The small Welsh town of Hay-on-Wye is famous for one thing and one time of year in particular: the annual festival that sees the world's literary elite descend on the town with the highest concentration of second-hand book shops in the world.
But what about the rest of the year? Is it worth paying a visit when the chance of meeting Ian McEwan is off the agenda?
The answer is yes. In fact, it's a rather special spot for a weekend away, regardless of the fab festival - not least because it's the perfect base to explore the beautiful Brecon Beacons.
How to get there
If you're taking a car from London, it's straight up the M4, or from Birmingham, the M40. Alternatively the closest train station, approaching from England, is in the city of Hereford - approximately 21 miles east of the town. Bus services run from there.
Getting your bearings
It doesn't take long to become acquainted with this little gem. The best way to familiarise yourself is by taking a gentle amble around Hay's crooked cobbled streets, a zig-zag that takes you in and out of the shadows of two Norman castles.
Where to stay
Well, we rather love the Swan hotel. The laid-back yet attentive approach adopted here makes it stand out. Comfortable and reasonably priced outbuilding rooms open onto a beautiful outside garden which allows guests to enjoy the excellent breakfast in peace.
Day 1: Things to do, places to see...
Take a drive to the Black Mountains and drink in the views of the stunning range of peaks, all hikeable with reasonable ease. If you're lucky, you'll only need to share the view with the odd semi-wild pony or indifferent shaggy sheep.
After that, a short trip to Llanthony Priory – a beautiful ruined abbey (pictured, above) in a secluded valley - is ideal. It's worth having a pint and a sandwich in the welcoming adjoining pub.
Talking of alcohol, a stop at the Penderyn Whisky factory on the way back is a must: it's the only whisky distillery in Wales. Penderyn is a bit of a drive out of Hay so this small museum tour (it only lasts 15 minutes) is strictly for whisky fanatics – but those who do enjoy a sup will appreciate the generous samples at the end.
Time for tea?
We'd heard wonderful things about the Angel Hotel in nearby Abergavenny: it specialises in the sort of high teas that have been fashionable in London for years. Having sampled plenty of the latter, it's fair to say the Angel's Champagne High Tea held its own nicely. Savory and sweet delights are sandwiched between a cocktail menu and a tea selection that most of the capital's more salubrious hotels would be pleased to serve.
After another stroll around town, perhaps stopping in one of Hay's numerous quality coffee shops, head out again to the Beacons. Get deliberately lost and you might be lucky enough to stumble over Maen Llia, a giant standing stone of mysterious origins. It might not quite be Stone Henge, but then there are no men there dressed up as druids trying to sell you legal highs, either.
Fancy a spot of lunch?
Famed for its seafood (and once having impressed the notoriously discerning palette of A.A. Gill), the River Café in Glasbury is perched looking over Glasbury-on-Wye, a river you can choose to float down via canoe and end up back in Hay should you want to. Try the spicy fresh mussels, the divine dish of crab taglitelle – washed down with a good crisp white wine. It is the sort of food you might expect on a special night out, served in a relaxed café setting.
Browse the afternoon away
What else to do with our last hours in Hay except browse some books? Walking around, speaking with the locals and perusing the paperbacks, it hits you that Hay's greatest strength is how at ease with its self it is for a small town with a claim to fame.
And with so much on its doorstep – chiefly the unspoiled, quintessential beauty of the countryside - it's hard to think of a better spot for a rural getaway.
Have you been to Hay on Wye? Share your tips below!
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