Winning tip: Dublin’s Literary Giants
“A group of drinkers with a handwriting problem.” This is how our guide introduced the Dublin Literary Pub Crawl (£15 pp for a two hour visit), an unforgettable and interactive tour with street theater around the beloved drinking places of James Joyce, Brendan Behan, Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett. We had an amazing evening learning about the colorful lives and times of these literary greats. It included a memorable visit to Trinity College and a literary quiz. The next day’s visit to James Joyce Cultural Center, in a stunning Georgian townhouse, was equally fascinating. Same the Dublin Writers Museum in Parnell Square with its replica Book of Kells among many ancient and modern exhibits.
Love and War in Zennor, Cornwall
I remember reading about DH Lawrence’s turbulent time in Zennor, Cornwall, as he cruised the invigorating coast on a local bus. Lawrence moved there during World War I with his German wife Frieda, seeking to escape the suffocation of London after his book The Rainbow was banned and faced travel restrictions. But he also found himself harassed by some residents of this rural idyll. He and Frieda reportedly sang songs in German as they drove through the lush landscape and may have gotten into a fight or two in the local pub (The tinsmith, still going strong). It all ended in tears and the police ended up kicking Lawrence out of the county, accusing him of espionage. Still, he described it as the best place he had been. The cabin he rented is still there and belonged to author Michael Morpurgo when he wrote War Horse.
The Bard and the Beauty, Stratford-upon-Avon
It may be a cliche, but Stratford, without the influx of touring coaches, is a revelation. A city walking tour (for tourist information only) is a fascinating insight into the growth of a medieval town and how Stratford’s position on the trade route to London may have given Shakespeare a view of a much wider world. Then there are the theatres, the traditional pubs, the houses which show the life of yesteryear and the fabulous Compton Verney art gallery (adult £17, child free) a few miles away with its six fascinating permanent exhibitions featuring works by artists as diverse as Canaletto and Enid Marx, and – until March 6 – a beautiful luminous path.
First known English author, Norwich
Nestled in a Listed parish church, itself hidden in a narrow street, there is a shrine to Julian of Norwich. It is a reconstruction of the home of the oldest known English writer. The anchorite cell in which she wrote the long version of her Revelation of Love offers a gateway into a unique literary spirit of the 14th century. It is also a unique contemplative space, allowing each visitor to be alone with their thoughts and at peace, just as Julian must have been. The Saint-Julien church, in the Allée Saint-Julien, next to the road to Rouen, is open every day from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and can be visited free of charge.
Castaway in a good old pub, Bristol
the Llandoger Trow is a pub and restaurant on Bristol’s waterfront. This magnificent 17th century building is said to have inspired Robert Louis Stevenson’s Admiral Benbow Inn on Treasure Island and as you sit there you can imagine the scene in the first chapter of the book. Stepping through the door on the plank floor is like stepping back to a time of pirates, shenanigans, rum and spittoons, but the literary history doesn’t stop at Treasure Island. It is also said that Daniel Defoe met Alexander Selkirk in the Llandoger Trow around 300 years ago and his story inspired him to write Robinson Crusoe. A dream location for any bibliophile.
Monte Cristo made real, Marseille
I booked to visit Marseille solely on the basis of reading the Count of Monte Cristo. The city still bears a great resemblance to the vivid descriptions in Dumas’ book. The arid prison of the Château d’If, surrounded by sparkling seas, the narrow streets of the old town, the heterogeneous atmosphere of the Noailles district and the comings and goings of many boats that could take me to all the places including speaks the novel of Dumas. The heat persisted too, with hot summer nights that reminded me of Edmond Dantès’ visit to Mercédès. The city was still gritty, bustling, and as proud as it was in the novel, and despite years of modernization, I felt like I was walking in Dantès’ footsteps.
Bonfire of the Vanities, Florence
There are many literary reasons to visit Florence, but for me this is the plaque in Piazza della Signoria marking the place of execution of Girolamo Savonarola. Savonarola’s 1497 Bonfire of the Vanities and its eventual hanging (both of which took place in the piazza) form the backdrop to George Eliot’s superb Romola.
The path to the Green Corrie, Assynt, Highlands
At the Loch of the Green Corrie is a wonderful book by Andrew Greig in which the author seeks to find and fish a remote lochan in Assynt, Scotland, at the request of his dying friend, the poet Norman MacCaig. A few years ago, I too went in search of the green Lochan. A remote walk from the hamlet of Inchnamph along a stalker track, crossing many icy streams, finally led to the rocky ridge near Glas Bheinn, and from here, at the edge of the Green Corrie, i looked out into the distant loch, with Eas a’ Chual Aluinn, Britain’s highest waterfall, in the distance. A truly dramatic and wild landscape, captured by the author and now etched in my mind forever.
Words fly from the pages in Naples
My recent visit to Naples was inspired, among other reasons, by the writers who have been influenced by the city. Sartre, Dostoyevsky and Oscar Wilde were classical authors enchanted by the almost lyrical quality of life – from ancient streets and markets to sweeping views across the Bay of Naples to Mount Vesuvius. Then there’s Penny Green See Naples and die and the more recent television novels of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet. In every book and every moment I’ve spent in the city, there’s an exhilarating sense of living every moment with exciting, energizing intensity.
Aix and Sorrows, Provence, France
I’ve loved Marcel Pagnol’s Jean de Florette since school. It is a story defined by its sumptuous geography. But a family trip to Provence to quench my thirst for pines and cypresses, the mistral, pastis and petanque in a hilltop village didn’t work. Not enough. The car got stuck between two village houses, we couldn’t find the picturesque center of Aix at all despite staying nearby, and initially the best food we found was a kebab in the corner dimly lit. But we finally got a taste of Jean de Florette as we ate a meal of grilled local sausages and pastis as the mistral blew through the cypress trees while watching rugby on TV. A fan of one of the teams sitting next to us was the image of Yves Montand as César Soubeyran! Location? Avenue Marcel Pagnol of course.