For bookish folk, an image of utopia isn’t hard to conjure up, as it no doubt involves a comfy place to sit and endless shelves stuffed full of novels, memoirs and every other genre under the sun. Perhaps even a trip to the grocers would involve a browse through some new titles on display amidst the carrots and lettuce, resulting in one of your ‘five a day’ aiding your mental wellbeing as well as your physical health.
Well, earlier this year, I was lucky enough to visit such a place – and this didn’t just happen in a dream.
A literary sleepover
Less than a two-hour drive from Lisbon in Portugal, a place called Obidos has become a self-styled Literary Town. The project began in 2013 in a bid to regenerate the pretty, walled town, which is home to around 3,000 people, and since then a dozen bookshops have opened in a variety of locations, including the organic market and the castle. For visitors looking for a comfy place to sleep and read, there’s The Literary Man hotel, a former convent that has been transformed into a chic, four-star hotel with a twist – it’s home to more than 35,000 books in a variety of languages. If your stay ends before your book does, you have the option to buy what you’ve borrowed.
Every autumn the town is host to Folio, an international literature festival that attracts authors, readers, professors and librarians from across the globe.
As libraries close down across the country and people turn their backs on paperbacks and hardbacks for their downloadable alternatives, visiting the town of Obidos was like being in a museum dedicated to the printed word. The place even smells of the pages of a slightly worn book. It reminded me of the simple pleasure to be had in browsing for a new book, of the possibilities contained within each colourful cover. Travelling to a new place is always an adventure and when you combine that with the chance to discover a new author and/or a book you’ll treasure for life, it feels pretty close to paradise.