UK staycation: a review of The Swan Hotel in Hay-on-Wye

Great British boltholes: a grand four-star hotel in the town of books that offers charm from another era (nowadays that’s a new approach)

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

This imposing, Grade II listed Georgian hotel is located in the heart of this ‘book city’.

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

Once upon a time, you could drive a carriage and horses through the reception area – which explains the spatial sense of grandeur. Remnants of the coach house can be found with a cobbled parking lot leading to stables, and the names of horses Blodwen and Rooky are still etched on the walls.

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

A spiral staircase leads to 19 generously sized rooms.

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

The distant Black Mountains can be seen through the windows, while a battered 19th-century school desk, ideal for browsing bookstore purchases, stood next to a cast iron fireplace.

But the refurbishment has largely been spent on bathrooms, so guests can enjoy a power shower with water pressure and piping hot baths.

The dining room is regal and overlooks a walled garden through two huge sash windows – each 12 feet high and 5 feet wide. In warmer weather, the windows are open so you can walk through and dine outside.

Pictured is one of the hotel's 19 spacious, elegant period rooms

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

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

Those feeling adventurous after browsing bookstores and antique shops should consider stretching their legs by sampling part of the 250-mile Offa’s Dyke Path.

You can reach it in just two minutes’ walk from the hotel, and four invigorating miles later you reach an ancient stone circle with spectacular views of the Brecon Beacons – before taking an easy walk back downhill.

If you're feeling adventurous, Toby recommends heading to the Gospel Pass (above) for a 15km circular walk

Toby recommends taking the 10-mile circular walk from Gospel Pass if you’re feeling adventurous


The Swan at Hay, Hay-on-Wye. B&B costs from € 125 per night (

If you’re up for a more challenging drive, drive 5 miles south to Gospel Pass for a 9 miles circular walk around Twmpa Mountain, also known as Lord Hereford’s Knob.

Back at the hotel bar, warmed by the crackling fire, make 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 hideaway in a city for bookworms. Try to find all 21 bookstores – it works out to one for every 71 inhabitants.

The rooms: The historic grandeur of this family-run 4-star hotel offers charm from another era. It is also dog friendly.

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