan bay crab served with foraged shoreline salad. This was part of a beaut 5-course tasting menu of Welsh produce served at @afoodfestival today. Was really nice to hear about @fishingandforagingwalesuk’s sustainable approach to foraging, and never taking more than he needs. Plus we had the pleasure of @kmhumble’s company on our table. She really does love pigs! 😂 #mattpowell #foragedingredients #foraging #wrights #abergavenny #abergavennyfoodfest #foodfestival #supperclub #abergavennyfeast #cardiganbaycrab #sustainableforaging #aff2018 #foragedtreats #ineedtogoonadietnow #naturalwines #wrightswines
In addition to the main weekend events, Abergavenny Food Festival includes a Fringe Festival of events held in and around the town by the local community both in the run-up to the festival, and in the days that follow. For 2018, Fringe Festival highlights included an Indian night with Cyrus Todiwala in Monmouth, a wood-fired oven class with Rachael Watson and a tour with wine tasting at White Castle Vineyard.
How much do wristbands and tickets for Abergavenny Food Festival cost?
Adult weekend wristbands for Abergavenny Food Festival 2018 were priced at £18 if purchased on the day, while Saturday wristbands were priced at £12 and Sunday wristbands at £10. Children under 16 went free. However, if you buy your tickets in advance you can usually save a few pounds as they tend to be slightly cheaper.
Tickets for special events, including cookery classes, workshops, pop-up restaurants and expert talks, are available for purchase at an additional cost.
Both weekend wristbands and event tickets can be purchased online in advance or on the day from any of the four box offices located around the town, as marked on the festival map. Tickets for Abergavenny Food Festival 2019 are yet to go on sale.
Parking at Abergavenny Food Festival
Designated festival parking can be accessed at Bailey Park and Castle Meadows. This year, it cost £4 per car, with £2 from the fee donated to community groups in and around Abergavenny.
Where to stay for Abergavenny Food Festival
If you’re looking to book accommodation for Abergavenny Food Festival 2019, get on it as soon as possible, before prices rise and everywhere fills up!
Abergavenny is home to a number of hotels and guesthouses, but The Angel Hotel is a firm favourite. I enjoyed a fabulous festive stay with afternoon tea here last year and I can’t recommend it enough for your stay in Abergavenny.
When is Abergavenny Food Festival 2019?
Abergavenny Food Festival takes place on the third weekend of September. Next year’s festival will take place from 21st – 22nd September 2019.
Top 10 tips for first-timers at Abergavenny Food Festival
- Bring a light raincoat just in case it rains (it is Wales, after all!) and to keep warm after dark.
- Take some cash out before you arrive in Abergavenny – not all exhibitors accept card payments and ATM queues can get pretty long!
- Arm yourself with a picnic blanket and/or some camping chairs so you’ll have somewhere comfy to sit as you eat your food, even if all the seating is taken.
- Arrive as early as possible to beat the traffic and secure your car parking spot.
- Scour the festival guide and make a note of any talks, demos or classes you want to attend.
- Make your way to the chef demos in plenty of time so you can get a front-row seat – and first dibs on the food!
- Pack a canvas tote bag to carry any treats you plan on buying to take home with you.
- Wear your comfiest pair of shoes – you might be on your feet for a few hours, with lots of walking involved!
- Buy your wristbands and event tickets in advance to avoid queuing on the day.
- Don’t expect to cram everything into one day. If you really want to experience all that Abergavenny Food Festival has to offer, stay overnight!
If you liked this post, take a look at the other Welsh food festivals I’ve written about and don’t forget to leave me a comment – I love reader feedback!