Two Oases for the Mind and Body
This compact little border town in the Black Mountains claims to be the world’s capital of antiquarian and secondhand books and is a monument to British eccentricity. The farming community of 1,300 surrounded by sheep-grazed hills has anywhere from twenty to thirty-five bookstores (depending on whom you ask) that stock millions of titles. Its annual Festival of Literature is known to bibliophiles everywhere—writers and poets come from around the world to give readings and hold informal discussions of their work. It may be the most prestigious literary festival in Britain, and it certainly is the most interesting. The audiences at some of the 150 scheduled events, featuring more than 250 authors in ten days, are a discerning lot of vociferous readers and critics who relish interaction with authors of integrity in a charming rustic setting and as yet uncommercialized venue.
Stay nearby at Llangoed Hall, a longtime favorite of festivalgoers. The hotel has a well- heeled family feel, discreetly taking its direction from owner Sir Bernard Ashley, whose personal collection of objects and paintings is lavishly distributed throughout this comfortably grand country’ house dating back to the 1600s. With no reception desk, guests are treated like family friends and whisked directly up to gorgeously decorated chambers. The lodgings are graced with the unmistakable flair, originality, and good taste long associated with Laura Ashley, the company founded by Sir Bernard and his late wife. Situated on the grassy banks of the River Wye (which provides guests with some of the best salmon and trout fishing in the United Kingdom), it has garnered many accolades since opening in 1990, all deserved, for the 10 acres of pristine gardens with views over the Black Mountains, the wonderfully professional staff who nurture Llangoed’s just-like-home philosophy, the excellent food from a refined kitchen, the chance to stretch one’s legs in the bordering 500-square-mile Brecon Beacons National Park, and the relaxed ambience of an Edwardian house Uangoed Hall party. It may well be here that you’ll first understand that the expression Croesco y Cymru (“Welcome to Wales”) also means “Welcome home.”