Literature has long inspired people to travel. Literary tours probably started in the fifth century B.C. with the Greek writer and historian Herodotus in his seminal work The Histories, which features magical accounts of ancient Egypt during the Ptolemaic period. It inspired thousands of Greek and later Roman citizens with means, to visit the shores of the Nile River in search of great wonders.
In the 19th-century, it was the works of the great English literary scholars like Keats, Byron and Shelley that captivated English-speaking audiences everywhere and brought them in droves to Italy, where the authors were holding court. That tradition continued into the early 20th-century with great novelists like E.M. Forster and his breathtaking accounts of life in Italy as seen through the eyes of British travelers in books like Where Angels Fear to Tread and Room with a View. No trip to Lake Como would be complete without reading the first, nor would Florence seem as romantic without the latter.
Ernest Hemingway, a master storyteller, has long moved people to travel to far-away places and experience cultures from a local perspective. Although many of his novels are regarded as chauvinistic and even brutal, no one can deny the impact they have had on travel to destinations such as Cuba (The Old Man and The Sea), Spain (The Sun Also Rises and For Whom the Bell Tolls) and Paris (A Moveable Feast).
Although travel may have changed, inspiration for doing so has not and contemporary literature continues to attract visitors to undertake almost pilgrimage-like tours to remote settings of their favorite novel or poetry. Often they come to try and invoke the spirit of the book or author, to feel inspired to perhaps write their own work of great-fiction or to visit the home or grave of a beloved dead writer.
The resurgence of literary travel is currently reaching a peak, especially since the publication and almost deification of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code. A book that combines threads of fact and history with artistic license and pure fiction to create a thrilling mystery, has led to a new fad in tourism, especially in Paris, where a majority of the book is set.
The Da Vinci Code has spawned an entirely novel (pardon the pun) tourist attraction in the form of tours that explore some of the main sites and mysteries of the novel. One of my personal favorites is "The Da Vinci Code" package at the 17th-century Chateau de Villette (www.frenchvacation.com) located some 35 miles outside Paris, near Versailles. Conducted by the owner of the magnificent property, the $4,500 per person price tag includes five-nights in the chateau's deluxe rooms, meals, ground transportation, and guided tours. Or for a mere $2,500 more, you can get the add-on package which includes two nights at the Ritz Hotel Paris and visits to all the locations mentioned in the book. You may be surprised to know that these packages are well patronized.
These Da Vinci Code tours are so popular that they are even turning up on websites like the Craigslist in Paris. "The Secrets of the Davinci Code Tour" is a two-hour tour that begins with a champagne brunch at the Cafe Marley, followed by a visit to the Louvre and Saint Sulpice to discover the Secrets of Dan Brown's novel. Tours are led by American architects and art historians, now living in Paris (although based on the spelling mistakes in their ad, I am a little suspicious of this claim). The rather steep price tag of $127 per person (maximum of five people per tour) includes a map, points of interest brochure, champagne brunch and Louvre admission. Contact +336/2121-1355; firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.
Paris Through Expatriate Eyes (www.paris-expat.com/tours/davinci_code.html) provides a two and a half hour "Cracking the Da Vinci Code" tour of the Louvre including admission price for $184 per person in small groups of up to four people.
"The Da Vinci Code" is also bringing more independent tourists to the Louvre with the French version of the book even on sale in the Louvre's official bookstore.
The small southern-French town of Rennes-le-Chateau is likewise being inundated with tourists as it is featured in the book and acts as a catalyst for the origin of the mystery. To be fair, this town first gained notoriety when the same mystery and premise for The Da Vinci Code was originally set forth in the 1983 book by Michael Baigent, Holy Blood, Holy Grail.
Not to be outdone by their French cousins, British Tours Ltd (www.britishtours.com/davincicodetours.html) has seized on The Da Vinci Code mania with its own version of a Code tour but this time taking in the London locations and factual elements of the book. The three-hour London tour is priced per car or minibus rather than by person and costs range from $328 for a small group (car load) to $850 for a group of ten in a mini-bus.
Brown's prequel to The Da Vinci Code -- Angels and Demons -- is also gaining ground as a tourism initiator as it is set in Rome and select tours are already springing up to meet the demand of avid Brown fans.
Another recent literary phenomenon that has encouraged a new form of travel is the series of Harry Potter books. Although originally conceived as children's titles, the books are read by people of all ages and have inspired tours in the United Kingdom, despite the extremely fictitious nature of most of the locations.
A selection of Harry Potter tours is available through Harry Potter Fan Trips (tel. 800/487-1136; www.hpfantrips.com). All tours include a visit to Oxford to see the filming locations, a special "Great Hall"-style banquet, and a ride on the official train with engine #5972 (used as the official Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter movies). The seven-day, six-night London and Oxford tour departs on July 31, 2005 and ranges from $1749 to $1,999 per person depending on accommodation standard. Weekend four-day, three night packages are $799 per person. Their "Science in a Wizarding World" package, also departing on January 31, 2005, is priced at $1,799 per person and includes six-nights accommodation in three and four-star hotels, a specialized guide, breakfast daily, two lunches, four dinners, luxury coach transfers, treasure hunt including Harry Potter movie sites, admission to the Tower of London and Christ Church College, virtual reality "Flying on a Broomstick" experience, Herbology and Potions classes, limited edition Alivan's magic wand, and a London Underground pass. Discounts are provided for family groups. Reserve your trip by December 31, 2004, and take $50 off any week-long package or $25 off a weekend package. Airfares to London are additional.
In 1990, it was Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence that stirred masses of literature buffs to journey to the French region in search of the beauty, innocence and possibly even a sneak peak at Mayle's country home. Even today as you travel through the hills of Provence, you will always see tourists with a paperback in their hands, using it like a travel guide. Tour companies are still capitalizing on the book's wide appeal, mentioning it on websites and forming tours that take in particular towns that act as the both the setting and main character of the book.
And in the later 1990's, Tuscany tourism had an enormous boost with the success of Frances Maye's inviting tale of female emancipation and adventure, Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy. There are a number of interesting and diverse tours available that are cashing in on the popularity of the book, especially among single women.
Escorted Italy Tours (tel. 800/942-3301; www.escorteditalytours.com) has an "Under the Tuscan Sun Cooking Tour" in Cortona, Italy the setting of the book. The package includes six-nights double occupancy at the four-star Hotel San Michele daily breakfast, three hands on cooking lessons, six dinners in local restaurants with local wine, lunch in Siena, wine-tasting, guided tours, entrance fees, excursions and round-trip transfers to Terontola train station. Prices for the 2005 season have not yet been confirmed.
Tuscany Under the Skin (www.tuscanyundertheskin.com) has a "Tuscany Discover the Heartland" tour that includes tour guide, transportation, charming hotels and pensiones, all specified meals including wine, farmhouse cooking lesson and lunch, thermal pool and visits to Cortona, Pienza, Siena, San Gimignano and Montepulciano. Priced at $1,484 for land-content only, the tour departs on 29 May, July 3, September 11 and October 16 in 2005. Airfares are additional.
EcoTouring Tuscany (www.infohub.com/TRAVEL/SIT/sit_pages/14099.html) has an Under the Tuscan Sun biking tour. For $1,200 per person (or $200 more for a single supplement), you can take a Tuscan adventure that includes six-nights accommodation, daily breakfast, luggage transfers, all biking equipment and some of the most beautiful landscapes that you will ever experience. Tours departs regularly from Florence between April and October.
Travel companies like Novel Explorations (www.novelexplorations.com) and Casterbridge Tours (www.casterbridgetours.com/US/soffer.html) specialize in literary tours that focus on particular regions as inspiration for great literature throughout the ages. Tours with Novel Explorations start at approximately $1,800 for ten-day experiences in Ireland, Scotland and England, whereas Casterbridge also incorporates modern literature themes (more Harry Potter and Da Vinci Code) in various countries throughout the world.
There are so many other brilliant authors whose works have allowed readers to dream of far away places, that it is impossible to list them all here. Often it is the combination of the perfect geographical location and the richness of the fictitious characters that makes a story seem so real. For those who like to immerse themselves in the places they visit, I recommend a few more writers here as those you should consider for your next trip.
Anything and everything by James A Mitchener including The Covenant (South Africa) Mexico, Chesapeake (Chesapeake Bay), The Source, Iberia (Spain), Hawaii, Alaska and Poland just to name a few. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (Japan), Salman Rushdie's The Jaguar Smiles: A Nicaraguan Journey, Bill Bryson for his extreme whit and insight into so many countries, but especially Australia in In a Sunburned Country and Bruce Chatwin's Songlines, which is an equally indispensable travel companion for a trip down under.
If you are searching for general travel inspiration or would like to enhance your vacation experience from a literary perspective, pick up a copy of American Historical Fiction: An Annotated Guide to Novels for Adults and Young Adults which includes over 3,000 titles indexed by author, title, genre, subject, and most importantly, geographic setting.
Biblio Travel (www.bibliotravel.com) is a website that can also provide you with travel insights without actually reading a travel guide. With 1,811 books listed, set in 1,646 locales, you can search by geographical setting, author or genre. A perfect resource for someone looking for a good book to read to get them in the mood for their next travel adventure.
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