‘A group of drinkers with a writing problem’: readers’ favourite literary haunts | Travel writing

Winning tip: Dublin’s literary giants

“A group of drinkers with a writing problem.” That’s how our guide introduced the Dublin Literary Pub Crawl (£15pp for two-hour tour), an unforgettable, interactive tour-cum-street-theatre around the drinking establishments beloved of James Joyce, Brendan Behan, Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett. We had an amazing evening, learning about the colourful lives and times of these literary greats. It included a memorable visit to Trinity College and a literary quiz. The following day’s visit to the James Joyce Cultural Centre, in a stunning Georgian townhouse, was equally fascinating. Ditto the Dublin Writers Museum in Parnell Square with its replica Book of Kells among many exhibits ancient and modern.

Love and war in Zennor, Cornwall

DH Lawrence described Cornwall as the best place he’d been to despite his troubles there.
DH Lawrence described Cornwall as the best place he’d been to despite his troubles there. Photograph: John Keates/Alamy

I remember reading about DH Lawrence’s turbulent time in Zennor, Cornwall, when sweeping along the bracing coast on a local bus. Lawrence moved there during the first world war with his German wife Frieda, looking to escape stifling London after having had his book The Rainbow banned and being subject to travel restrictions. But he also found himself harassed by some locals in this rural idyll. He and Frieda would, reportedly, sing songs in German while traversing the lush landscape and may have got involved in a brawl or two in the local pub (The Tinner, still going strong). It all ended in tears, and the police ended up evicting Lawrence from the county, accusing him of spying. Still, he described it as the best place he had been. The cottage that he rented is still there and was owned by author Michael Morpurgo around the time he wrote War Horse.

The Bard and the beautiful, Stratford-upon-Avon

River Avon in Stratford-upon-Avon.
River Avon in Stratford-upon-Avon. Photograph: Tu xa Ha Noi/Getty Images

It may be a cliche, but Stratford, without the influx of tourist coaches, is a revelation. A walking tour of the town (booked at tourist information) is a fascinating insight into the growth of a medieval town and how Stratford’s position on the London trade route may have given Shakespeare a view into a much bigger world. Then there are the theatres, the traditional pubs, the houses that provide a view of life in the past 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 6 March – a beautiful light trail.

Earliest known female English author, Norwich

The Church of St Julian.
The Church of St Julian. Photograph: Karen Fuller/Alamy

Tucked away in a Grade I-listed parish church, itself hidden in a narrow street, there is a shrine to Julian of Norwich. This is a reconstruction of the dwelling place of the earliest known female English writer. The anchoritic cell in which she wrote the longer version of her Revelation of Love offers a gateway into a unique literary mind of the 14th century. It is also a uniquely contemplative space, allowing each visitor to be alone with their thoughts and at peace, just as Julian must have been. Saint Julian’s Church, in Saint Julian’s Alley, off Rouen Road, is open every day 9am to around 4pm, and free to visit.

Castaway in a fine old pub, Bristol

The Llandoger Trow.
The Llandoger Trow. Photograph: NJphoto/Alamy

The Llandoger Trow is a pub and restaurant in the Bristol waterfront area. This stunning 17th-century building is said to be the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s Admiral Benbow Inn in Treasure Island and as you sit there, you can picture the scene in the first chapter of the book. Stepping through the door on to the planked floor is like walking back to a time of pirates, skullduggery, rum and spittoons, but the literary history doesn’t end with Treasure Island. It is also said that Daniel Defoe met Alexander Selkirk in the Llandoger Trow about 300 years ago and his tale inspired him to write Robinson Crusoe. Any bibliophiles’ dream location.
Alyson Caddick

Monte Cristo made real, Marseille

Aerial view of beautiful city Marseille, France
Marseille … ‘The city still felt gritty, bustling and as proud as it had in the novel.’ Photograph: Olena_Z/Getty Images

I booked to visit Marseille purely based on reading The Count of Monte Cristo. The city still holds great resemblance to the vivid descriptions in Dumas’s book. The barren Château d’If prison, surrounded by glistening seas, the narrow streets of the old town, the diverse feel of the Noailles district and the coming and going of many boats that could take me away to all the places talked about in Dumas’s novel. The heat was lingering too, with warm summer nights that reminded me of when Edmond Dantès visited Mercédès. The city still felt gritty, bustling and as proud as it had in the novel, and despite the years of modernisation, I felt like I was walking in the footsteps of Dantès.
Maddy Warner

Bonfire of the Vanities, Florence

Piazza della Signoria square … where Girolamo Savonarola was executed in 1498.
Piazza della Signoria square … where Girolamo Savonarola was executed in 1498. Photograph: Aliaksandr Antanovich/Alamy

There are many literary reasons to visit Florence, but for me it is the plaque in Piazza della Signoria marking the place of execution of Girolamo Savonarola. Savonarola’s Bonfire of the Vanities in 1497 and his eventual hanging (which both took place in the square) form the background to George Eliot’s superb Romola.
Jeremy Reynolds

The trail to the Green Corrie, Assynt, Highlands

Assynt is strewn with remote lochans.
Assynt is strewn with remote lochans. Photograph: GeoJuice/Alamy

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 bequest of his dying friend, poet Norman MacCaig. A few years ago I too set out to find the Green Lochan. A remote walk from the hamlet of Inchnadamph along a stalkers’ track, crossing numerous ice-cold streams, eventually led to the rocky ridge near Glas Bheinn, and from here, on the edge of the Green Corrie, I peered down into the remote loch, with the Eas a’ Chual Aluinn, Britain’s highest waterfall, in the distance. A truly dramatic and wild landscape, captured by the author and now framed in my mind for ever.
Paul Wilson

Words fly off the pages in Naples

Naples has an ‘energising exciting intensity’ captured in numerous novels. Photograph: ezypix/Getty Images

My recent visit to Naples was inspired, among other reasons, by the writers who have been influenced by the city. Sartre, Dostoevsky and Oscar Wilde were classic authors enchanted by the almost operatic quality of life there – from the ancient streets and markets to the sweeping views over the Bay of Naples to Vesuvius. Then there is Penny Green’s See Naples and Die and the more recent televised novels of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet. In every book and every moment I spent in the city there is a heady sense of living every moment with an energising exciting intensity.


Readers’ tips: send a tip for a chance to win a £200 voucher for a Sawday’s stay


Guardian Travel readers’ tips

Every week we ask our readers for recommendations from their travels. A selection of tips will be featured online and may appear in print. To enter the latest competition visit the readers’ tips homepage

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Aix and pains, Provence, France

Yves Montand and Gerard Depardieu in Jean de Florette, based on Marcel Pagnol’s novel.
Yves Montand (left) and Gerard Depardieu in Jean de Florette, based on Marcel Pagnol’s novel. Photograph: Cinetext/Films A2/Allstar

I’ve loved Marcel Pagnol’s Jean de Florette ever since school days. It’s 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 boules in a hilltop village didn’t pan out. Not quite. The car got stuck between two village houses, we completely failed to find the quaint centre of Aix despite staying nearby, and initially the best food we found was a kebab on a dimly lit corner. But we finally got some feeling of Jean de Florette as we ate a meal featuring grilled local sausage and pastis as the mistral gusted through the cypresses while watching rugby on a TV. A fan of one of the teams sitting close to us was the image of Yves Montand as César Soubeyran! Location? Avenue Marcel Pagnol of course.
Antony T

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Tell us about a literary destination in the UK or Europe – to win a £200 holiday voucher | Travel

This year marks the 25th anniversary of World Book Day, a celebration of books and reading celebrated in 100 countries worldwide. It is usually an opportunity for young bibliophiles to become their favourite book character for the day, but it is also a chance for older book lovers to visit literary destinations associated with favourite authors. So whether it is a hop across the channel to see Montreuil-sur-Mer, where Victor Hugo found inspiration for Les Misérables, or whether you are staying closer to home for a visit to Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon, we would like to hear about your favourite literary destinations across the UK and Europe.

If you have a relevant photo, do send it in – but it’s your words that will be judged for the competition.

Keep your tip to about 100 words

The best tip of the week, chosen by Tom Hall of Lonely Planet, will win a £200 voucher to stay at a Sawday’s property – the company has more than 3,000 in the UK and Europe. The best tips will appear on the Guardian Travel website, and maybe in the paper, too.

If you’re having trouble using the form, click here. Read terms of service here.

We’re sorry, but for legal reasons you must be a UK resident to enter this competition.

The competition closes on 1 March at 9am

Have a look at our past winners and other tips

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Musician, beautician makes her literary debut with The Travel Letters | Local News

Almost as far back as she can remember, TJ Hassell, formerly of Commerce, has had a love for writing and storytelling, but it wasn’t until she completed a challenging hiking trip in the Grand Canyon a few years ago that she gathered the gumption to finish her first novel.

“We hiked all the way down, straight to the bottom of the canyon in one trip, which you’re not supposed to do. So when we came back up, it took us about 13 hours to hike all the way back out of the canyon through the dark at night,” Hassell recalled. “After hiking out of the Grand Canyon, I said, ‘I feel like I can do anything now. I’m going to finish a novel.’”

Hassell’s debut novel, The Travel Letters, tells the story of Avalon Foster, an archaeologist haunted by traumatic childhood memories of neglect and abandonment, who makes an effort to write thoughtful letters to her children while she’s away at archaeological sites.

“Since the novel is made up of letters, it actually tells multiple stories that weave into a beginning, middle and end, and there are multiple plot twists and turns,” Hassell said.

Although The Travel Letters is Hassell’s first novel, she had started her own “publishing company” when she was in the second grade “with a pencil, a Big Chief tablet and a stapler.” Throughout her adult life, she has also written news stories and columns and has worked in radio.

Another profession of Hassell’s that has trained her to listen to people who have stories to tell is her work as a hairstylist.

“Years were spent behind a barber and salon chair, a setting most conducive to tall tales, complaints and honest, occasionally haunting, stories of family, friendships and enemies,” Hassell’s online bio states. “Some were gossipy, some heartbreaking and some were amusing, but all were instructive and full of character.”

Hassell also credits her husband, retired A&M-Commerce mathematics professor Stuart Anderson, who has encouraged her writing and helped edit the novel.

Together, she and Stuart also regularly perform in the area as a folk duo, with her playing the guitar and singing and him plucking the banjo.

This past Saturday, the two promoted the book and performed songs across from The Wind, The Willows Bookstore in downtown Greenville’s Uptown Forum, where the book is available for sale.

Those who would like to learn more about Hassell can visit her website at www.tjhassell.com.

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The book that inspired me to travel: readers’ tips | Literary trips

I read Jupiter’s Travels while living in Cambodia. Ted Simon’s tales of his motorcycle adventure around the world is so thrilling and adventurous that I immediately went out and bought an old Honda. I dreamed of following in his tyre tracks and travelling around the world, being welcomed as a hero everywhere I’d go. I didn’t get very far – the Vietnamese authorities wouldn’t allow the bike over the border – but a motorcycle world tour is still the top of my bucket list, and Jupiter’s Travels taught me to embrace the journey, not just the destination.
Chris Pickles

Karst hills at Guilin, southern China with animals by the water in golden light
Karst hills at Guilin, southern China. Photograph: Alamy

It’s not strictly a travel book, but the novel that inspired me to pursue my dream of traveling in China was Soul Mountain. It is loosely based on Gao Xingjian’s own experience of escaping mainland China after being labelled a counter-revolutionary during the Cultural Revolution. The writing style has a dream-like spiritual quality that carries you effortlessly along the journey. It is split into two voices – You and I – which makes it unique among any book I’ve ever read as it directly addresses the reader.
Madison Plantier

A Year in Provence: Written by Peter Mayle, 1989 Edition, (1st Edition) Publisher: Hamish Hamilton Ltd [Hardcover]

Mayle makes Provence – though seen through a fantasy gauze – seem hypnotic, and the food, drink and lifestyle of the local country folk are charming beyond compare. He describes the region one month at a time (hence A Year in Provence) and you live his dealings with local tradepeople, the postman and neighbours. The walks through markets leave you drooling for some chèvre and a crust of bread. The restaurants and stories about the clientele are delightful. In his second book, Toujours Provence, he said people were contacting him from all over the world – a woman in Indiana asked “How are the schools?” The fantasy of living there has driven many of us to visit.
Kirby Lindsay

Hemingway (far right) in front of the Shakespeare & Company bookstore in Paris in 1926.
Hemingway (far right) in front of the Shakespeare & Company bookstore in Paris in 1926. Photograph: Coll Lausat/Keystone France

Hemingway’s autobiographical book about living in a cold flat on the Left Bank of Paris with his wife and child in the 1920s, while making the transition from journalist to novelist, made the biggest travel impact on me. It took me 15 years to make it to Paris after reading the book, but I retraced the paths he walked –down the side streets that laced together his hangouts, from the Shakespeare & Company bookshop next to the River Seine, to walking to his mentor Gertrude Stein’s residence at 27 rue de Fleurus, while avoiding the smells that might trigger his hunger when he was low on money. The book still works as tour guide, as much of that version of Paris still exists.
Mike Hainsworth

Orhan Pamuk’s actual Museum of Innocence exhibition in Istanbul.
Orhan Pamuk’s actual Museum of Innocence exhibition in Istanbul. Photograph: Lauren Hurley/PA

Pamuk’s novel is about a lovelorn fellow who collects (and sometimes steals) hundreds of little mementos of his girlfriend. Along the way we are treated to wonderful insights into life in Istanbul in the 1970s. And there is a real museum to match! Hidden in a little alley near the port is a tall, narrow building displaying all the book’s mementos. Even if you haven’t read the book, it’s fascinating. If you have, it’s like stepping into the story.
Caroline Morgan

The Hindu Kush in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan.
The Hindu Kush in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. Photograph: Shahid Khan/Alamy

I read For a Pagan Song and fell in love again. In this sad, beautiful story of self-recovery, the writer found his piece of paradise with the Kalash people in the Hindu Kush in north-west Pakistan, having followed in the footsteps of Peachey and Daniel from Rudyard Kipling’s The Man Who Would be King. The Kalash are the last people in the Hindu Kush who continue to practise their ancient pagan religion in the valleys of Bumburet, Birir and Rumbur. They look almost European, possibly descended from Alexander the Great. I wanted to meet them. Having travelled through beautiful Pakistan in 1995 I returned in 2015 and, travelling through some adventurous terrain and situations, also found that piece of paradise. Thank you, Jonny.
Helen Ritchie

The Inca ruins of Huaca Pucllane in Lima, Peru
The Inca ruins of Huaca Pucllane in Lima, Peru. Photograph: Jamo V/Alamy

I first read Along the Inca Road back in 2000 when I was 14. It told me about a world I had never previously imagined and awakened a lifelong love of travelling and fascination with Latin America. In the intervening years I have been fortunate enough to travel to South America several times and see the incredible landscapes and places described in the book, inspiring the same sense of awe I felt as a 14-year-old in suburban England, dreaming of what lay beyond. I reread the book every few years, and it is currently helping to satisfy my wanderlust during the lockdown.

Mumbai’s famous Leopold Cafe.
Mumbai’s famous Leopold Cafe. Photograph: David Pearson/Alamy

The novel that inspired me to go to India was Shantaram. Gregory David Roberts imbues the narrative with a real sense of place. It is a novel about Bombay (now Mumbai) as much as it is about the storyline and colourful characters he creates. Lin, the narrator, arrives in Bombay on the run using a false passport and makes friends with Prabaker, a local. Together they enter the hidden world of the city’s slums and mingle with down-and-outs and reprobates. Lin and his friends meet at the Leopold Cafe – and I just had to visit the cafe when I eventually got to Mumbai! This is a perfect book for armchair travel and certainly inspired me to visit the city.
Tina Hartas

Pretty houses and canal in Bruges
‘Mysterious and beautiful’ Bruges. Photograph: Alamy

I was 12 when I started reading this novel, the story of a medieval doctor and philosopher in plague-ridden Bruges. The description of churches, old buildings and yards lead to mysterious and beautiful canals made me want to know everything about the city. Being from far away Brazil, it struck me as somewhere almost heavenly, and I fed on this dream until I was able to travel to Europe for the first time. And Bruges is still the most beautiful city in the world for me, a journey back in time, and this book still my favourite story.
Maria Rosa Nascimento Silva

Ruins on Orkney, Scotland, with a view to the tidal Brough of Birsay.
Ruins on Orkney, with a view to the tidal Brough of Birsay. Photograph: Alistair and Jan Campbell/Alamy

In 1986 I was in traction for six weeks with a broken pelvis. A friend lent me Hawkfall, a book of local fables by the Orcadian writer George Mackay Brown, and I was captivated. My ensuing trip involved the Far North Line rural railway to Thurso and then a ferry across to Orkney; narrow streets of Stromness, Skara Brae, Maeshowe and Brough of Birsay; the Earl’s Palace in Kirkwall; bonxies (great skuas), short-eared owls and red-throated divers; and the sing-song accent of the locals, who were so welcoming. It was even better than I’d hoped for. Thirty years on and with early retirement on the horizon, a return trip is being planned and Hawkfall reread.

Colourful boats and a temple in the distance
A fishing harbour near Kovalam, Kerala. Photograph: Alamy

I read The Peacock Spring when I was 14. I was completely captivated by the story of an English teenage girl in colonial India who fell in love with the gardening boy. The yearning for India never left me. I reread the book in 2016 at the age of 53, and then finally travelled to south India. It was every bit as magical as I had imagined.
Sarah Wheeler

Olive trees in southern Spain
Olive trees in southern Spain. Photograph: Peter Horree/Alamy

Lee’s traverse of Spain in the shadow of the civil war remains the ultimate paean to travel itself, and the best portrait of this most varied and misunderstood country. At once sparse (“I had a few shillings in my pocket and no return ticket”) and poetic (“the city moved somnambulantly before me like a series of engravings seen through watery glass”), the prose contrasts the simplicity of the quest with the richness of the experience. This heady promise of exploration and delight prompted my own trip, as I too threw off the shackles of my West Country youth. It finished in Andalucía and, like Lee, l knew I would return.

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A road trip through the Mani, a literary Greek landscape suspended in time

The ancient Greeks believed the Mani — the central of the three Peloponnese peninsulas — was the southernmost point in the world. They were, of course, wrong — although it can lay claim to one geographical superlative: Cape Matapan, the tip of the Mani, is the southernmost point of mainland Greece. Being an extreme tip of land, it’s perhaps understandable that its inhabitants imbued it with legend. Take, for example, the yawning, sapphire mouth of the Caves of Diros; the ancient Greeks believed it to be the entrance to Hades, the underworld guarded by Cerberus, the three-headed hellhound. 

The Mani has inspired many storytellers since, among them the great British travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor, who picked the Mani to be his home from home for almost half a century. In a short, dense account, Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese, published in 1958, Fermor insisted Maniot life had changed little since the days of Byzantine rule. I wanted to see if his account held water.

As I headed down the peninsula, the roads narrowed from three lanes to two, then from two to one. By the time I reached the partially abandoned hamlet of Kitta, the path was edging between stone buildings like a spring through a newly formed fissure. 

There isn’t an obvious reason to come to Kitta rather than any of the other similarly pretty villages. Fermor found himself here by accident, having got lost while swimming down the coast. He ambled into the settlement, tired and more than a little fed up, but his florid description of the place could easily be describing my own experience here: ‘The canyons of lane that twisted through the towers were empty and silent as though the inhabitants had fled an aeon ago.’ 

The author chose not to make this his home, instead building a house an hour to the north, just outside the scenic seaside town of Kardamyli, where he lived until his death, aged 96, in 2011. By then, his fame had rendered one of his book’s assertions untrue. Of Kardamyli, he wrote: ‘It is too inaccessible and there is too little to do there, fortunately, for it ever to be seriously endangered by tourism.’ Ironically, many foreign visitors now arrive specifically to pay homage to Fermor. 

But even for those with no interest in the writer, the Mani is a remarkable place to visit. The peninsula is sculpted by the Taygetus Mountains, which unfurl like a dragon spine all the way to its southern extremity. It’s their presence that keeps the roads from being too wide or too straight. Again and again, I found myself thinking how fun it was to drive along them and how little it mattered which of the odd, time-capsule towns and villages I stopped at along the serpentine route.

Fringing the roads, rheumatic olive trees thrive despite the lack of soil in which to take root. The dryness of the Mani creates small olives whose petiteness belies their superior flavour — Maniots will quickly tell you they make the best olive oil in all of Greece. Perhaps this is another of the region’s legends, but chasing it around plate after plate with fresh bread, I never found myself in a mood to argue.

How to do it 

Citta dei Nicliani has rooms from €120 (£105).

Responsible Travel has eight days exploring Laconia and the Mani Peninsula from €1,490 (£1,300) per person. 

Discover more inspiration and travel guides for Greece here

Published in the April 2021 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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