Nestled in the town of Óbidos, about 75 kilometers from the Portuguese capital, Lisbon, is the world’s largest literary hotel, called The Literary Man. Studded with quaint libraries and hybrid bookshops, Óbidos is every bibliophile’s island of dreams. And The Literary Man is a standout experience in this booklovers’ paradise.
The hotel is built entirely around literary themes, with the focus, obviously, being on Portuguese literature and writers. But the idea is for guests to be immersed in a world of books, so much so that it is reported that visitors who stay at The Literary Man seldom go out to explore the city because they are engulfed by the presence of books here.
The hotel was set up by Telmo Faria, who was the Mayor of Óbidos for 12 years. The town was designated a City of Literature by UNESCO in 2015 – one of just 20 such cities around the world. In an email interview with Scroll.in, Faria spoke about the history of the “bookish” hotel, the books stocked at the library, secret menus for guests, the naming system for the rooms and more. Excerpts:
How was The Literary Man born?
In 2012, the concept of Óbidos – Literary Village began to be considered. By March 2015, we rented this hotel (it was formerly an inn) and we decided that it would make sense for a literary village to have a literary hotel. Then we did some research and found that other literary hotels in the world had very few books. That was the moment when we decided to make the largest literary hotel in the world (in terms of the number of books).
Tell us a bit about the architecture of The Literary Man. What was the major source of influence and inspiration?
One of the most important sources is, of course, the fact that the building was designed to be a convent in the 19th century. That kind of spirituality is totally suitable for a house that is meant to keep and preserve books. Some bedrooms have low beds, placed on a kind of pedestal, reminiscent of a sacred altar. Also, the former nuns’ cells are now the hotel’s bedrooms. The other great leitmotif we have is the use of recycled materials, not only for environmental proposes, but also because each table or chair is soaked in history.
I have read that the menu at the hotel comes in a sealed envelope. Is there any literary significance to this ritual?
It’s true. The menu coming inside a sealed envelope is an allusion to the times when big news and general information were delivered by the hands of a messenger. It intensifies curiosity and adds value to the overall dining experience.
There are 30 rooms in the hotel. Is each room dedicated to a writer? Who are the writers? How did you choose them?
Not every room is dedicated to a writer. The hotel offers different types of rooms: from standard rooms to suites. They all have a common layout as far as the interior decoration is concerned, and they all have books. The idea is to provide a unique experience to our guests – each room is modelled on a specific literary suggestion. For instance, if Room 14 is named after the Portuguese Nobel Prize recipient José Saramago, and has books written by him, you will find other accommodations dedicated to poetry, travel writing and detective stories.
The most sought-after room: Fernando Pessoa or José Saramago?
Is any of the rooms dedicated to a living Portuguese author?
Why Literary Man–does it not offend women readers and writers?
Not at all! The Literary Man is named after mankind, in a sense that all of us are a part of this world of books.
In 2015, UNESCO gave Obidos the title of “City of Literature”. How has the project of transforming historical sites into bookstores and literary hotels contributed toward this endeavour?
Besides its medieval and historical atmosphere, which enhances the excellence of Óbidos in so far as cultural tourism goes, the village has become a literary destination since 2013, thanks to the project Óbidos Vila Literária (Óbidos Literary Village). This initiative was responsible for a completely renewed and interesting cultural dynamic, attracting a different kind of visitors all year round. Important literary events take place here, such as the Annual Literary Festival named FOLIO, meetings with authors, and classes, seminars, creative bookshops, concerts, and more.
In one of your interviews, you said that The Literary Man is a book that is being “written little by little”. What new chapters do you wish to add in the coming years?
The Literary Man is a work in progress. We have about 65,000 books in the hotel. Some of them were bought, others reach us through donation. I really don’t have a clear idea about how many books we will be able to gather…The future will tell us. The contribution is immense and every effort is truly meaningful. Almost every week, we receive messages of support and books from all over the world. And, recently, I dreamed that I was building another hotel, a twin of The Literary Man, in Lisbon.