5 mins

10 stories with intriguing settings

From adventurous escapades to timeless tales of romance, Holly Gurr explores the destinations immortalised by classic literature


1. Corsica: The Count of Monte Cristo

This once Spanish, now French, island (since 1796) is the starting point to Alexandre Dumas' famous epic of love, betrayal, friendship, class, and above all, revenge. The beautiful island of Corsica is home to the once naïve yet honest and brave sailor, Edmond Dantes, who is framed by his enemies and sentenced to a depraved imprisonment on the Chateau d'If. After a daring escape he is assumed dead, however with the help of copious riches he takes his revenge as the enigmatic and all-powerful Count of Monte Cristo.

With its scorching Mediterranean heat, mountainous terrain and animated coastal towns, Corsica perfectly encapsulates the tumults and intensity of Dumas' tale. The island is widely accessible by plane from a range of European airports, alongside ferry links from Marseille, Nice, Ajaccio, and Toulon. Excursions by boat are also available to the nearby Italian Isle of Monte Cristo – the mysterious island on which the protagonist unearths and stashes his boundless wealth – which has only been open to visitors since 2008.

More info: discover the best way to spend your time during a short break on Corsica.

2. London: Sherlock Holmes and Pygmalion

From the rise of the novel in the early 18th century, through the early Romantic Novel, the Victorian Era, right up to the effervescent surf of today's radical penmanship, London has been a generous home to literature of all genres.

Baker Street is right in the heart of this historical city and gives residence to arguably the most famous detective in the world, Sherlock Holmes. Though no longer attired with the trademark cobbles that help form the misty and precarious scenes in stories such as 'A Scandal in Bohemia', 'The Adventure of the Red-Headed League', and 'The Five Orange Pips', Baker Street still beholds plenty for visitors. House 221b now houses The Sherlock Holmes Museum (open every day 9:30am-6pm, adults £8, children £5), while a statue of Conan Doyle awaits outside Baker Street tube station through which millions pass every year.

Those with tastes less-infused with the Gothic and mysterious and more immersed in Victorian class structures can pay homage to the sites featured in George Bernard Shaw's timeless play, Pygmalion. 27a Wimpole Street is the central London home of the petulant and pedantic Professor of Phonetics, Henry Higgins, who reforms 'guttersnipe', Eliza Doolittle, into a refined young woman. Eliza's former home and place of business as a flower girl is the frequented tourist destination, Covent Garden. Its structure remains largely unchanged since housing the fruit and vegetable market that began in the mid-1600s, though it is now primarily home to an array of popular shops and restaurants.

More info: 

Don't miss the city's unique places for afternoon tea


3. Mumbai: Midnight's Children

Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay until 1995, is one of the most populous cities in the world and birthplace to the both famous and infamous author Salman Rushdie. Like much of India, this blazing city of culture provides the flamboyant background and inspiration to much of Rushdie's work, one of the most notable examples being Midnight's Children.

Mumbai is the diligent and inebriating concoction of culture that embodies Rushdie's rambunctious tales. Perhaps more so the case than in any other, Midnight's Children, begins on the midnight of India's Independence from Great Britain in 1947. Like a thousand other babies born on the stroke of this momentous day in history, protagonist, Saleem Sinai, is 'handcuffed to history' as he finds himself in possession of remarkable gifts; an extraordinary sense of smell and inner ear.

As the novel traverses India's turbulent history and journey to independence, it is set against a city that offers everything to the intrepid traveller, ready to delve into a raging sea of cosmopolitan contrasts. A hive of glistening skyscrapers, swanky boutiques and restaurants, as well as streets lined with hopeful fans looking for their favourite Bollywood stars are intermingled with boisterous traffic, pollution and poverty.

For today's travellers, Mumbai is chequered with monuments – a must-see being the Gateway of India, a grand 26m stone arch that welcomes those that arrive from the Arabian Sea. Also among the countless attractions this city offers is the Colaba markets, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Haji Ali Mosque, and Chowpatty beach, which are all open to visitors daily.


4. Moscow: Anna Karenina and War and Peace

This opulent city is the setting for possibly two of literature's most renowned epics, penned by Russian noble, Leo Tolstoy. Anna Karenina is a romantic tragedy that unravels during Emperor Alexander II's reign of Russia in the mid-19th century and depicts the city as anything but a destination encompassed in amorous emotion. The intimidating structures of Moscow heighten Anna's spiral into love-sick hysteria as she dashes around the city in distress over the desolate situation in which she finds herself.

Nizhegorod Railway Station, the scene of the novel's poignant climax, is now Kurskiy Station, the biggest in Moscow. Vozdvizhenskoe estate, home to the tempting Count Vronsky, is now an eco-park rich in wildlife, just outside of Moscow and is accessible via a connecting highway.

Tolstoy's earlier novel, War and Peace, set during the French invasion of Russia in the early 1800s also contributes a cornucopia of pilgrimage sites around Moscow for the literary lover, all of which are accessible by road. Some of which are the 'Rostov House' on Povarskaya Street, which provides the inspiration for Countess Rostova's Mansion. While the mansion at 9 Vozdvizhenka Street (also Tolstoy's Grandfather's home) served as the inspiration behind the character Prince Bolkonsky, and 'The English Club' that was often visited by many of the characters was held in the Gregarin Mansion on Strastnoi Boulevard.

5. New York: The Great Gatsby and Breakfast at Tiffany's

With an unmistakeable identity as one of the most recognised and visited cities in the world, New York is also a welcoming host to fiction of all kinds. Though a newer city than  most on our list, the Big Apple has plenty of history of its own and it is The Great Gatsby and Breakfast at Tiffany's that offer a valuable insight into the 1920s 'Jazz Age'; an era that kick-started the atmospheric buzz and merriment that is so integral to modern New York.

Much of Fitzgerald's story takes place on the resort-like Long Island, but the novel often crescendos in iconic areas of Manhattan. An engrossing sight to bear is the grand Plaza Hotel opposite Central Park, in which Gatsby and his rival, Tom Buchanan, exchange their consequential verbal blows. Central Park is the site that narrator, Nick, and on/off love interest, Jordan, enjoy a stroll, and is also a romantic hotspot frequented by Capote's heroine, Holly Golightly.

The location of the brownstone apartments that house the protagonists in Breakfast at Tiffany's is not actually specified within the narrative, although the 1962 film classic starring Audrey Hepburn uses 169 East 71st Street. Of course, for fans of film, literature, and travel alike, Tiffany's and Co. on 5th Avenue is the regal spot that has been immortalised as Holly's place of solace as well as a one of the world's most notable jewellery stores.

With a grid-like road system, an infinite swarm of cabs and a well-developed subway, this city is navigable for even the most inexperienced of travellers.

6. Democratic Republic of Congo: Heart of Darkness and The Poisonwood Bible

Regarded as Conrad's most enigmatic and praised piece of work, Heart of Darkness relays the tale of an ivory transporter's journey down the Congo River. It is the fifth largest river in the world, the second largest in Africa, and offers any traveller, as it does with the fictitious Marlow, a trail into the remotest depths of the wild.

The unforgiving tropical climate of smouldering heat and humidity accompanied by the untamed wilderness of the Congo basin is a foreboding host to the novel's themes of hypocrisy, madness, evil, and darkness. Similarly, Barbara Kingsolver uses the troubled political past of the country and intense surroundings of the village of Kilanga in the Belgian Congo, close to the Kwilu River, as the setting for her novel about a missionary family who have relocated from Georgia, USA.

The difficult wilderness and climate of the DRC is more a destination for adventurers rather than tourists, and expeditions for keen hikers and nature-lovers can last up to four weeks. Though some parts, such as those featured in The Poisonwood Bible, are not easily accessed by visitors, much of the Congo can be explored, and flights to Kinshasa or Brazzaville – Congo's capital – are regular though limited from international airports.

More info: find out about Mark Stratton's gorilla-watching trip along the Congo River.

Has a particular destination inspired you to take pen to paper? Or has a certain book made you pack your bags and hit the road? Tell us your thoughts and favourites below.

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