Novel Ways to Travel: Five brilliant breaks inspired by books we love
Literary Travel Special
Published 13/11/2016 | 02:30
Forget guidebooks. Taking a novel on your holiday or city break is the key to unlocking a destination says our Novel Traveller.
City: New York
Book: Something From Tiffany's by Melissa Hill (2011)
With so many great Irish women writers, it's difficult to keep up with the new titles published every year. To fall into a world of warmth and romance in New York, get a copy of Something from Tiffany's immediately.
The novel starts outside Tiffany's on Fifth Avenue, and there are few places more attractive for a winter visit to Manhattan. The Wollman Ice Rink (wollmanskatingrink.com; from $11.25pp) also features and is a lovely way to spend the afternoon under the gaze of the skyscrapers that hug Central Park. The rink opens in September and closes around Easter - the ice may not be the same quality as an indoor rink, but the atmosphere makes up for it. Finish off with a hot chocolate and a horse-and-cart trip.
The Plaza Hotel (theplazany.com) also pops up in Something From Tiffany's, but it's an extravagant option to stay there. The Hotel Beacon (beaconhotel.com) is a short stroll from Central Park on the Upper West Side and good for mingling with the locals and surrounded by nice places to eat.
Bergdorf Goodman Department Store (bergdorfgoodman.com) is another icon at Central Park, but if the tags on designer goods prove a bit pricey, then why not settle in for afternoon tea in-store? For $45, it's possible to feel like a millionaire.
Although the Italian donut place Bombolini (bombolini.com), also in the book, is now closed, there are hundreds of other wonderful spots to enjoy donuts in Manhattan. Krispy Kreme in Penn Station always has a long queue so allow plenty of time if visiting.
My favourite place for artisan pastries is Once Upon a Tart in SoHo (onceuponatart.com), a traditional bakery with small restaurant serving brunch, dinner and French treats. New York warrants several visits and winter is a great time to pick up bargains in the sales, too.
Get there: Tour America (touramerica.ie) has return flights and three nights at The Beacon from €649pp based on four sharing in Jan or Feb. For a splash, the same package is available at The Plaza from €1,589pp.
City: Oxford, England
Book: Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh (1945)
Oxford is a haven for literary buffs. One of my favourite novels, Brideshead Revisited starts here, with readers taken on an epic journey through an aristocratic family's lives over three decades in the early 20th century.
My favourite part of the book is set in the romantic city of Oxford where Sebastian Flyte and Charles Ryder enjoy the city's pleasures, drinking in the cosy taverns and punting on the River Cherwell, against the backdrop of wonderful architecture in 'this city of dreaming spires'.
The halls at Christchurch College are one inspiration behind the Harry Potter series, and it's possible to take a walking tour (oxfordwalkingtours.com; from £12/£10). The literary tour traces the steps of JRR Tolkien and The Inklings, a group of early 20th-century writers that included CS Lewis too. You can still grab a pint in The Eagle and Child pub, in St Giles, which The Inklings affectionately called The Bird and Baby.
Another favourite haunt for locals and visitors is The Head of the River. Quintessentially English, it's one of many pubs found scattered between the corners of labyrinthine streets that date back over 1,000 years. Don't pass by The Covered Market, either - which is a must for tea and scones or a delicious pork pie. The Oxford Cheese market is one of the most loved shops, and The Grand Café (thegrandcafe.co.uk) is one of my favourite haunts on High Street.
About 30 minutes outside the city is Woodstock, a village filled with old England, and neighbouring Blenheim Palace. This stately home was the birthplace of Winston Churchill and his remains are buried in Bladon churchyard, just outside the estate. The grounds are open for business and host concerts throughout the summer.
Feeling hungry? La Galleria (lagalleriawoodstock.com) is an Italian jewel, and do pop into the Feather's Hotel for a tipple in the Gin Bar. The post-Brexit sterling/euro exchange is another bonus in Oxford.
Get there: Stena Line (stenaline.ie) offers a direct link from Dublin to Holyhead from around €89 for a single car and driver. Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) operates a four-times-daily service from Dublin to Birmingham, about an hour-and-half by car from Oxford.
City: Bangkok, Thailand
Book: The Beach by Alex Garland (1996)
Khao San Road is famously described as "the centre of the backpacking universe" in Alex Garland's novel, The Beach - and indeed, it may well be.
This 1km strip of guesthouses, hostels, bars, tattoo and massage parlours is the start point for the young English backpacker Richard in the book, and for many Europeans and Australians when they arrive in Bangkok.
There is an infectious hipster atmosphere in this part of Bangkok that makes it popular with art students and trendy locals. It's where Richard meets up with his travelling comrades Etienne and Francoise, who join him in his quest for the idyllic beach at the centre of the novel.
Purported by some to be a modern twist on Lord of the Flies, it conjures up imagery of a utopia that can be found all over Thailand.
Danny Boyle filmed the movie version of The Beach on the paradise island of Phi Phi Ley, and it's easy to see why. Although there is no accommodation on this island, neighbouring Don Phi Phi has a host of hotels for travellers to stay in and the Andaman Sea is brimming with secluded islands and hongs to make you feel like you are in your very own hideaway.
From Phuket, we took a tour of the hongs by sea canoe with John Gray (johngrayseacanoe.com; €100/€50) when my daughter and I visited earlier this year. I recommend the island of Ko Yao Noi, a little further north in the Andaman Sea and easily reached from Phuket for a relaxing holiday.
The Hotel Paradise (paradise-kohyao.com) is a great place to start. We enjoyed our own hot tub on the balcony, only a few steps from the Yoga Hut. A resident artist also helped us to create our own silk batik masterpieces, and traditional boxing and dance shows were put on to accompany dinner nightly… Beat that, Leonardo DiCaprio!
Get there: Topflight (topflight.ie) offers a seven-night package including flights via Dubai, private transfers and four-star hotels in Bangkok (two nights), Phuket (five nights) and Phi Phi (two nights) from €1,949pp, based on travel in January/February.
See: tourismthailand.org for more information.
City: Paris, France
Book: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain (2011)
This beautifully crafted book takes place in Paris post-World War One, and follows the adventures of authors Ernest Hemmingway and F Scott Fitzgerald from the viewpoint of Hemmingway's first wife Hadley Richardson.
It reads like a personal snapshot into the life of the Lost Generation - as they were labelled by Gertrude Stein - who sauntered through Europe in the 1920s, finding inspiration for their writing. The places that Hemmingway and his set frequented are all documented carefully in its pages, and will help any traveller find a new perspective on Paris.
The Jardin du Luxemburg, where Hemingway found refuge during the seven years he spent in Paris, were inspired by the Boboli Gardens in Florence and created by Maria de Medici in 1612. Open free to the public from 8.15am until 4.30pm/9pm, (depending on the season) they are a great starting point for a Hemingway Odyssey, nestled between St Germain des Pres and the Latin Quarter.
France has been in the limelight for all the wrong reasons given the tragic terrorist attacks of late, so finding a way to look at the City of Light with new eyes might be the inspiration for some genuinely novel travel.
In The Paris Wife, McLain describes the cafés with aplomb, and there are few better ways to enjoy the city than sitting outside a café, watching the chic passers-by.
Afterwards, drop into the Closerie de Lilas (closeriedelilas.fr) in Montparnesse and be transported back to the 1920s - enjoy a cocktail while cocooned by the smooth sound of the piano. It's easy to forget that almost 100 years have passed since Hemingway and the Lost Generation walked through the doors.
Get there: Ryanair (ryanair.com), CityJet (cityjet.com) and Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) fly various options from Dublin and Cork to Paris. Paris Walks (paris-walks.com) offers a guided tour every Friday from March to December. Tours are in English and cost €15/€10pp.
City: Barcelona, Spain
Book: The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafón (2001)
Set in post-civil war Spain, The Shadow of the Wind sees protagonist Daniel Sempere taken by his father to an old library called the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, where he is allowed to take only one volume.
His choice of reading inspires Daniel to find out more about the author, and it brings him on an adventure where he finds love and danger, taking the reader through many of Barcelona's great sights. A fully guided tour, which gives fans of the book a chance to relive Daniel's footsteps, is bookable online through Viator.com. It's a good way to explore the Gothic Quarter and heart of the city.
The Spanish architect Gaudi is responsible for much of the magical architecture around the city and it will amaze even the most reluctant sightseer. Gaudi's Sagrada Familia is one of the most popular attractions in the city, but I suggest the Casa Battlo as a more manageable example of his brilliance. The rooftop inspired by lizard skin and the ocean-inspired ceilings make this building a must for lovers of art and architecture.
The Park Guell, also designed by Gaudi, is one of the best spots to enjoy views of the city and a nice place to spend a sunny afternoon. Wherever you go, don't forget to punctuate your visit with a stop for churros and hot chocolate.
Els Quatre Gats Café (4gats.com) is another landmark restaurant in the Gothic Quarter that will transport visitors with a cultural feast in a venue that the iconic artists Picasso and Gaudi frequented in the early 20th century.
Get there: Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) and Ryanair (ryanair.com) fly from Dublin to Barcelona. The Shadow of the Wind walking tour costs €14, takes 2.5 hours and meets at the Rambla Santa Monica.
NB: All prices subject to availability/change.