As a family of book lovers, Hay-on-Wye has been high up our list of places to visit for some time, famous around the world for its literary festival and numerous second-hand bookstores. Excitement levels were high as we crossed the border into Wales, and even more so when we found ourselves with the most perfect base for exploring the beautiful little town.
Situated in the heart of Hay and reached by a secret passageway, The Pavement Palace dates back to the 16th Century and retains many of its original features. Located over two floors with the kitchen downstairs, the apartment is fully equipped with a washing machine, tumble drier and dishwasher, making it perfect for both short and long stays. The family bathroom is also on the lower floor, with antique mirror-lined walls and a huge bath and overhead shower.
Upstairs, the living area is light and extremely spacious, with a woodburning stove that kept us cosy come the evenings. There is one large bedroom with beautiful oak beams, a super kingsize bed and quirky ensuite. I left the skylight blinds open as I loved drifting off to sleep gazing up at the stars. For extra guests, there’s a sofa bed in the living room that can comfortably accommodate two children or a teenager.
Owner James has a fantastic eye for design, pairing modern pieces alongside locally sourced antique finds, from the spectacular Czechoslovakian cabinet on the landing to the intricately decorated Victorian bedside tables. After a day exploring, we liked to gather on the sofa and curl up with one of our book purchases and revel in the peace and quiet.
For us, the weekend was all about whiling away the hours in the many book shops. My personal favourite was Addyman Books on Lion Street, a gem of a store, full of little nooks and crannies, hidden staircases and crammed with books on every subject. My son discovered the teenage section and promptly settled himself in a prime spot by the window.
Diagonally opposite Addyman’s is their sister store, Murder and Mayhem. As a fan of crime fiction, it didn’t disappoint, the quirky exterior matching the offbeat interior with a chalk outline body painted on the floor and piles of vintage Agatha Christie novels to peruse.
Walking around the town it’s important to keep your eyes peeled for all the honesty box book shops. The main ones are located in the grounds of Hay Castle but we stumbled upon one that was utterly charming, hidden down a little alleyway with a big green sofa placed in between the shelves and a friendly black cat who came to say hello.
The town has a thriving independent shopping scene and there are some fantastic fashion and lifestyle stores. I was particularly taken with Eighteen Rabbit, where I bought a Welsh tapestry purse, and the utility store, Days Household Goods, which was stuffed full of enamelware, blankets and kitchenalia. I also really liked The Alley which sold plants, vintage garden items and macramé plant holders.
We were so impressed by how much the town had to offer. As well as the wonderful shops, there’s a weekly flea market, a flourishing arts centre called The Globe at Hay hosting a fantastic range of events, and the town also boasts a cinema run by bookseller Richard Booth which shows the best in independent film. Hay’s location also makes it ideal for walkers wishing to explore the beautiful Brecon Beacons, but poor weather meant our exploring was restricted quite happily to Hay’s shops and cafes this time.
Directly opposite the apartment is the vintage shop and vegetarian café, The Old Electric Shop. All the furniture in the cafe is for sale and there are several other rooms of vintage clothing and homewares to buy. The café is bustling yet has a laid-back feel, the staff ever so friendly and the menu is simple with the emphasis on seasonal, locally-sourced food. We opted to have lunch on Saturday, choosing bruschetta served with herbed mushrooms and salad. It was delicious.
We bought bread, cheese and wine from the Hay Deli to take back to the apartment, as well as fresh fruit and vegetables from the fantastic Castle greengrocer. On Sunday we opted for brunch at the Hay Café where we tried the veggie breakfast with homemade Glamorgan sausage and it was unbelievably good, keeping our hunger at bay for hours before we succumbed to coffee and an elderflower sorbet in Shepherd’s Ice Cream Parlour.
We left Hay relaxed, happy and with several big bags of books, longing to return in the near future.
Images by Jen Chillingsworth