Camilla Franks’ Colorful And Glam Guide To Wales

A stylish guide to the Celtic culture of Britain's South West, from designer Camilla Franks

by Freya Drohan

The colors that come to mind when you think of Wales are likely rolling green hills and stoney grey castles, but leave it to Australian designer Camilla Franks, the founder of CAMILLA, to see it through the lens of her technicolor dream world. Having fallen in love with a Welshman many years ago, Franks has been spending more and more time in his native country since the pandemic—in her signature bohemian wares, of course. After one such recent trip with her longtime artist partner, JP Jones, to his hometown of Porthcawl in South Wales, Franks was inspired to create a travel guide to share an insight into the magic of the seaside town, and particularly its fairground. “It is such a warm community, they have all made me feel very much at home,” Franks says. “Like mine, JP’s career has taken him all round the world, but I know his homeland has such a special place in his heart.” Here are her insider recs for where to go and what to see.

Sightseeing

In the land of, what feels like, 427 mystical castles, two of my favorites include the 14th century St. Quentin’s Castle and the Ogmore Castle, which dates back to the 12th century. The castle is situated on the banks of River Ewenny and accessed by crossing the stepping stones of the river—the one famously known for its competition of successfully crossing whilst drunk. Stormy winter days filled with walks along the ghostly beaches help me feel like I’m a naughty princess vibes, especially atop beautiful horses enjoying the exhilaration of galloping through the stunning sand dunes. Another is Castell Coch, or the ‘Red Castle’, which rises up from the ancient beech woods of Fforest Fawr like a vision from a fairy tale.

Walking is one of my favorite pastimes when I am in Wales. We are spoilt for choice, from beaches to mountains. If I had to pick my favorite walk it would be Pen y Fan, which is the highest peak in South Wales. It is in the Brecon Beacons National Park. It was after we had climbed this that JP proposed to me, in a beautiful forest at the bottom of the mountain. Nothing better than a walk here followed by a slap-up lunch in a gorgeous country pub sitting in front of a roaring fire.

I was brought up with horses from a young age, so when I get to Wales, I love that I am able to enjoy the freedom of being able to take off with a beautiful big four-legged fur baby, with the exhilaration of galloping through the sand dunes of these stunning Welsh beaches.

 

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My partner JP was brought up in the seaside town of Porthcawl. His family are associated with the famous fairground there, Coney Beach. As an artist JP draws so much inspiration from his childhood here and the bright colors of the fairground which you can find reflected in his art. His studio is in the heart of Cowbridge, where you can see him painting, like a mad professor! We love to visit the fairground; the children adore it. They also love spending time in the Hi Tide Amusements. It is very difficult to get them to leave!

Cuisine 

Tom Watts-Jones is Head Chef Patron of the Hare & Hounds in Aberthin. Tom finished his Masters Degree in 2009 and set out to fulfil his passion for cooking. He learned his craft in the renowned Anchor & Hope in London, working his way up to Sous Chef, and then worked in Michelin-starred St John Restaurant. This is our regular haunt for Sunday lunch. The food is amazing: it’s great quality and fresh, regional Welsh cooking. The menu changes with the seasons and everything is made from scratch in the kitchen, from their own sourdough bread and cultured butter to fresh pasta. Their locally-sourced oysters are spectacular. Tom can never keep up with my Aussie demands for these little beauts!

Camilla and Tom

They have a sister restaurant in the Welsh capital, Cardiff, it’s called the Heathcock. They do lots of sharing dishes like pies, and slow cooked lamb shoulders or whole Welsh baked sea bass. It’s a favorite stop of mine for dinner with JP and friends.

On Friday nights, I head to Harry’s, my local bar where they do a wicked Margarita and a delicious bowl of mussels—the perfect way to end the week.

The Hare & Hounds Bakery, Cowbridge was born out of the adversity of the first pandemic lockdown. They have created a cosy, rustic hub in the heart of the village. This is my go to place for my morning coffee hit and my connection with the local community before I hit the ground running. All their produce is locally sourced from their fruit and veg to eggs, as well as their Laverbread which is a Welsh delicacy that I love. If I wasn’t a designer I would love to be a chef. In fact I am constantly pestering the chef here for cooking tips…I’m almost like his apprentice!

At the Hare & Hounds Bakery

What to do 

One thing that will strike you about Wales are the beautiful singing voices. It is a really important part of the Welsh National identity. It truly is the Land of Song. I remember confidently adding my name to the list to perform karaoke at the local pub, but I quickly removed it after witnessing that every person who stepped up to the mic sounded like a finalist on
The Voice. I just hope that [daughter] Luna gets her daddy’s pipes, not mummy’s.

I recently attended a Rugby Match at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium, Wales versus Australia, with JP. There is nothing quite like hearing thousands of Welsh voices filled with passion singing their national anthem. It is breath-taking. Not such a great result for Australia that day unfortunately!

Shopping

We live in a market town just outside Cardiff, which is full of independent shops. I love spending a few hours wandering about. The love of fashion is definitely in the family, my sister in law Natalie has a store called Vedra on the high street here. It is a clothing and lifestyle store embodying female energy and magnetism with consciously curated pieces and a personalized service, that releases your inner siren. It is a voyage of discovery finding clothes that make you look and feel good. It’s my second stop for the morning—post breakfast at the Hare & Hounds Bakery, with a cwtch (Welsh for cuddle) and catch up with the girls and look and Natalie’s latest collection drops.

Happy Days Vintage Homestore is a treasure trove packed with stalls full of eclectic, retro, vintage furniture and decorative items. It plays to my alter ego of being a presenter on the BBC’s Antique Roadshow. I am in heaven in Happy Days, and can easily lose track of time. I have picked up some amazing pieces here: repurposed antique lamps, vinyl albums, stamps, textiles: all inspiration for my creative process. I love to immerse myself in these places as it triggers my imagination and creativity.

If you are looking for a souvenir from Wales a vintage Welsh Love Spoon is a perfect keepsake—these are beautifully carved wooden spoons which, according to tradition, are given as a gift of romantic intent! A wonderful gift from Wales for the one you love!

You can often find me browsing in Jon Ian on the high street. It is my go to place for autumn and winter pieces. They stock the most incredible raincoat brand, Brgn, which I love, and cosy knitwear by 360 Cashmere—perfect for the Welsh winter weather.

Another local favorite is Arthur John. You do need a pair of Wellington boots in Wales—there are some rainy days and they are great for traipsing around the countryside and walking on the beach. You can’t go wrong with a pair of Hunter Wellies and a Barbour coat for keeping warm and dry.

I love a good rummage in Body Basics. It is packed to the rafters with incredible vintage designer pieces: Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Givenchy. The selection and quality of their stock is incredible. It is a great place to meet people as well, and of course, to chat the history of fashion and the stories behind the brands.

 

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No39 Cowbridge is packed full of an ever-changing and evolving selection of home decor from far and wide. They have some really unique piece, but my favorite thing about this homeware mecca is their passion for everything candles. You will often find me mixing scents out in the workshop of this little candle haven.

Alicat Jewellery is an exquisite, vintage, jewelry brand based just outside Cowbridge. Founded by Alexandra Joseph (affectionately known to her friends as Ali), Alicat Jewellery sources and handpicks incredible, antique, investment pieces from all over the world.

For red carpet glamour, I turn to the beautiful couture created by my great friend and international fashion designer Julian Macdonald. A proud Welshman, Julien has dressed everyone from Taylor Swift and Jennifer Lopez to Nicole Scherzinger and Beyoncé.

One of my best Welsh finds is this amazing clothing brand, Hiut Denim, and their story is what sets them apart. Cardigan is a small Welsh town of 4,000 people, and 400 of them used to make jeans. They made 35,000 pairs a week for 30 years. Then one day the factory closed, but all that skill and knowhow remained. David Hieatt came back home to Cardigan and co-founded The Hiut Denim Company in a bid to bring manufacturing back home. To use all that skill on their doorstep, and to breathe new life into the town.

For more of Camilla’s travels, follow her on Instagram here.

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