With more than 1 million books lining the shelves of its 30 bookshops, the residents of tiny Hay-on-Wye, Wales (population: 1,500) needn’t worry about running low on reading material. Yesterday, the world’s self-styled “capital of books” kicked off the 21st annual Guardian Hay-on-Wye festival, a ten-day lit fest that previous attendee Bill Clinton called “the Woodstock of the mind.” Among this year’s literary heavy-hitters in attendance are Salman Rushdie, Martin Amis and John Irving, while lots of lighter fare is on offer as well, including “naked chef” Jamie Oliver and memoirist Augusten Burroughs, who will be reading from Running With Scissors tomorrow.  

While accommodations in the area sell out months in advance of the festival, Hay is a wonderful place for bibliophiles to visit any time of year. My husband and I traveled there for a weekend last October while researching a story I wrote that appears in this month’s issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine. I could have spent days trolling the shelves of Hay, and we loaded our trunk full of books for a mere $100 (most of the bookstores specialize in secondhand and antiquarian books, so there are lots of bargains to be had!)

As a mystery fan, I particularly loved Murder & Mayhem books, which is tiny but well-stocked and interestingly decorated (that’s me browsing below). There’s even an honesty bookshop at the foot of Hay’s crumbling castle (which is home to another bookstore, the haphazardly organized Hay Castle Bookshop) as well as stores dedicated to specialties like poetry, psychology and Charles Dickens. We also took a walking tour of the well-preserved village with town crier Ken Smith, enjoyed excellent Welsh lamb at the historic 
Three Tuns pub, and bunked down at The Bear, an atmospheric former coaching inn.  
–Joni Rendon