A review of The Swan Hotel in Hay-on-Wye

Great British boltholes: A grand four-star hotel in the ‘town of books’ that provides charm from a different era (these days, that’s a novel approach)

  • The Swan in Hay-on-Wye has undergone a £1.5 million refurbishment
  • A sweeping staircase leads up to 19 ‘generously proportioned’ rooms
  • The dining room is ‘palatial’ and the menu has also been refreshed

This imposing Grade II listed Georgian hotel sits at the heart of this ‘town of books’.

While Hay-on-Wye’s literary festival was replaced by an online event this year, the 20-odd bookshops in this tiny market town are back in business – as is the Swan after a £1.5 million refurbishment.

Once you could drive a coach and horses through its reception – which explains the spacious sense of grandeur. Remnants of the coach house can be found with a cobbled car park leading to stables, and the names of horses Blodwen and Rooky still etched upon the walls.

The Swan is an imposing Grade II listed Georgian hotel, says The Mail on Sunday’s Toby Walne 

A sweeping staircase leads up to 19 generously proportioned rooms.

Mine was elegantly decorated in modern country chic, the walls were a flaxen hue and a heavy linen canopy brocaded with gold hung behind a super king-size bed.

The distant Black Mountains can be seen through the windows, while a battered 19th Century school table, ideal for leafing through bookshop purchases, sat beside a cast-iron fireplace.

But the revamp has been spent largely on bathrooms, so guests enjoy power-shower water pressure and piping hot baths.

The dining room is palatial and faces a walled garden through two huge sash windows – each 12ft high and 5ft wide. In warmer weather the windows are opened so you can walk through and dine outside.

Pictured is one of the hotel’s 19 generously proportioned, elegant period rooms

The menu has also been refreshed, with plenty of choice. Local gin-cured salmon with baby potatoes was an appetising starter, with Welsh lamb and mint pie and seasoned chips to follow.

Those feeling adventurous after browsing bookshops and antique emporiums might consider stretching their legs by sampling part of the 177-mile Offa’s Dyke Path.

You can join it after just a two-minute stroll from the hotel, and four invigorating miles later you’ll reach an ancient stone circle with spectacular views of the Brecon Beacons – before an easy walk back downhill.

Toby recommends tackling the ten-mile circular walk from Gospel Pass if you’re feeling adventurous 


The Swan at Hay, Hay-on-Wye. B&B costs from £125 a night (swanathay.co.uk).

If you seek a bigger challenge, drive five miles south to Gospel Pass for a ten-mile circular walk around Twmpa mountain – also known as Lord Hereford’s Knob.

Back at the hotel bar, being warmed by its roaring fire, you can then tackle the difficult decision of choosing between a pint of Butty Bach from the local Wye Valley Brewery or a refreshing Swan Gold summer ale.

The USP: A luxury bolthole in a town for bookworms. Try to find all 21 bookshops – it works out at one for every 71 residents.

The rooms: The historic grandeur of this privately owned, four-star hotel provides charm from a different era. It is also dog-friendly.

The food: A range of locally sourced, well-priced dishes, while you can’t go wrong with the full Welsh breakfast of bacon, sausage, egg, black pudding, mushrooms and tomato.

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