Once upon a winter weekend in a tiny town far away, the Hay Festival of Literature and Arts invited a merry company to come with cheer for a celebration of paperbacks, hardbacks, and sweet mulled wine. The eleventh enchanting tale of Winter Weekend was this past December in Wales’ famed town of books, Hay-on-Wye.
In the grand tradition of the annual Hay Festival — on from May 26th to June 5th in 2011 — acclaimed authors, journalists, and friends gather here not to read aloud from their international bestsellers, but to put their books down and take a moment to share and reflect on their individual stories and global events at large. Among many other panels, this year’s festival saw Tristram Stuart, author of Waste — an in-depth study into the culture of food waste — speak alongside geneticist, anthropologist, and Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society Spencer Wells (author of Pandora’s Seed) on the public’s attitude towards food production and consumption.
For two days, this sleepy town of 1,500 captures the imagination of an international audience. In the good company of Nobel Laureates, established novelists, and politicians, local musicians strike a lively tune for Ceilidh and pass slices of mincemeat pie. At intimate venues, such as the 12th Century St. Mary’s Church and Richard Booth’s Bookshop, intellectuals were seen unwinding over the musings of Antony Woodward, Barbara Erskine, and saxophonist Art Themen.
Hosted by the renowned Hay Festival production company, the holiday-themed project is part of an expanding global enthusiasm for the culture of literature through food, music, and philosophy. “In a digitally connected world of content and information we crave the real-time, simple human contact more than ever; the coffee and chat, the face to face experience, the meeting,” observes Peter Florence, Hay Festival Director, on the phenomenon. Similar festivals have since been sparked in Spain, Columbia, Kenya, and as of 2010 in Mexico, Beirut, India, and the Maldives. A swelling global trend, consider it a little something for the thinker on your list.
Early-bird bookings for this Spring’s Hay Festival now available online at www.hayfestival.com.
WHERE TO STAY: The Felin Fach Griffin
A storybook terracotta inn tucked into Wales’ stunning Brecon Beacons, The Felin Fach Griffin welcomes travellers with eccentric comfort. Old World charm is delivered in heaps here, with milk for morning coffee decanted straight from the cow’s udder into Johnny Walker square-bottomed bottles, just the tip of the rustic hideaway’s quirky character.
Cozy up in front of the inn’s great hearth upon timeworn leather couches, and partake in a pint of Otley’s ale and conversation with fellow inn guests and locals alike. By dinner, you may have to add an additional seat or two to your table, though they are hard to come by at this popular gastropub.
Chock-full of local inspiration, creations from the kitchen are an unapologetic expression of British nationality. Chef Ricardo Van Ede prepares an haute barnyard-themed menu including succulent braised pork cheeks and black pudding, as well as wild venison with garden veg. Deeply delicious as the mains are, do your best to save room for dessert. And should your appetite see you to the final course, don’t feel ashamed if your plate of buttermilk panna cotta with raspberries is also licked clean.
Later, look forward to tucking yourself into an antique four-poster bed, and like a country fairytale, awake to home-baked bread and breakfast made to order, served family-style at a communal table in the back kitchen.
Nothing if not distinctly Welsh, The Felin Fach Griffin is the home away from home we city folk wished we grew up in.