WITH its rolling green hills ideal for livestock farming, especially lamb, to its reputation for excellent cheeses and independent micro-breweries, North East Wales should be the ideal destination for any foodie.

But the feeling remains that this corner of the Principality is perhaps less visited than others, despite the unspoilt beauty of the Clwydian Range, the Dee Estuary and the county's many pretty market towns and villages.

One woman hoping to change this is Hannah Blythyn AM, who later this month, will welcome representatives from the region's successful food and drink sector to showcase their products in a special Assembly event.

As part of the Year of Discovery in Wales, the Assembly Member for Delyn is holding a Discover North East Wales event at the Senedd on Wednesday, June 26, to shine a spotlight on the expanding culinary sector as part of the region's wider tourism offer.

2019 marks the Year of Discovery in Wales, focusing on exploring and uncovering the culture, adventure and landscapes that are unique to this part of the world. The Year of Discovery is the latest in a series of themed years launched by the Welsh Government to promote Wales' tourism offer under a unified approach for the first time. Following the success of the first Year of Adventure in 2016, a continuation of the approach was confirmed with 2019 designated as Year of Discovery, which will build on the three themes of adventure, culture and the great outdoors.

"North East Wales is home to some of the most successful and unique food and drink producers anywhere in the country," says Hannah as we chat in her offices in Flint. "It is a really growing industry and an important sector to our economy in terms of the jobs it provides."

She agrees that North East Wales suffers from an image problem when it comes to comparison with its more illustrious neighbours in Snowdonia or along the coast.

"I think when people think about North Wales they often just think about Snowdonia, but we've got so much to offer in this corner and this is a real opportunity to showcase what we've got at the Senedd."

The event will hear from guest speakers Lesley Griffiths AM, Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs - who has responsibility for the food and drink sector within Welsh Government - and Ken Skates AM, Minister for Economy and Transport, and the Minister for North Wales.

"We've got the Clwydian Range and the Dee right here on our doorstep and it's all very close to people living throughout the North West of England," continues Hannah. "One of the producers coming with us is Cariad Gin, who make full use of their surroundings by foraging for ingredients in the Clwydian hills. I love that connection to our local landscape."

Hannah, who is from Flintshire and went to school in the constituency she now serves, believes many of the issues surrounding the region's image go back years and need to be reassessed.

"I think traditionally we've always been known more for our industry and we still are," she says. "We have a real jewel in the crown in Airbus but there needs to be a balance between are industrial heritage and the brilliant natural offering on our doorstep and the food and drink sector we are establishing. This is a real opportunity for us to say 'look this is what we are doing here in North East Wales' and help get these producers to make the contacts they need in order to develop their businesses.

"It's not just an opportunity to showcase what these people are making but also an opportunity to speak to organisations like Visit Wales and find out what support is available in order for them to make that next step with their business."

Visitors now expect far more from their destinations and the expectation of quality extends to all aspects of their visit: food, accommodation, information, transport, events, facilities, town centres and the general environment, all form part of crucial considerations in whether to return or not and whether to recommend the area to others.

"Infrastructure is such an important part of promoting a tourism product," agrees Hannah. "We're looking at investment in the A55 especially around its pinch points. Public transport is important too, which is why I've been talking about the potential development of a train station at Greenfield. Even something like signposting needs to be looked at, so if you are driving in the A55 the signposts say you can come off here and visit this place in Flintshire rather than drive straight through to Snowdonia.

"We're a day trip away from huge urban areas across the border like Liverpool and Manchester, so it's also about how market to those cities."

In the interests of research, Hannah has recently visited both Hafod Brewery in Mold and the Clwydian Range Distillery and cites both businesses as the type that can help promote tourism to the region.

"We talked about how they developed their ideas and about where they want to go in the future," she adds. "Since I was elected I've always said I want to serve my community in Delyn, but also promote the whole region of North East Wales and help us make our mark in the heart of democracy. There is so much we can discover on our own doorstep which deserves to be promoted further afield."