The Hay Literary Festival is taking place in Segovia this weekend – September 22nd to 24th – with an impressive programme of events featuring leading writers, artists and cultural commentators, as well as lots of food, wine, music and dancing.
This is always a great event, when thousands of people converge on the magical city of Segovia to see their favourite writers, discover new ones, buy books, drift through the winding lanes and sit at cafés in the Plaza Mayor.
Highlights of this year’s line up are the great American novelist Richard Ford, as well as A. C. Grayling, Jeanette Winterson, Susie Orbach, Ben Okri, Richard Rogers, Deyan Sudjic, Paul Preston, Helena Kennedy, Catherine Maxwell Stuart, Leila Slimani, Jay Bernard and Hannah Rothschild.
Spanish authors include Antonio Muñoz Molina, Javier Marías, Laura Freixas, Ray Loriga, Elvira Sastre, Juan Cruz, Santiago Posteguillo and Dolores Redondo, as well as television presenter Jordi Évole. Mexican poet Juana Adcock, Renato Cisneros from Peru and Azriel Bibliowicz from Colombia will also be present. Gastronomic events include talks by Ruth Rogers of The River Café and Spanish chefs David de Jorge and Sacha Hormaechea
The extraordinary thing about the Hay Festival in Segovia is that events take place in historic venues all over town: monasteries, churches, convents, palaces, hidden gardens and concealed courtyards. Spending a few days there during the festival means you experience Segovia in a very different, more intimate way than you would just visiting as a tourist.
The main venue is the Santa Cruz La Real monastery on the banks of the Eresma river, which is now part of the IE University (Instituto de Empresa). The building, which has National Monument status, was founded in the 13th century by Saint Dominic who, appropriately, believed that words were more powerful than weapons and is often depicted holding a book.
Events also take place in the church of San Juan de los Caballeros – parts of which date back to the sixth century – the Romanesque San Nicolás church, the 14th-century Torreón de Lozoya and the 15th-century Palacio de Quintanar. A great thing about the festival is that you get to see monuments that you might not have the chance to enter at other times of the year.
The most enchanting location is the Romeral de San Marcos, a lush garden down by the Eresma river, opposite the fairytale Alcázar castle. Set on a steep slope on the side of a gorge, it was created by the artist and landscape gardener Leandro Silva, who also restored the Botanic Garden in Madrid. During this event, writers read from their work in different parts of the garden. The audience – usually around 60 people – move along the narrow paths that wind up the hillside in the shade of quince, plum and pear trees.
Getting to all these venues means that visitors to the festival spend a lot of time scuttling up and down the hills of the town, finding shortcuts down secret passages, ramshackle steps and overgrown paths, which is all part of the unique experience that is Hay Segovia.