WELSH sport’s golden couple Becky James and George North were among more than 250 guests celebrating the relaunch of a Hay-on-Wye hotel.
Double Olympic cycling silver medalist Becky, from Abergavenny, and her partner Wales rugby ace George North attended Wednesday’s relaunch of the Swan at Hay.
The listed Georgian hotel, with 19 en-suite bedrooms and banquet facilities for up to 120 people, has benefited from a £1 million makeover.
North took time out from Wales’ preparations for this weekend’s Six Nations Championship match in Italy to attend the relaunch party with his girlfriend James, who lives in Abergavenny.
"Absolutely gorgeous," was Becky’s verdict on The Swan’s new look. "We will definitely be coming back."
Former Llandovery College pupil North said: "I have travelled through Hay in the past but never stopped. Now I have a good reason to stop and have a look around."
Also at the event was former Newport Gwent Dragons and Wales fullback Lee Byrne and weather presenter Sian Lloyd.
Byrne, director of rugby at rugby league club South Wales Ironmen in Merthyr Tydfil, and Miss Lloyd, the former ITV weathergirl who now works for CNN, are both personal friends of Calum Milne, managing director of the company that owns both The Swan at Hay and Llangoed Hall at nearby Llyswen.
Llangoed Hall has sponsored Byrne in the past and The Swan is sponsoring Ironmen player Courtney Davies this season.
"It’s very impressive," was Byrne’s view of The Swan’s refurbishment. "I particularly like all the original features."
Hay-on-Wye’s mayor Fiona Howard was also impressed. "They have done such a wonderful job and the bedrooms are beautiful. It’s going to be a real asset for the town."
The former coaching inn has a new roof and chimneys, all the rooms have been refurbished, log burners have replaced electric fires in reinstated fireplaces to add warmth and character and shutters have been removed to allow light into rooms. Special eco paint has been purchased to decorate the building, which has been completely repointed.
On the ground floor, The Swan has a Market Bar with an original painting by Welsh artist Aneurin Jones, the 1812 Bar with an informal dining area, garden room restaurant, Green Room for private dining and the Coach House function room for up to 150 guests
Mr Milne and The Swan’s manager Ronan Hunter have used local tradesmen to do the refurbishment, including stonemason Martin Morris, soft furnishings by Gary and Jane Notman, toiletries by Myddfai Trading Company, Llangadog, oak tables by Oliver Cooke, flooring by Matthew Butterfill and bespoke windows by David Davies. All the paintings on display in hotel were purchased from Lion Street Gallery, Hay-on-Wye, and local artist Lea Gregory.
"This is a wonderful investment for Hay-on-Wye and we want The Swan to be the best hotel in the town with a reputation for using good, local products," said Mr Milne, who was delighted by the local support for the relaunch. "It’s a comfortable coaching inn ideal for short breaks, weddings, special events and exploring the Welsh Marches, the Black Mountains and the Brecon Beacons National Park.
"Because Hay on Wye is the book capital of the world, The Swan is perfectly located for various local festivals throughout the year, including the Hay Literary Festival in May, which attracts visitors from around the globe.
"The town is famous for privately owned shops and we are a privately owned company that is committed to using local tradesmen and buying local services wherever possible. We want to support the local economy and to play an active role in the community."
The hotel has 20 full and part-time staff and is managed by Mr Hunter, a Northern Irishman who previously worked at the Castle Hotel, Taunton, Heston Blumenthal’s award-winning restaurant, The Fat Duck in Bray, Angelus Restaurant in London and the Celtic Manor Resort, Newport.
Talented young head chef Jerry Adam, who formerly worked under Nick Brodie at Llangoed Hall, has a brigade of four and is already winning rave reviews from inspectors and food critics for the quality of his dishes.
Originally built as a coaching inn, The Swan at Hay was used as a private house for a time before reverting to a hotel in the 1950s. It was originally popular with English visitors attracted to the spa towns of Mid Wales.
It was third hotel acquired by Mr Milne’s company, which has since added two more properties, in Cambridgeshire and Shropshire, to its growing portfolio.