‘Book’ Yourself a Literary Getaway
By Kyle E. Olsen
Through the written word, we are invited to journey into the unknown, the mysterious, and the exotic; we experience travel destinations far outside our own locales and take in all manner of geographic wonder. In short, the writings we love make the world come alive.
If you enjoy travel—which surely you do!—and also love all things bookish, why not combine your zeal for text and travel and plan yourself a literary getaway? Even if you consider yourself more of a causal reader than a hardened bibliophile, there is surely some bookish activity in the following list worthy of adding to your next travel itinerary.
Without further ado, here are four book-based travel excursions to consider incorporating into your next getaway:
Track the Master Sleuth’s Footsteps Through London, England
London has played host to countless legends of the written word —William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Samuel Johnson and the Irish-born Oscar Wilde to name but a few. It is also the fictional home of the world’s most famous sleuth, Sherlock Holmes.
Thanks to its rich literary history, London offers travelers a wealth of bookish adventures to explore. For starters, check out one of London Walks’ literary walking tours. For a mere £9, you can explore the city through the eyes of Dickens, Shakespeare or Wilde. If sleuthing is more your speed, you can opt instead to traverse London’s winding alleys in the footsteps of Sherlock himself.
For those who would prefer to absorb their history over a pint or two, try out the London Literary Pub Crawl. This weekly event gives crawlers the chance to visit the public houses frequented by such literary giants as Dylan Thomas, George Orwell, T.S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf and more.
Of course, after stopping at all those watering holes, you’re going to need a place to rest your head. Though it’s currently undergoing renovation, the Cadogan Hotel in London offers guests an opportunity to stay in the very suite where Oscar Wilde was infamously arrested by Scotland Yard officers in 1895. Alternatively, why not check in at Dukes Hotel where you can savor a martini at the same bar frequented by James Bond novelist, Ian Flemming.
As long as you’re not feeling too stirred (err . . . shaken) the next morning, consider journeying outside of London to visit the home of the Brontë sisters in the picturesque village of Haworth. Nearby, you will find an opportunity to hike the Top Withens Farmhouse Ruins—the supposed setting of the Emily Brontë classic, Wuthering Heights.
Hunt Vampires in Romania’s Carpathian Mountains
Few tales of horror have been passed down through the ages as successfully as Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Though the blood-curdling tale was originally published in 1897, this vampire’s legacy refuses to die.
Travelers interested in hunting down the Count need look no further than the novel’s introductory chapter to discern his location: a fortress buried in the midst of Romania’s Carpathian Mountains accessible by way of the Borgo Pass. Located near the town of Bistrita (or “Bistritz” in the German spelling used by Stoker), the Borgo Pass connects the historical principalities of Transylvania and Bucovina.
While some Dracula-based tourist destinations have sprung up in response to the novel’s popularity (such as the Golden Crown Hotel in Bistrita or the Hotel Castle Dracula situated atop the Borgo Pass), travelers seeking a more historically significant experience may want to explore other options. One such alternative is Bran Castle—an imposing 13th century fortress in Transylvania rumored to have been occupied by Vlad III Dracula: a ruthless leader who earned the moniker “Vlad the Impaler” (or Vlad Tepes in Romanian) due to his practice of literally impaling his enemies on large wooden stakes.
Beyond Bran, adventurous types should consider hiking up the 1,480 steps leading to the remotely located (and far less crowded) Poenari Castle ruins in southern central Romania. Unlike Bran Castle’s tenuous links with Vlad the Impaler, Poienari Castle is more closely associated with the real-life Dracula.
For those interested in braving the vampire’s realm, consider first the ominous greeting offered by Stoker’s immortal Count: “Welcome to the Carpathians. I am anxiously expecting you. Sleep well to-night [sic]. . . . I trust . . . you will enjoy your stay in my beautiful land. ‘Your Friend, Dracula.’ ”
Happy hunting, travelers!
Deliberate the Expatriates in Paris, France
During the 1920s, Paris, France became the center of operation for a remarkable cast of expatriate wordsmiths: Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, T.S. Eliot, John Dos Passos and Erich Maria Remarque to name some acclaimed members of the Lost Generation. Prior to that time, the French capital hosted such literary legends as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and James Fenimore Cooper.
With such deep literary roots, it comes as no surprise that Paris offers a number of novel destinations for the bibliophiles among us; indeed, even a casual coffee break in the City of Light can invoke a real sense of bookish history. Les Deux Magots, for instance, was a favored haunt of Ernest Hemingway, Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. At nearby Café de Flore, aspiring writers can channel the spirit of such famed historical patrons as Simone de Beauvoir, Hemmingway (he got around) and Truman Capote.
Once adequately caffeinated, you’ll want to visit the current incarnation of the Shakespeare and Company Bookshop located at 37 rue de la Bûcherie. With its extensive selection of second-hand classics, you are sure to find a treasure or two at this English-language bookshop in the heart of Paris. Alternatively, feel free to grab a cocktail at Les Éditeurs—a hybrid restaurant, café and library stocked with over 5,000 books.
Following your afternoon activities, book yourself a table at Le Procope. Established in 1686, this restaurant describes itself as the “world’s first literary café,” and with good reason: it has hosted such visionaries as Voltaire, Verlaine, Rousseau and even Benjamin Franklin during his time as the Ambassador to France.
O Verona, Verona, Wherefore Art Thou Verona?
Why, ‘tis in Italy, of course. And as even the most causal Shakespeare reader knows, Verona, Italy provides the setting for the most tragic, yet enduring love story of all time: Romeo and Juliet. In this city and throughout Italy in general, the literary devotee can find a number of sites that bring to life the enduring works not only of the Bard himself, but also a host of other celebrated scribes.
Located near Verona’s main promenade is Casa di Giulietta (Juliet’s House) where you can experience the balcony where Romeo declared his love to Juliet. Though the balcony is said to have been constructed well after Shakespeare inked his famous play, the building’s 13th century stone architecture exemplifies romanticism. Afterwards, you can pay your respects to the leading lady at the site of Juliet’s Tomb nestled inside a nearby Franciscan monastery.
For those who lust after rare, antiquarian books and other prints, the Libreria Antiquaria Perini, located a mere 15 minutes from Juliet’s Tomb, is where you’ll want to head. Among other treasures, the store offers rare maps, decorative prints and antique books dated as far back as the early 1500s.
If you plan to continue your literary conquest beyond Verona’s borders, you may want to consider traveling to Florence, Italy. In the heart of this medieval Tuscan capital sits Casa di Dante (Dante’s House): a three-story museum devoted to the life and works of famed poet, writer and politician, Dante Alighieri.