A century ago, in 1917, bard William Butler Yeats purchased a 15th-century Norman tower in the Irish countryside as a summer home. “I shall make it habitable … It is certainly a beautiful place,” he informed his father.

For Yeats, Thoor Ballylee was “a place full of history and romance” that inspired some of his later masterful works, including “The Tower” and “The Winding Stair.” While today the abode—which has been prone to winter flooding due to its riverside location—is mostly devoid of decorations or furnishings, there is atmosphere aplenty in the four-story structure with a stone staircase winding through the tower and leading to a roof platform.

Thoor Ballylee is located in County Galway and best reached by car. For an off-the-beaten-path location, the tower sees plenty of activity. On the day I visited last summer, a local television station was filming a travel segment, and recent visitors had included the novelist Colum McCann and former U.S. Senator Chris Dodd.

In the now-restored dining room, the Yeats family would fish out the window, which opens above the Streamstown River.

Visitors can explore the tower at their leisure and also peruse some illustrated exhibits that shed light on Yeats’ personal and professional lives. One exhibit is devoted to the women who greatly influenced the wordsmith—like his wife, George Hyde-Lees, who feigned episodes of spirit-guided writing to prompt his poetry, and Maude Gonne, the unrequited love of his life.

Thoor Ballylee is open during the summer months and well worth a stop when literary traveling on the Emerald Isle.

Bibliophiles, get ready for a road trip. Summer is the perfect time to visit author houses and other literary landmarks. Some are only open seasonally this time of year, while others offer special events and activities—yoga, live music, improv, and more.

Do Yoga at Scott and Zelda’s Place

FitzgeraldMuseum.JPGGet zen at the Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum in Montgomery, Alabama. Before hitting the mat for a fundraising yoga class, tour the only museum dedicated to the Jazz Age pair. They lived in this house in the city’s historic district for several months in 1931, Scott toiling over Tender is the Night and Zelda writing the novel Save Me the Waltz. Yoga @ The Fitzgerald Museum takes place on Saturday, June 17 from 4:30-6 p.m. and costs $10.

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“I still cherish the dream of returning for another revel in dear, dirty, delightful London, for I enjoyed myself there more than any where else,” wrote Louisa May Alcott in an 1868 letter to the friend who had shown her around Dickensian London.

Visiting the homes and haunts of famous writers is a time-honored tradition—one that intrigued some of the very authors whose own houses are now popular destinations for literary travelers.

After the publication of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women in 1868, fans of the book began trekking to Concord, Massachusetts, where the boldest ones knocked on the door of Orchard House, the Alcott family abode, looking for the author. Publicity-shy Louisa sometimes pretended to be a servant to deflect the attention, but she probably understood their curiosity. During a trip to London three years earlier, she visited sites featured in Charles Dickens’ tales. She revealed in her diary, “I felt as if I’d got into a novel while going about in the places I’d read so much of.”

Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts, a destination for early literary travelers.

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The wine will be flowing tomorrow evening at the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, Massachusetts, a toast to coincide with the opening of the feature film A Quiet Passion. Sex and the City alum Cynthia Nixon plays the part of Emily Dickinson in this biopic about the intriguing and famously reclusive poet’s life.

The movie was primarily shot in Belgium, where a replica of the Dickinson family residence, The Homestead, was recreated. The actual abode, a 200-year-old yellow brick house in Amherst where Dickinson lived for all but 15 of her 55 years, features in exterior scenes in A Quiet Passion.

Visitors to the museum can tour The Homestead—including Dickinson’s bedroom, where she did much of her writing—as well as The Evergreens, an Italianate-style house next door that was built for her brother and his wife in 1856.

Summertime visits are ideal for a stroll around the grounds, accompanied by an audio tour that integrates Dickinson’s poetry with the landscape. The green-thumbed wordsmith liked to garden, and more than a third of her poems feature floral references.

If you can’t make it when the flora is at its finest, consider stopping by in December for the annual Dickinson birthday festivities. The celebration includes coconut cake made from the poet’s own recipe.

The particulars: “A Toast to A Quiet Passion” takes place  at the Emily Dickinson Museum on April 14 from 5-6:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. No reservations required. http://www.emilydickinsonmuseum.org

Watching the drama To Walk Invisible: The Brontë Sisters is likely to cause literary wanderlust. (It airs Sunday, March 26, on PBS-Masterpiece.) The backdrop is the Yorkshire village of Haworth and the surrounding moors, a dramatically scenic landscape that helped inspire the novelist sisters’ page-turners Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Here are five things for bibliophiles to do in Brontë Country.

Visit the Brontë Parsonage Museum. Home to Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë, along with their brother Branwell, was a Georgian parsonage in Haworth, where their father, Patrick, was appointed curate in 1820. Don’t miss the ink-stained table in the dining room, where the novelists gathered in the evenings to read aloud from their works-in-progress and brainstorm plot ideas. A replica of the c. 1800s parsonage, along with a side street and neighboring buildings, was created on a set outside of Haworth. www.bronte.org.uk

Ramble on the moors. Venture into Wuthering Heights territory as you follow in the sisters’ footsteps across the wind-swept moorland around Haworth. A 2.5-mile walk from town leads to the Brontës’ favorite destination, “the meeting of the waters.” There, Emily would recline on a slab of stone, today dubbed the “Brontë chair,” to play with tadpoles in the water. Continue on another mile to reach the stone ruins of an isolated farm known as Top Withens, credited as being the setting of Heathcliff’s domain in Wuthering Heights.

Have a pint at the Black Bull. At the top of a steep cobblestone street in the center of Haworth is the cozy, 300-year-old watering hole where wayward Branwell Brontë frequently whiled away the hours. Though a talented painter and poet, he was unable to hold a steady job and increasingly found solace in alcohol and opium. In an alcove up the stairwell, his favorite chair has been given pride of place.

Take the Passionate Brontës Tour. Stroll along Haworth’s historic cobbled streets and hear all about the village’s most famous family. Guides use the Brontës’ own letters, poems, and stories to illuminate their literary achievements, shed light on their personal passions and tragedies, and reveal what life was like in this tiny Yorkshire town during their day. www.brontewalks.co.uk

Read a book in the Brontë Meadow. Break out the dog-eared copy of your favorite Brontë novel that you toted along and read a passage or two. Adjacent to the museum, the Brontë Meadow has gorgeous views of the countryside and is a perfect introduction to the novelists’ territory, especially if you don’t have time for a lengthy walk on the moors.

 

For more about the Brontë sisters and the landscape that inspired them, check out the expanded and updated edition of NOVEL DESTINATIONS, which has a brand-new, in-depth narrative chapter about Brontë Country. Available May 2nd.

After Agatha Christie tied the knot with archaeologist Max Mallowan at an Edinburgh cathedral in 1930, they set out on an adventuresome journey. “Max had planned the honeymoon entirely himself; it was going to be a surprise,” Christie penned in An Autobiography.

Romantic Venice was the first stop for the newly wed crime writer. Christie had passed through the Italian city previously while traveling on the Orient Express from London to the Middle East, where she met her future husband on an archaeological dig.

“I resolved…that if ever I am so fortunate I shall spend my honeymoon here!” Max Mallowan once vowed about Venice. And indeed he hid.

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These writers and their partners had a flair for memorable gift-giving, from presents that pulled at the heartstrings to gifts that stirred up drama on and off the page.

Scarlett Fever: Margaret Mitchell

margaret-mitchell-typewriter

Margaret Mitchell received a life-altering gift from her husband while she was housebound recovering from a car accident. He presented her with a secondhand typewriter, a sheaf of paper, and the declaration, “Madam, I greet you on the beginning of a great new career.” That typewriter, which Mitchell used to craft her masterpiece, Gone with the Wind, is on view at the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library.

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East Coast…Storied Getaway 

Library card-carrying bibliophiles looking for a getaway might want to consider Baron’s Cove hotel in Sag Harbor, New York, the seaside town where John Steinbeck spent the last years of his life. In honor of the writer’s 115th birthday on February 27, guests who present a library card will receive a special rate of $115/night in February and March. Book a stay for Sunday, February 26, and the next night is free. Plus the birthday perks don’t stop there. Toast your literary adventures with two complimentary Jack Rose cocktails, Steinbeck’s preferred libation. And you’re welcome to bring along a canine companion, just like Steinbeck did on the 1960 road trip he recounts in Travels with Charley when his French poodle pal rode shotgun.

West Coast…Cake and Kids’ Festivities

Meanwhile, in Salinas, California, the town where the Nobel Prize-winning author grew up, the National Steinbeck Center is hosting its annual birthday festivities. On Saturday, February 25, the always-fabulous and interesting museum has a variety of children’s activities planned throughout the day. A candle-topped birthday cake will be served at noon.

 

robert-burns-single-malt

Robert Burns Single Malt / Isle of Arran Distillers

Oh thou, my Muse! Guid auld Scotch drink!
Whether thro wimplin worms thou jink,
Or, richly brown, ream owre the brink,
   In glorious faem,
Inspire me, till I lisp and wink,
   To sing thy name.
—Robert Burns, “Scotch Drink”

Haggis, neeps, and tatties are on the menu. Whisky, too, of course.

Lovers of Scottish culture the world over gather annually to celebrate the birth of Scotland’s national bard, Robert Burns, on January 25, 1759.  The first recorded Burns Night Supper honoring the poet (famed for poems such as “Tam O’ Shanter” and “Ode to Haggis”) took place in 1801 in his birthplace village of Alloway, and the evening’s line-up of toasts, poems, and bagpipe ditties has varied little ever since.

Revelers dine on a traditional meal of haggis (sheep organ meats blended with oatmeal and spices), neeps (turnips), and tatties (potatoes), washed down with copious drams of whisky. (Non-meat eaters can serve vegetarian haggis.) Festivities are capped off with the joining of hands and the singing of the bard’s great song of parting, “Auld Lang Syne.”

Restaurants, pubs, hotels, and dining halls all over Scotland host Burns Night Suppers. The occasion is also widely celebrated in the U.S. and Canada, so check to see if the wordsmith is being feted in your town.

Robert Burns App

If you’d like to host your own gathering, Scotland.org has a Burns’ Supper Guide with tips on food, drink, attire, and entertainment. The guide is included on a free Robert Burns App along with a biography, visual timeline of the bard’s life, and more than 500 poems and love songs.

pg-225-jane-austen-house-museum-chawtonIt’s always a great time for bibliophiles to explore England, which is the preeminent destination for literary travel. (More on that another time.) But because of all the milestone events taking place in 2017, VisitEngland has declared it the Year of Literary Heroes.

To mark the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s passing, head to the place where she spent the majority of her days. Beginning in March, “Jane Austen 200 – A Life in Hampshire” encompasses a variety of events, including special exhibits, talks, and activities at the Jane Austen’s House Museum (her last residence, see photo) in Chawton. Also on the agenda is Regency Week with music, dance, and more, and Big Picnics taking place across the area.

Harry Potter fans have plenty to celebrate, too. It’s hard to believe, but J.K. Rowling’s first book featuring the young wizard, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, was published twenty years ago in June. Among the festivities is a Harry Potter Film Concert Series, a live orchestral screening of the film version taking place at Royal Albert Hall in London and other cities throughout the country. In the fall, the British Library will be launching a new Harry Potter-themed exhibit, the first one it has mounted for a single series of books by a living author.

Among the other milestones being celebrated during the Year of Literary Heroes are the 75th anniversary of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five children’s adventure novels; the 100th anniversary of wartime poet Edward Thomas’ death; the 125th anniversary of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s passing; and the 125th anniversary of master sleuth Sherlock Holmes’ debut.

Click here for more information about the Year of Literary Heroes. And start planning those itineraries.