Travel inspires. Nowhere is this more evident than in literature where, page after page, engaging writers transport their readers through a strong connection to place. Sometimes the setting is tangible; other times, esoteric and imaginative. From Italy to Africa, the UK to the US, here are some of our favorite city-to-bookshelf inspirations.
Shakespeare’s Verona, Italy
Word is that in writing Two Gentlemen of Verona and Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare never stepped foot in the fair city. Yet Verona is forever linked to Shakespeare and immortalized as the ‘hometown’ of Romeo and Juliet. While the tragic young lovers are pure fiction, there is mention (by Italian poet Dante) of two feuding aristocratic families — the Montecchi and the Cappelletti. Regardless, the ancient city, with its strawberry-hued buildings and open-air Roman amphitheater, is now viewed as one of the most romantic places on earth, with thousands of lovers visiting annually.
Verona’s most famous Shakespeare connection is the Juliet House (Casa di Giulietta), dating back to the 13th century. Once a private residence, the house is now a museum, celebrating all things Romeo and Juliet. A bronze Juliet statue greets guests inside a courtyard; the famous balcony where Romeo professed his love (although added in a 1930s restoration project) is here too, as is Juliet’s bedroom — furnished with the bed used in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 Romeo e Giulietta film.
In keeping with Verona’s artistic and romantic vibe, book into Byblos Art Hotel, just 15 minutes from Verona’s city center. Owned by Dino Facchini, founder of the fashion line Byblos, the 58-room hotel blends the 16th-century Villa Amistà with contemporary, chic interiors by renowned designer Alessandro Mendini. Artwork by greats like Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst is offset by colorful whimsical interiors. We especially love the hotel’s Michelin star Restaurant Amistà; the pops of color everywhere and a dreamy, opulent frescoed ballroom, perfect for a wedding, should your own happier version of Romeo and Juliet play out.
JK Rowling’s Edinburgh, Scotland
Years before she was a household name, writer J.K. Rowling moved to Edinburgh, Scotland with her young daughter. It was in this ancient city of turrets and castles that she wrote her legendary Harry Potter series. While the idea of wizardry first came in 1990 during a train ride from Manchester to London (Rowlings wrote her musings on a napkin), the novel came to life after moving to Edinburgh. With very little money, Rowlings would sit in cafes and, over cups of coffee, write — often in longhand.
While cafes played a huge role in J.K. Rowling’s Edinburgh story, neither of her favorite coffee haunts are still intact. Nicolson’s Cafe, where the newly divorced mother wrote parts of her first Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone novel, has long since closed. A second cafe, The Elephant House, where she penned some of her later novels, is temporarily closed due to a fire. One place fans can see Rowling’s permanence is on High Street where her golden handprints are engraved outside Edinburgh City Chambers.
For lovers of Rowling’s personal rags-to-riches story, there’s no better place to stay than The Balmoral Hotel’s J.K. Rowling Suite. When writing her final chapters, the author checked in to the lavish 19th-century hotel to better concentrate. On the day she completed her manuscript, Rowlings ceremoniously scribbled on a marble bust of Hermes: “J.K. Rowling finished writing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in this room (552) on 11th Jan 2007.” The light-filled suite, with views of Calton Hill, features a marble bath, Asprey toiletries and quirky touches like an owl door knocker and star-filled entranceway.
Karen Blixen’s Nairobi
Danish author Karen Blixen moved to Kenya in 1914 with her Swedish husband, Baron Bror von Blixen Fincke, to take up dairy (then coffee) farming — neither of which proved fortuitous. When the couple divorced, the baron returned to Sweden while Blixen remained in Kenya — in time, falling in love with Englishman Denys Finch Hatton. Upon Hatton’s death (1930), Blixen returned to Denmark where she pursued her writing career — using the pen name Isak Dinesen. While Blixen published numerous books, her bestselling Out of Africa memoir — based on her personal experience in Kenya — remains her most famous literary piece.
When the movie version of Blixen’s masterpiece was released in 1985 starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep, the writer’s African home (‘Mbogani’) received immediate international attention. The government of Kenya swiftly secured the house as a national museum, which today offers visitors insight into Blixen’s British East Africa life. Interiors are quite personal, revealing touches of her love affair: the lantern she hung on her verandah signaling to her Englishman that she was home; his monogrammed books still on the shelves; and many of her original furnishings preserved.
A further glimpse into Blixen’s life comes on the top floor of Nairobi’s famed Giraffe Manor, in the ‘Karen Blixen’ room. Its spacious balcony is a coveted place to feed the giraffes who poke their heads in greeting. Featuring two bedrooms and two baths, the suite comes with four-poster beds draped in wispy white fabrics, a dressing table and wardrobe from the author’s original guest bedroom, a fireplace and a writing desk, naturally.
Truman Capote’s New York City
Much speculation has centered on the identity of writer Truman Capote’s most famous character, Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, eloquently played on screen by Audrey Hepburn. Some point to Marilyn Monroe, who was Capote’s first choice to cast for the movie role; others to a German refugee, a neighbor of Capote; still others to his mother, Lillie Mae. After her divorce, she sent a young Capote to live with relatives in Alabama — while she tried to “make it big” in New York City. Whomever his inspiration, the idea of a single woman going it alone in NYC, was part of Capote’s mindset in creating Holly Golightly who, long before Sex and the City, slipped on her iconic little black dress and hit the town.
For ten years, while writing Breakfast at Tiffany’s and also Cold Blood, Capote lived in the basement of his friend’s house in Brooklyn Heights. The brownstone is often pointed out on walking tours of the neighborhood. Of course, the most iconic locale in the story needs no introduction. The robin-egg-blue Tiffany & Company on 5th Avenue is where Holly Golightly — eating danish and coffee out of a paper bag — gazes longingly at the jeweler’s window.
The exquisite townhome featured in the film (exterior shot) which Hepburn’s character calls home, is available as a vacation rental. Located on the Upper East Side, the brownstone, aptly named “Hepburn,” has four bedrooms, four baths, multiple fireplaces, a library, wine cellar, patio and two terraces. The house is available to members of Inspirato, a luxury travel subscription company.
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