Travel review: Wonderful Welsh weekend in the ‘Town of Books’ - Hay-on-Wye

The Swan Hotel.
The Swan Hotel.
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Ever fancied mixing literature with fine dining? There’s a small town in Wales that can give you both.

Hay-on-Wye has been a book-lover’s dream for years, but now it’s successfully delving into the foodie world thanks mainly to the town’s revamped Swan Hotel.

Just a stone’s throw over the Welsh border, Hay is commonly recognised as the ‘Town of Books’, with thousands flocking every year for its hugely popular literary festival.

But the hotel on Church Street is adding another dimension to the town, helping to ensure visitors enjoy what Hay has to offer all year round.

Major refurbishment to the grade-two-listed building earlier this year has seen big changes, as The Swan now boasts a brand-new look, featuring 19 plush bedrooms, a spectacular fine dining restaurant, two bars and large function room.

Located just a short walk from the town centre, there’s a distinct cosy feel to the hotel and it’s easy to imagine sinking into one of the comfortable sofas next to the log burner reading a novel after a long day perusing round the shops.

With our dog Snoopy in toe, my wife and I stayed in one of the four pet-friendly rooms where a kind member of staff knocked on our door to greet us with a jug of fresh milk and homemade cookies.

The room had a quaint country feel, the bathroom was bright and modern and another nice touch was that the toiletries were provided by the Myddfai Trading Company, a local firm which helps support adults with learning difficulties.

The main dining area is the exquisite Garden Room Restaurant, which seats up to 30 and offers many seasonal Welsh dishes under the watch of rising star chef Jerry Adam, who has already served in several Michelin-starred establishments.

And it was Jerry’s fantastic five-course taster menu which proved to be the highlight of our stay, with all the food so beautifully prepared and cooked to perfection.

As well as the restaurant, there’s a couple more casual bars – 1812, named after the date the hotel was built, and The Market Bar, where guests and their four-legged friends are also welcome.

If the weather’s good, make sure you spend time soaking up the sun in the hotel’s lovely walled garden, which is also where chef Jerry grows his own produce.

The Swan is also a perfect base for outdoorsy types, ideal for exploring the north-eastern tip of the beautiful Brecon Beacons with many walking, cycling and canoeing facilities close by.

After sipping several cups of Welsh brew tea over the hotel’s special ‘Swan Breakfast’, there was plenty of time for a relaxing dog walk along the River Wye before venturing back into Hay for a well-earned drink.

There are plenty of cafe’s, pubs and restaurants in the town, but if you like tapas Tomatitos on Lion Street is worth a try, as is Beer Revolution on Market Street, a perfect pit stop for real ale and cider lovers.

If literature is your thing, Hay is the best place to be with almost 40 bookshops in the town. You wont find any Sainsbury’s, Tesco or many other high street regulars here as it’s clearly a place which prides itself on local creative talent.

And The Swan is definitely playing its part after striking deals with a number of local firms who supply the hotel with toiletries, artwork, crockery and even coffee.

In keeping with the literature theme, all bedrooms feature a selection of books purchased from Hay-on-Wye Booksellers, which has been a fixture in the town for more than 40 years.

The Swan’s transformation is a credit to general manager Ronan Hunter, who is used to overseeing success having previously been in charge of a country hotel in Wales’ prestigious Celtic Manor Resort.

If you’re looking for a wonderfully-Welsh weekend away, then book yourself a stay in The Swan at Hay - you wont be disappointed.

Travel facts:

- Bed and breakfast at The Swan is priced between £115 and £175 per night

- Address: The Swan at Hay, Church Street, Hay-on-Wye, HR3 5DQ

- Website: www.swanathay.com
- Tel: 01497 821188

- Nearest train station is Hereford followed by 30-minute taxi or bus ride