The Best Of Literary Travel: Bookshops In The Maldives, Scottish Book Festivals And Luxury Tomes

Surely, a holiday is nothing without a riveting book in hand? As well as giving us space to read with abandon, travel is also driving our passion for the written world with a whole new tier of ‘travel x literary’ experiences. Here, are three of the best.

For book-lovers the world over, a recent advert for a unique position in the Maldives proved to be the ultimate job vacancy. The role? To be the latest ‘Barefoot Bookseller’ at the far-flung, luxury resort of Soneva Fushi.

The criteria? As well as needing to be a lover of all kinds of books, the right candidate had to be adventurous, creative and happy to discard their shoes for the year-long contract, which starts this October.

The idea was originally conjured up in 2018 by Sonu Shivdasani, the founder of Soneva Fushi – an island where shoes are ‘discarded’ as soon as you arrive – in collaboration with Ultimate Library, which provides bespoke library collections for hotels, resorts and private residences around the world. What was the first ever pop-up bookshop in the Maldives, was then followed by a second bookshop at sister resort, Soneva Jani in 2021.

Soneva’s search for their Barefoot Booksellers has sparked the imagination of the world over the last four years. It proves that, even in uncertain times, the dream of a residency among the books, sea, and sand is universally appealing.

Receiving hundreds of applications from all corners of the world, the resort appointed the first Barefoot Bookseller – Hugo Wilson – in October 2018. He passed the baton on to Aimee Johnson, from Penguin Random House Ireland, in January 2019. In Winter 2019, publishing, marketing and publicity expert Chrissy Ryan landed in the beach-side bookshop for a five-month stint of book-selling in paradise.

In 2020, Soneva appointed two Barefoot Booksellers for the first time. Aislinn Ahivakumar, a writer who previously worked at HarperCollins and Waterstones, ran the bookstore on Soneva Fushi. While Alice Spencer became the first Barefoot Bookseller on Soneva Jani. In 2021, Aislinn was joined by Bianca Harland, a geography teacher, bringing a brand-new perspective to the bookshop.

She was followed by Georgie Polhill, an experienced bookseller who previously worked in the editorial department of a London publishers, who became the fourth Barefoot Bookseller on Soneva Fushi. Georgie was also responsible for introducing the Jaipur Literature Festival to the island.

This year Malsa Maaz, who was awarded a Masters in Engaged Anthropology, is the first-ever Maldivian Barefoot Bookseller, and is based at Soneva Jani. The roles run for six months at a time, with the latest vacancy seeking to replace Georgie’s residency on Soneva Fushi.

What’s more, proving that books and holidays are a match made in heaven, earlier this year, in May 2022, Soneva Fushi also welcomed the Maldives’ first Book Tuk Tuk to the shores of the Baa Atoll. The mobile library brings the expertise of the Barefoot Bookseller and the joy of reading straight to guests, wherever they are on the island. From any of the resort’s multiple dining destinations to the comfort of an in-villa sun lounger, guests can call their Barefoot Butlers and have the Book Tuk Tuk brought straight to their door.

The Book Tuk Tuk houses a general collection featuring the very best and most apt titles in Soneva Fushi’s Barefoot Bookshop, with specially themed collections set to follow throughout the year. Carefully curated by the Ultimate Library, the island’s bookshop is tailored to underline Soneva’s values and sustainable ethos, celebrate the local culture and reflect the diverse tastes of its guests from across the world.

Soneva.com

Meanwhile, Scottish Highland hotel The Fife Arms, in the village of Braemar, will be making its first foray into the world of words, with the launch of its very own literary festival for the local community and guests from further afield.

Taking place from 7-9 October 2022, the inaugural Braemar Literary Festival is collaborating with The Duchess of Cornwall’s Reading Room, a hub for literary communities around the world celebrating literature in all its forms.

Aiming to celebrate the works of bestselling authors alongside visual artists, spoken word performers, singer-songwriters, scriptwriters, critics and publishers alike, the festival aims to reflect the many ways in which the ’literary’ creatively enhances our lives.

A host of well-known authors will be descending on the picturesque village of Braemar in the Cairngorms, alongside talks and lectures by writers, poets, public figures and artists. Sessions will feature leading Scottish writers, including Ian Rankin and Jackie Kay; author, Literary Editor of The Spectator, Sam Leith; novelist and biographer Justine Picardie; former CEO of Faber & Faber Stephen Page; food writer Tom Parker Bowles and actress Genevieve Gaunt. The festival will also feature a wide range of free workshops and a pop-up ‘Poem & A Pint’ programme, where roving poets Shane Strachan and Mae Diansangu, both from Aberdeen, will entertain customers in local bars and cafés, with spoken word performances.

Community elements include ‘Word Walks’, combining the great outdoors with creative writing, a map-making activity (in reference to Treasure Island), walking tours to Robert Louis Stevenson’s house and a reading of the Braemar Commemorative Jubilee Poem by poet Gillian Shearer.

thefifearms.com

Finally, for those wanting to be transported to some of the world’s most glamourous destinations from the comfort of their sofa, then look no further than Assouline’s travel collection of coffee-table titles. Founded in Paris in 1994, the luxury publisher has become renowned for its covetable travel books featuring visually arresting stories which capture the essence of the world’s best-loved and far-flung locations.

Out this month are two stand-out titles: Costa Smeralda and Bali Mystique.

Costa Smeralda (assouline.com, £70, published August 2022) delves into the beauty of Sardinia’s north-eastern coastline. With text by Cesare Cunaccia, a leading Italian writer, lecturer, curator and journalist, the book uncovers how this small area rose to be one of the most glamorous hotspots for jet-setters. From the region’s natural beauty to its original architectural style – Costa Smeralda is a one-of-a-kind destination.

Bali Mystique (assouline.com, £70, August 2022) reveals the many sides to Bali – also known as the ‘Island of the Gods’ – from surf mecca to tropical paradise, proving it is many things to many different people. Elora Hardy provides the text in this tome to all things ‘Bali’, revealing how the magnetism of this Indonesian island is unmatched, drawing thousands of visitors each year.

Within its pages, the island’s spirituality and unique energy is revealed. Renowned for its cutting-edge, cliffside villas as much as its endless rice terraces, this title offers a vibrant portrait of Bali, as well as depicting the kindness and warmth of its people.

assouline.com

Tomorrow: discover more literary events at leading hotels and on the waterways…

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