Bookish Destinations

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
~J.R.R. Tolkien

Like most people, we love to travel and have been lucky to visit some amazing countries and cities over the years. In 2020 we had big plans for more. I was looking forward to work trips to Luxembourg, Thailand and the US, but we were considering a few Eastern European countries, Uruguay and Vietnam for holidays, as well as Christmas in New Zealand. With the pandemic, all of these plans were postponed, cancelled and became nothing more than memories and dreams.

Although I think we may be able to get abroad this year (hopefully), we’ve been travelling through the written word. And we started to wonder how many people have been inspired to visit a place because they’d read about it.

Carcassonne, France

The Cathars lived in one of my favourite periods of history and I’ve been fascinated by them for years, writing about them as part of my thesis and penning a script about heretics in Languedoc. I absolutely loved Kate Mosse’s book Labyrinth (as did my dad), so was determined to visit Carcassonne.

This region of France is beautiful and there are lots of villages built on hilly areas with spectacular views of the countryside. Carcassonne itself is stunning, although as you would expect it’s very touristy. But you can still stand looking over the town below with the mistral blowing your hair all over the place. There’s plenty to see, including the torture museum (which I went to for research), but mostly it’s just a lovely place to walk around.

History buffs (and Dan Brown fans) can drive to Rennes-Le-Chateau and decide for themselves what they believe about the Holy Grail and Mary Magdalene. Again, it’s a beautiful place and the view from such a height really is incredible.

Oxford, England

Oxford is one of our favourite cities, especially its lampposts and association with so many authors. But there are also plenty of books that take place here.

Lyra’s Oxford, from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, is similar to our own, with the colleges and spires and a sense of mystery and history threatening to resurface. Visitors can tour the city and decide which college is most like Jordan’s, visit Bodley’s Library (the Bodleian) and browse the covered market and the Pitt Rivers museum. Head to the Trout Inn (from La Belle Sauvage) for lunch and read a book on Lyra and Will’s bench in the Botanic Gardens, in front of the daemon statue (near the Literary Garden where you can find Lewis Carroll’s Cheshire Cat).

If you prefer the darker side of Oxford, there is plenty for lovers of Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse. There are references everywhere, in the many pubs and colleges that have featured in the books and TV series. Take a bus to Woodstock, join a Morse pub crawl, or walk along the river checking every now and then for a body. The Randolph Hotel is currently closed for refurbishment, but our trips to Oxford always end with a cocktail in the Morse Bar.

Middle Earth, New Zealand

OK I know this is a little bit tenuous, but a lot of people now associate Tolkien’s lands of Middle Earth with New Zealand. And I can see why – it really is a beautiful country. Every time we go back I’m blown away by the stunning landscape. In fact I often ask myself why we don’t just move over there!

The first time I went to meet Mr P’s family we did a lot of exploring, visiting Wellington (and Weta Workshop), Auckland and the island of Waiheke. One of my Christmas presents from his dad was a trip to Hobbiton. The set was built for The Lord of the Rings movies and then demolished; when The Hobbit films were made they had to rebuild it and decided to leave it as so many people had come to visit the empty fields where it had been filmed. It’s a really cool place and you’re given loads of information as you go around and hear the story of how it was chosen as the location, how filming went and some inside stories about cast members! And at the end of the tour you can have a pint in the Green Dragon!

The next time we visited, we decided to head to the Tongariro Crossing, which is a fabulous alpine walk. Make sure you have walking shoes as it’s pretty rocky and it gets really cold up there (especially in winter when it’s super dangerous). There are plenty of waterfalls, the red crater, devil’s staircase and… if you’re lucky, you’ll see Mount Ngauruhoe (aka Mount Doom)!

Salem, Massachusetts

Who doesn’t find witches fascinating? Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible is based on the witch trials that took place in Salem in 1692. A group of girls claimed to be possessed and blamed the witches of the town. Many people were executed for refusing to admit they were witches and witch fever spread to nearby towns and cities. When we did an east coast tour of the US, Salem was a must visit!

The town is a little bit gimmicky (there are so many monster and witch attractions), but if you’re more interested in the history there’s still plenty to see. There’s the Witch House, which gives a good example of Puritan living, plus some witchy artefacts, a statue of Elizabeth Montgomery and a few buildings from films like Hocus Pocus. There are also loads of beautiful old houses, many of which have plaques describing the owners, as well as some additional museums explaining the history of the town and its people.

Other destinations people mentioned visiting because of a book include: Bali (Eat, Pray, Love), Eastern Europe (The Historian), Spinalonga (The Island) and Ireland (PS I Love You).
Have you visited a country or city because you read about it?

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