Immortalised by Proust in his seminal work "À La Recherche du Temps Perdu", this elegant 19th century hotel was also home to the writer for several months. Originally a casino before it welcomed overnight visitors, today guests can luxuriate in splendour in any one of the 70 rooms on offer, with sweeping views across the Channel.
Les Jardins du Casino, 14390, Cabourg
Google map: bit.ly/NdY1zU
Only three weeks ago I sat by a roaring fire on a miserable day, enjoying the biggest, moistest slab of carrot cake I’ve ever rejoiced at. I was at Barter Books in Alnwick, one of Britain’s largest second hand book shops, situated in a restored Victorian railway station. After a prolonged browsing session, the old buffet and waiting rooms are the cosiest place imaginable for a light lunch or comprehensive tea. I was torn between scones, cupcakes, traybake, and various fresh home-made cakes including fruit cake made to a secret family recipe. My companion suggested we share the carrot cake but I scoffed mine to a background of rain hammering on the glass roof, then polished off his remaining flapjack. Cake and books – a sublime duo. Kindles to be parked at the door. (I wish!)
Benedictine abbey, church, library, gardens, overlooking the Danube. The library contains thousands of books from the 1500's onwards, and it was there that Umberto Eco did research for his novel The Name of the Rose.
I recommend arriving by ship - there are daily cruises from Vienna.
Kazimierz is the old Jewish quarter of Krakow. With its labyrinthine streets and serene synagogues, the area evokes a blend of melancholy and hope - an inspiring literary place. Hidden behind the crumbling facades of pre-war architecture are some of the city's most exquisite bars and restaurants. Of particular note, is the Alef, a kosher restaurant that was regularly frequented by Steven Speilberg during the making of Schindler's List. A traditional band plays Klezmer music whilst Borscht is served piping hot. The decor captures a place and time history has almost forgotten. A place to escape and to reflect, Kazimierz is a truly inspirational place.
The wild Isle of Jura sits just off the Scottish coast. The landscape is barely tamed, with the three 'paps' rising above the island. To get to Barnhill, you drive north along the only paved road which wends its way along the east coast of the island - driving as far as possible. If you park your car where the road ends, a well laid out trail in front of you heads further on. Several miles down the track the cottage of Barnhill stands before you, a single white mark in a sea of gorse and heather. This was the place where George Orwell wrote 1984. Distant. Remote. There is simply nothing else around it. It is easy to image Eric Arthur Blair gazing over to the mainland and imagining the society that could evolve there, where, unlike Barnhill, Big Brother would always be watching you.
We visited the only pub on the island - the Jura Hotel in Craighouse - on the way home to sample the local Jura whisky, which helped shake us back into normality again!
Isle of Jura. Find the only road and drive north.
Google map: bit.ly/ek5WCB
Henry Williamson, best known as the author of Tarka the Otter, (published in 1927) lived in North Devon and is buried in the churchyard at Georgham. Williamson loved Exmoor, and during his time at Skirr Cottage in the 1920’s he roamed the moors and cliffs between the Taw and Torridge rivers while researching the local wildlife and gaining a reputation as a gifted, although eccentric, writer. It is possible to follow Tarka’s fictional wanderings around North Devon and over Exmoor on The Tarka Trail, a 180 mile long walking and cycling route based around Barnstaple. Look out for glow worms, art installations, interpretation boards - and otters.
As generations of unenthusiastic schoolchildren would affirm, nothing is more literary than a Shakespeare play. The best place to convert a reluctant student is Shakespeare’s Globe on London’s Embankment, built in the original open-air Elizabethan model. Try a lively production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and defy even the sulkiest teenager not to laugh; or Macbeth, where this summer naked, bloodied bodies writhed out of tarpaulins from amongst the standing audience. Tip, if you are sitting, hire cushions, and try and avoid seats in the full sun.
Fancy hanging out with Oscar Wilde? Or having some face time with James Joyce? Look no further than Dublin’s Writers Museum. In the elegant surroundings of an 18th century house, you can immerse yourself in the cream of Irish literature.
On the ground floor, two rooms of literary history cover everything from Celtic storytellers right up to the rattle and hum of contemporary writers. George Bernard Shaw, Bram Stoker, Edna O’Brien, Roddy Doyle: they’re all given pride of place. It’s here that James Joyce is described as “the world’s most famous Irishman” (which is one in the eye for Bob Geldof). The museum also features some surprising artefacts. Such as the chair on which Handel composed himself during the very first performance of the Messiah. Or the typewriter that Brendan Behan chucked through the window of McDade’s public house.
Take the stairs to the first floor and brace yourself before entering the first room. The Gallery of Writers is an eye-popping space with enough plasterwork, gold leaf and crystal to have Kirsty and Phil hyperventilating. Populated with portraits and busts of Irish writers, it also offers impressive views of Parnell Square through its big windows.
Next door, a small library contains first editions of evocative titles - Gulliver’s Travels, Dracula, Waiting for Godot. And if that lot doesn’t inspire you, the bookshop downstairs has plenty more to quicken the pulse of any reader. After all that, you’ll need a coffee break, and the museum’s bright and airy café offers the ideal pit stop. There’s also a nice little garden area, although during my visit I managed to resist its charms since it was submerged beneath six tons of snow.
The visitors’ book positively sizzles with enthusiastic compliments. One of them says: "In poetry, romanticism and spirit, Ireland stands head and shoulders above the rest of us mere mortals."
I can only agree. This hugely-enjoyable museum is a fitting showcase for Dublin’s wordy-wise elite and a splendid way to spend time in their company.
Karen Blixen Museum at the foot of the Ngong Hills outside Nairobi.
Once was the house of Karen Blixen (pen name Isak Dinesen) famous for her autobiography 'Out of Africa’ She lived here from 1917-1931.
Karen Blixen Museum
10kms from centre of Nairobi on the way to Ngong.
Google map: bit.ly/hoNUIZ
The "Sylvan Wye" flows through the valley in this jaw-droppingly beautiful spot. It's not hard to see why Wordsworth immortalised the Abbey and the vale that surrounds it. Walking the grounds brings a sense of peace and a slight but not unpleasant unease as one often feels in empty stone ruins. If you lie on the ground beneath the huge beech trees and look up, you'll be transported to vistas of imagination seldom experienced in these days of pervasive technology and noise, and feel at one with nature, as the poet once did.
This is a sculpture of a man emerging from a wall. It is an hommage to the short story 'Le Passe Muraille' ('The Man Who Could Walk Through Walls'), written in 1943 by Marcel Aymé. It tells the story of a perfectly ordinary man, Dutilleul, who, one day at the age of 42, suddenly discovers he "has the remarkable gift of being able to pass through walls with perfect ease." What begins as a novelty that gives him pleasure, ends up pushing Dutilleul toward more sinister pursuits. Aymé was not a native of Paris although many of his novellas are based in and around the Montmartre neighborhood where this sculpture can be found. His work is playful yet subtly political, fantastical yet rooted in the everyday, and is accessible to a broad range of readers (the English translations, at least; Aymé makes use of much of the local slang in the original French versions). This is a great sculpture just a few streets west of the Sacre-Coeur and as such is a recommended stop on a great walking tour of literary and artistic Montmartre (other highlights include Moulin de la Galette, the 'I Love You' wall, Abbesses, etc)
Place Marcel Aymé, 75018, Paris
Metro: Lamarck-Caulaincourt or Abbesses
Bing Maps URL: tinyurl.com/2esex8p
Chateau de Chillon rests on a small island on the shores of Lac Leman (Lake Geneva). The lake itself is hemmed in on all sides by hills that rapidly rise into snow-tipped mountains. The castle's gothic night-time appearance is said to have inspired some of the passages in Mary Shelley's 'Frankenstein's Monster'. Similarly, the story of François de Bonivard, a Genevan monk held captive in the castle's dungeons for four years by the Savoys, was the inspiration behind Byron's poem 'The Prisoner of Chillon'. Byron carved his initials into the pillar where he believed Bonivard to have been chained. Now, the castle is open to be explored, from the depths of its dungeons to the towers where you can look out on the lake and the mountainous peaks around.
Avenue de Chillon 21, CH 1820 Veytaux
+41 21 966 89 10
Google map: bit.ly/fZKVdL
It is a small cafe and bookstore upstairs in a side street in Marrakech. I found this place so wonderful to have an afternoon snack/lunch as the food was great and with such a tranquil atmosphere, you could just admire the books that surround you on the walls. My girlfriend and I enjoyed a lovely lunch and a smoothie with a delightful coffee afterwards while we wandered through all the old unique books about travel, fiction and some obscure academic books. I even managed to pick up an old copy of a book on neo-classicism to remember the place. We spent hours there just reading and drinking, looking out onto the Moroccan skyline. A great place to find a truly unique book while enjoying some traditional and contemporary cuisine.
A bookshop on Botanic Avenue in Belfast. The bookshop deals in crime fiction and the staff are knowledgeable and friendly. However, the bookshop (and fictionalized owner) are also a central character in the books "mystery man", "the day of the Jack Russell" and "Dr Yes" by Colin Bateman.
The site of Robert Louis Stevenson’s grave on Mount Vaea, Samoa, is a uniquely still and tranquil place, well worth a detour or even a pilgrimage. Stevenson, author of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Kidnapped and Treasure Island, lived for five years at nearby Vailima - now a museum - until he died at the premature age of 44. Sorrowing Samoans carried his body up the steep, rocky path to his final resting place, where his tomb is engraved with the epitaph: “Under the wide and starry sky, Dig the grave and let me lie.” Where better to meet your muse than this remote and lonely spot with its sweeping views down to the coast and extraordinary atmosphere of peace.
A great literary place which I can recommend is the place I grew up in - the area of beautiful countryside round Stonehaven called The Mearns. This area featured in Scotland's favourite book - Sunset Song by Lewis Grassick Gibbon (who happened to be the cousin of an old family friend). The whole area is awash with history and scenic beauty. But I must admit that my abiding image of this great literary masterpiece is of the scene in the 1970's television series where the two lovers are cavorting at the base of the magnificent ruins of Dunnottar Castle. I have done a fair bit of cavorting there myself in my time!
Stonehaven, Kincardineshire AB39 2TL
+44 (0)1569 762173
Google map: bit.ly/eGp6EZ
Having paid homage to City Lights Bookshop and the Beat Museum, a stroll in the North Beach area must include a visit to Caffe Trieste. This café boasts the vestiges of the Beat generation, giving the traveller the opportunity to sip a wonderful espresso and taste some of the best pies and pastries of San Francisco, surrounded by the pictures of Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg among others. Being here is a true literary experience. The picturesquely coloured marble tables and the wooden chairs are still those that one can spot in the old pictures of the place in which poets are shown sitting and chatting amiably. But the most amazing experience is that, not only one can taste real Italian flavours here, but still today be surrounded by those very poets that one can recognize in the black and white pictures on the walls. Lawrence Ferlinghetti has been a habitué for years and Jack Hirschman, the amazing 'red poet', can be found sitting, reading the local newspaper and enjoying a double espresso almost every day.
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