Whether you simply love reading or are a budding author yourself, you can walk in the footsteps of some of the greatest names in literature to discover for yourself the best places to write or read. From Egypt to Cuba or the United States, take your own little “world tour” and sit at a table in Ernest Hemingway’s favourite cafe or spend the night in the Agatha Christie suite. Pack your books and follow us!
Great Britain, a land of inspiration for fantasy novels
“There was a loud “Oooooh!”. The narrow path had opened suddenly onto the edge of a great black lake. Perched atop a high mountain on the other side, its windows sparkling in the starry sky, was a vast castle with many turrets and towers.” J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997)
With abundant rain, natural scenery and industrial towns, Britain is proof that you don’t always need exotic locations for inspiration. Some of the world’s most widely read fantasy tales started life in Great Britain. Let’s head to Scotland. As the sun rises over Edinburgh, you need only head for The Elephant House, for example. While sipping your coffee there, you can admire Hogwarts—the school for wizards from the Harry Potter books—through the windows, or rather Edinburgh castle, which inspired J. K. Rowling. This cafe has become a genuine shrine for Harry Potter fans, as demonstrated by the photos and press cuttings adorning the walls. A trip to the toilets will surprise you as the fans have added their scribbles just about everywhere!
Another age, another atmosphere, another master of the fantasy genre… In an Oxford pub you can follow in the footsteps of J. R. R. Tolkien. The Eagle and Child was the venue for the meetings of the “Inklings”, the literary group of this author of the Lord of the Rings and of C. S. Lewis, the author of The Chronicles of Narnia.
For those who enjoy a somewhat darker atmosphere, it is said that the Newman Arms in London was one of George Orwell’s sources of inspiration for his legendary dystopian novel 1984… You’d better go and see for yourself, just to be certain!
From Paris, the city of poets, to mysterious Egypt
“– This winter I shall visit Egypt, I think. The climate, they say, is superb. One will escape from the fogs, the greyness, the monotony of the constantly falling rain.” Agatha Christie, Death on the Nile (1937)
Whether tortured souls, victims of boredom or melancholy, or simply lovers of mysterious places, the poets and novelists invite you to discover their sources of inspiration. The most famous gathering place for poets is naturally Paris, where countless cafes and terraces were once frequented by great names in literature, including before they were famous. To mention only one, the Deux Magots cafe in the city’s Saint-Germain-des-Prés district is well-known for its literary history dating back to the late 19th century: Albert Camus, Rimbaud, Verlaine, Hemingway, Sartre or the Russian writer Nabokov were all regular guests on the terraces of this cafe at one time or another. Now there’s something to attract aspiring authors…
Less well-known, the Antico Caffè Greco in Rome also has a proud literary past. The oldest in the city, this Roman cafe welcomed the British literary circle of Percy and Mary Shelley, the mother of Frankenstein. The nearby Keats-Shelley Memorial House is dedicated to fantasy literature and today houses more than 8,000 works representing British Romanticism at its finest.
To round off this tour of places which served as inspiration for dark literature, we now head for the sunshine of Egypt and the Sofitel Legend Old Cataract in Aswan. It was here that in 1933 Agatha Christie wrote the Hercule Poirot novel, ‘Death on the Nile’. The hotel’s suite today bears her name and still contains the author’s desk.
Authors in quest of identity in America
“It was okay with me once again I wanted to get to San Francisco. Everyone wants to get to San Francisco and what for? In God’s name and under the stars what for? For joy, for kicks, for something burning in the night.” Jack Kerouac, On the Road (1957)
We now change direction and head for the American continent, following in the footsteps of 20th century authors and on the road to discovering the places which inspired them. It was in the Vesuvio Cafe, a legendary San Francisco bar, that the Beat Generation came about at the initiative of Jack Kerouac. A colourful bar situated opposite the City Lights Bookstore, an independent bookshop whose shelves are packed with foreign literature, and which itself publishes works dealing with the city’s culture.
Fact or fiction? For his part, both the life and work of Edgar Allan Poe were shrouded in an aura of mystery which is still palpable at The Horse You Came In On saloon in Baltimore. It was in this dark place that the author could often be found with a glass in his hand during his life but according to legend it was also the last place he had been before his mysterious death. For those who are curious, the establishment is definitely well worth a visit and is said to be haunted by Poe’s ghost.
To finish in a destination permanently haunted by the spirit of a highly inspired author, let’s get back to Hemingway. Including him just once in this article would be difficult as he chose to write in so many different places, always with a glass in his hand. In Cuba, don’t forget to pay a visit to El Floridita, the elegant bar where the author of The Old Man and the Sea downed so many daiquiris (with his own special Papá Hemingway recipe, a sugar-free daiquiri with a double dose of rum), that they erected a life-sized statue of him sat at his barstool.
When authors weave their magic to help you discover Sofitel
“Just as he always did when they stopped off, he stayed at the Sofitel Jumeirah Beach. He found the staff very friendly and loved to spend his time lounging in the impressive Imperial suite which was always reserved for him. Whenever he stopped by, he brought with him his luggage… And his dreams.” (Souviens-toi du désert !, Patrick de Carolis for Les Escales Littéraires Sofitel, May 2016)
Showcasing contemporary literature and encouraging inspiration are both activities very dear to AccorHotels, as demonstrated by the initiatives pursued by its Sofitel brand. For eight years now, a strong and genuine relationship has been forged with the literary world through the organisation of numerous international events. As an example, the hotel chain regularly organises the Cafés Littéraires Sofitel (Sofitel literary cafes) on a worldwide basis, during which numerous literary awards events take place including prestigious literary prizes such as Le Prix Sofitel du Meilleur Livre Étranger (Sofitel award for the best foreign book) To these events should be added the Escales Littéraires Sofitel (Sofitel Literary Escapes) organised in partnership this year with Air France, during which well-known authors are invited to discover a Sofitel hotel and to create a novella inspired by the hotel or the destination. You can discover them at http://escales-litteraires.evene.fr/fr. A great way to discover the Sofitel hotels and the authors while getting a little more from your holidays…