The four star Swan at Hay Hotel is recommended as one of the best hotels in Hay-on-Wye: with famous guests that have included Bob Geldof, Kathleen Turner and Johnny Vegas.
Well established, you could say, The Swan’ has a lot of history, as it’s been a working inn since the 18th Century. In 2015 it was purchased by the small hotel group ‘Interesting Hotels’, joining sister hotels including Poets House in Ely, which I reviewed last year.
Eager to experience it for ourselves, Justin and I drove over the border into Wales one Friday night in January for a short weekend stay.
Well placed at one end of the bookshop-filled town centre, it’s a great base for visitors, who can easily explore the whole town by foot from the hotel. Coming during the low season, I found both the hotel and town itself to be quite quiet, but I could picture it bustling with book-loving visitors during the warmer months and of course, insanely busy during the internationally renowned annual literary festival!
I was grateful for the peaceful atmosphere however, as this made us really unwind during our stay at The Swan’ and take our time pottering around the town. We essentially spent the whole of our Saturday meandering down cute little country streets, browsing quirky bookstores and stopping for a quick drink in some of the lovely cafes and bars. But more on that in an upcoming post!
As The Swan at Hay only has 19 rooms, I expected a much smaller property, so was impressed by the size of the hotel. Its grade II listed Georgian building boasts a large restaurant, lounge, two bar spaces and a beautiful walled garden.
Sadly though, its parking situation does let it down. There’s a very small, tight car park round the back of the hotel that, during our visit at least, was almost always full. Although a little annoying, it’s not exactly the end of the world though, as there are many car parks throughout the town, and space along some of the roads to park up.
The hotel’s spaciousness was echoed in our deluxe room, which was more like a suite. All the rooms have recently been redecorated, so it was also nice to walk into a space that did feel very fresh and clean.
Our large room had a full wardrobe, bedside tables and desk, but no minibar or safe. We had two comfortable chairs and even a small sofa to relax in and lovely large sash windows let in the light, but yet again it was the bathroom that I loved the most about our room. Its sloping floor reminded you of the age of the historical building, but most of all I was smitten by the claw foot bath. Each of the deluxe rooms has it’s own special ‘feature’, and this was ours. Others included its own fireplace, but I think I won out with our room.
The bath didn’t disappoint and I made the most of it during our stay, but the shower wasn’t all I expected. This newly fitted electric shower looked like it would be super powerful – sadly it wasn’t as strong as I’d hoped.
I liked the locally sourced toiletries that came from the Myddfai Trading Company, a social enterprise that helps adults with learning difficulties to gain work experience.
Highlights included little touches like the Welsh-produced tea and coffee in the room. Fresh milk was available on request and guests are also welcomed with a jar of cute freshly homemade chocolate chip cookies. I’ll admit that they didn’t last long at all!
Although I wasn’t the biggest fan of the hotel’s décor (it felt like it was aimed at more mature clientele than myself, shall we say), the facilities themselves were great and I particularly liked the different styled bar spaces.
One room was more like a modern pub, with large wooden tables and seats, while the other side was much more informal. This was my favourite, where we’d go for a drink before dinner, settling into one of the sofas or comfy chairs by the requisite wood burner.
One night we stayed in to try out the hotel’s restaurant. The menu was small but inviting, with 4/5 options to choose from per course.
Overall the meal was very enjoyable, but it felt more like pub fayre than an AA rosette establishment. Although tasty, the garlic prawns on ciabatta starter didn’t have a strong garlic flavour and was quite greasy, plus Justin’s crispy beef salad turned out to just be some beef (not crispy), with rocket.
Things improved with our mains, where we both went for the welsh rib-eye steak. Juicy and well cooked, these came with mushrooms, onion rings and tomatoes as well as some tasty, but very crunchy, (possibly triple cooked) chips. There was a lot of food on our plates, but it was nice enough that we managed to work our way through most of it. Not a drop of the delicious béarnaise sauce was left and neither did any of the onion rings survive, mainly thanks to their light and fluffy more-ish batter.
Although our stomachs were crying otherwise, we decided to soldier on with dessert. Justin felt he could take or leave the vanilla panna cotta, which he found to be overly dense and overpowered by the passion fruit coulis, although he said it had a lovely strong flavour.
The gooey but very rich chocolate brownie was my choice, which went very well with its sharp raspberry coulis and milk sorbet. I was beaten before I ate it all, but I wasn’t in any way disappointed with my choice.
Breakfast at The Swan at Hay
My dining highlight at The Swan had to be breakfast. A small buffet table was regularly refilled with fruit juices, pastries and cereal of course, but the highlight was the cooked menu, which had a rather American feel thanks to the pancakes and French toast options.
On the first morning I went with the French toast, which came with crispy streaky bacon and golden syrup. I savoured every mouthful.
The following day I went with the American style pancakes, again with crispy bacon and golden syrup. Seriously guys, that bacon was some of the most flavoursome I’ve ever had. Bacon bliss!
There were some other tasty sounding options by the way, including a full Welsh breakfast and Severn and Wye smoked salmon with scrambled eggs, but I couldn’t tear myself away from that bacon…
What we thought of The Swan at Hay Hotel, Hay on Wye
I think I may have unfairly expected The Swan at Hay to be more high-end, having stayed in its sister hotel Poets House. However, although a lot less ‘swanky’, I did like its laid back feel. You were essentially left to your own devices by the small, friendly team of staff, but they were always nearby if you needed anything.
Although the hotel’s botanical décor was not to my personal taste, I loved the spaciousness of the rooms and building as a whole. The place didn’t have the wow factor I was expecting (again perhaps unfairly comparing it to Poets House), however, I did enjoy my stay and think it’s a good choice for visitors to the area. I’d return for the breakfast alone!
Bed and breakfast at The Swan at Hay starts at £125.
My stay at The Swan at Hay was complimentary for the purposes of review but as ever, all views are my own.
*Image credit Swan at Hay Hotel