Óbidos, Portugal

Photo: Lacobrigo, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

How did you want to spend the first few days of the new year? Taking down the Christmas tree, putting away decorations, and exchanging gifts for correct sizes are not the right answers. That’s how you actually spent the long holiday weekend. It’s certainly not how you wished to do it. So think about it? How should the new year have started?

In a perfect world, you would have enough time to not only curl up with a good book but finish it. You’d be in a cozy chair, surrounded by other books—enough reading material to last a lifetime—with a fire roaring in the corner. You’d even have a forbidden cocktail—remember, it’s dry January—on the little table next to you. Best of all, with the exception of crackling logs, it’d be quiet. Very quiet.

So let’s make that peaceful long weekend happen. It’s only a few days into the new year. You can still start it off right. There’s even a hotel, really a whole town, that will make your literary dreams come true. You just have to board a bus in Lisbon, head up the Atlantic coast, and get off when you reach Óbidos. You’ll know you’re in the right spot when you see a bookshelf at the bus stop.

Photo: The Literary Man

It looks like you’re stepping into a fairytale in Óbidos. The hilltop town, which grew out of a Roman settlement, is surrounded by medieval walls. Cobblestone streets, a limestone castle, pretty churches, and whitewashed houses draped in bougainvillea sit inside them. Some of those houses are now bookstores. Others were turned into chocolate shops. Óbidos is now one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Portugal and a favorite day trip from Lisbon.

You need more than a day trip, though. You aren’t going to want to leave this charming town after peeking into chapels, finding first editions, and sampling sweets all afternoon. That’s where the Literary Man comes in. The Literary Man isn’t a person or even a bookstore. It’s an 18th-century convent on a narrow cobbled street that was restored and turned into a boutique hotel. The center of the hotel is a bookshop and lounge with 40,000 books, an antique fireplace, and cozy nooks. Once you make your selection, you’ll move to the Literary Gin Bar to sip a cocktail—named after a literary legend and made with organic herbs—in a worn leather chair. Expect to stay a while.

There is more to the hotel, of course. Thirty simple rooms have an eco-chic vibe with hardwood floors, knotty-wood panels, and plenty of recycled materials. Historic archways lead into the Literary Restaurant. Floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and a menu that pays homage to ancient cooking traditions (don’t miss the Pablo Neruda prawns) await you in the dining room. Plus, at some point, you’ll probably bump into the owner of the hotel. He’s the former mayor of Óbidos, so he surely knows secrets that are hidden within the city’s walls. Make sure you take notes. They’ll be the keys to your upcoming reading list.

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