Hay on Wye - The book town


Today we see many regions let down by political blindness, lack of strategy, economic crisis, paralyzed in front of the future, unable to take any step that should be taken to build something different from what it has been so far. But sometimes local miracles happen and they could become a big inspiration to other territories that have not yet found their own way, both for the empowering energy they spread and the development model they design.

This is the case of Hay-on-Wye, a small Welsh town that after the Second World War was becoming a ghost town and is literally reborn thanks to the books. Hay-on-Wye, whose amazing history can be read HERE, was the first Book Town in the world and set the precedent for other brave rural villages that wanted to follow in its footsteps. Today the Book Towns are in fact more than 30 around the world, all associated to the International Organization of Booktowns in the name of a model of sustainable development based on culture and tourism.


Unfortunately, statistics or researches that show in detail the evolution of Hay-on-Wye have still to be done and therefore it is not yet possible to create a more scientific development model. Anyway, 50 years of history speak of a quite successful tourism case blossomed thanks to the idea of an enlightened and charismatic entrepreneur, in a place not even well connected by public transports. The local community did not miss the opportunity and strengthened Mr Booth’s venture redesigning the whole identity of the area and opening not only other second-hand bookshops, but also supporting the tourist offer with events (a renowned literary festival and much more), services, small B&Bs , pubs, cosy shops. The strength of Hay-on-Wye is its unique flair, a place where the lovers of good books and good stories have to go at least once in lifetime. Realizing the importance of diversification has also led the local community to launch Hay-on-Wye as the perfect starting point to discover the Brecon Beacons National Park. Taking advantage of the existing hospitality network, the town has begun to attract hikers and nature lovers, increasing the tourist flows. How? Organizing events for outdoor lovers, opening a couple of dedicated shops, providing travel guides with itineraries and exploration advises, educating the tourism operators involved. The new facilities and services attracted new generations of inhabitants and young entrepreneurs who, exhausted by the stress of the big cities, have found here a more sustainable lifestyle. The streets are a triumph of independent designers and local products, at the street market there are ladies who sell the wool they card and dye at home, the multinationals have been repeatedly shut out the door.

Hay-on-Wye is a powerful example of how good ideas, supported by the courageous actions of the visionaries and the strength of the community, can create virtuous realities that indicate the way.



The Hay-on-Wye model has been adopted by more than 30 other towns, with the aim of providing an alternative to sustainable development in some rural reality through culture and tourism. To become part of the network, a town must ensure the necessary cultural and economic turmoil by organizing regular events, undertaking other activities to strengthen independent shops, supporting some complementary businesses such as paper production, calligraphy, printing, book design, book illustration and traditional bookbinding, as well as other crafts which are not related to books.

Hay-on-Wye books
Hay-on-Wye book town
Hay-on-Wye used books

The intrinsic value of these initiatives is the diffusion of an economy based on information, knowledge and heritage preservation. Obviously nothing is simple and this is certainly not a path for everyone: the Book Towns, from Europe to Australia, have faced many hardships and every day fight to preserve their little miracle. The success factors are hugely influenced by geographical, time and economic variables, and this is why the enthusiasm of the community must always be guided by method, strategy and skills.
But if you want to see with you own eyes how a dream can become true, visit this green corner of South Wales: you will not regret.

Elena Torresani
Written by Elena Torresani
Tourism Marketing and Product consultant, specialised in nature-based and wildlife tourism. GWU-certified Sustainable Tourism Manager.