Don’t believe those who says the book’s days are numbered. Juliette Bains visits one Portuguese town which is fast becoming a refuge for literature lovers.
In a world where smartphones, tablets and Kindles have become the norm, the humble book has been somewhat left behind.
Even something as simple as booking a holiday has become a series of clicks and scrolls, rather than flicking through a glossy brochure. However, a small town on the outskirts of Lisbon is trying to re-write the story by putting books firmly back on the table. Óbidos – a 45-minute drive from Lisbon – has just 3,000 inhabitants but is becoming a hub for avid readers.
A stroll through the cobbled streets will take you past dozens of little shops, with many putting books at the forefront of their offering. Even the local greengrocer is seemingly set within a library, with shelf upon shelf of books stretching around every available space of the huge room. And just a stone’s throw from the main street, you’ll find the hotel that is leading the way when it comes to literature.
The Literary Man was originally built for use as a convent – but the nuns never actually moved in. Instead, it was owned by a private family for years before being sold to become a stunning little hotel. A former mayor of Óbidos is behind the venture. He takes the credit for the book-based theme.
Within the hotel, guests will find more than 35,000 books. That may seem like a lot, but there are still 60,000 books in storage waiting to be put on display.
Walking through the front door, it is very unassuming. But as you walk past the narrow reception area, it opens out into what feels like a secret cave filled with countless books.
The huge dining room is a treasure trove, with floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with books in all kinds of languages and for all ages and interests, from recipes to romance and everything in between.
There are ladders to reach the highest shelves and some of the books are available to buy, whilst others can be swapped. In the bedrooms, the book theme is continued.
Rather than a side table, there is a small mound of stacked-up books, on top of which rests a telephone.
The rooms are minimalist and modern, with stone floors and a grey and white colour scheme, and the balconies offer great views.
The food at the hotel’s restaurant is definitely a must-try, with tapas dishes including padron peppers and clams in white wine.
Another key feature of Óbidos is its popular local spirit called Ginja. The ginger-flavoured liqueur is served in a mini dark chocolate cup and was created by a local woman during a chocolate festival. It took off immediately, with most shops now creating their own and serving it for around one euro per cup.
The seaside town of Nazaré is a 30-minute drive north of Óbidos but is also well worth a visit.
It is steeped in history with São Miguel Arcanjo Fort at its tip, which was built to protect the beach from Moroccan pirates. Its latest remodelling was carried out in the mid-17th century.
The best way to travel to the fort is by tuk-tuk, which are available to hop on by the seafront.
Nazaré is also a well-known surfing spot, with some of the world’s top surfers visiting the area to test out their skills on the staggering 23m-high waves. In fact, Nazaré holds the world Guinness World Record for the biggest wave ever surfed, at 28ft.
For some time away from the blustery sea front, the Sitiado restaurant is a great rest stop.
The tapas-style food is homely and full of flavour, with the owner’s mother taking the reins in the kitchen.
The decor is eye-catching too, with everything from paintings and old pictures to items such as guitars and even bicycles.
For those of you who want to try something a bit more active, the Atlantic Road cycling path is a great choice.
The views are incredible and the tranquil journey and flat path meant it was relaxing and enjoyable without having to over exert myself.
Culture vultures wanting something more slow-paced can also enjoy a stroll around the Batalha Monastery, which is now classed as a World Heritage site.
From bookworms to cycling fans, there’s something for everyone in this little part of Portugal.
Monarch (monarch.co.uk)now offers year-round flights to Lisbon from Birmingham, London Gatwick and Manchester airports with fares, including taxes, from £54 one way, or £104 return.
For more information about Portugal, visit centerofportugal.com.