'It Had all the Buzz of an Upmarket Care Home' - Inside The Swan at Hay

by Fiona Duncan, The Telegraph, April 5, 2017

My reaction to the Swan at Hay reminded me of a conversation I had with a young Italian, here to improve her English. “I was whelmed,” she said about the film La La Land. “Overwhelmed or underwhelmed?” I asked. “No, somewhere in between… it was OK, I suppose, but boring. Why? Isn’t whelmed a word?”

Well, it is now and it’ll do nicely to describe my reaction to the Swan at Hay. I wish I could warm to it but this just-relaunched old coaching inn feels more like an ugly duckling, though with one stellar exception – the food.

FREE Virtual Event

Pivoting Back to Travel: Phase 4

Are you prepared to guide your clients through the “new normal” of travel? Join us December 15, 2020 from 1pm-2:20pm EST for Pivoting Back to Travel: Phase 4. The upcoming installment of our FREE virtual series will feature presentations from the Cayman Islands, Dominican Republic, and Seabourn on their most up-to-date travel procedures, health & safety protocols they’ve implemented to keep guests safe, activities that are open to visitors, what your clients need to know while on their trip and more! Visit www.pivotingbacktotravel to view the full agenda and register for your FREE pass.

Businessman Roger Hancox bought the Swan in late 2015. He already owned nearby Llangoed Hall, and now has three more properties dotted about the country, under the umbrella name of Interesting Hotels. All were in need of rescue; Llangoed Hall, formerly owned by Sir Bernard Ashley and a beautiful hotel, is very much the jewel. As for the Swan, however bad it used to be, it still managed to attract such luminary guests as Benedict Cumberbatch, Bob Geldof, Kathleen Turner and Seamus Heaney, all of whom have stayed for the annual Hay Festival. Doubtless there will be more famous faces ensconced here between May 25 and June 4 this year.

• Britain's 50 best hotels for the summer

What will they make of it? There’s a fine entrance hall, once the turning circle for carriages, and a pleasant enough countrified bar, but the sitting room, with an upright piano against the wall, terrible lighting, serried ranks of boxy sofas and wing armchairs and even an empty coat rail with hangers, reminded me, frankly, of an upmarket residential care home. “Did you say it had been refurbished, or it’s waiting to be?” asked a local friend who came to inspect our “deluxe” bedroom: smart enough with attractive botanical prints, but awkwardly laid out, with passé brocade curtains, matching repro antique furniture, brass wall lights, a utilitarian unframed long mirror on one wall and a bathroom with lighting so harsh we backed out of the room in shock. I preferred other, more contemporary, rooms, harmless and soothing in their pastel shades.

The dining room (“mid-Eighties but not in a good way”) has a busily patterned carpet, deep red walls and fussy curtains that match the fussy dining chairs, plus a frighteningly hideous mantelpiece and sideboard. Despite two huge and gracious garden-facing windows on one wall, correctly left undressed, it had all the buzz of that care home and only the sweet trolley was missing.

No trifle here, that’s for sure; instead, six of us embarked on chef Jerry Adam’s ambitious dinner menu (£40) of Welsh ingredients with sweet and savoury Asian influences. Some of his dishes were knockout and all were admirably light, but were they right for the surroundings?

• The 20 best pubs with rooms in England

Jerry is delightful and although just 28 has a great pedigree, having come from Ynyshir Hall under Gareth Ward and Llangoed Hall before that. He has talent and ambition, but his “out there” creations can appeal only to a small section of the clientele, and a much more mainstream menu appears alongside, generating a strong feeling of identity crisis.

Creative food requires a creative ambience and that’s sadly lacking here. Whelmed, I was.

Church Street, Hay-on-Wye, Herefordshire HR3 5DQ (01497 821188; swanathay.com). Doubles from £125 per night, including breakfast.

Read the full review: The Swan at Hay, Herefordshire


This article was written by Fiona Duncan from The Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected].



Suggested Articles:

Thailand announced a new tourist visa for U.S. travelers to apply in advance to visit safely for up to 60 days. Here's what you need to know.

Accor is taking full ownership of sbe’s hotel asset light business and entered an all-share merger with Ennismore. Here's what it means.

After cruising successfully in Europe the past few months, MSC Cruises is the first major line to receive approval for cruises from Japan. Read more.