From Harry Potter to The Da Vinci Code, Lit Tours are All the Rage

by Michelle Delio

Want to meet the muses? Or perhaps you'd rather crack codes, act like a kid, travel back in time, have a serious adult conversation, solve a mystery, or learn to fly on a broomstick?

If your answer to any or all of the above is yes, take a literary tour and live inside your favorite book for a while. There are plenty of tours to choose from: serious scholarly tours and wonderfully silly ones, multi-week adventures and brief jaunts. No matter which you choose, you'll get to feed your brain while having fun.

"I used to arrange incredibly elaborate parties for my children," says Jeannie Barresi, managing director of travel company Beyond Boundaries, which organizes Harry Potter Fan Trips tours. "We'd pick a theme, like pirates, and eat pirate food, watch pirate movies, wear pirate costumes, talk pirate talk, read pirate books. Our tours are a big mobile version of those parties."

Those who want to unleash their inner wizard can join Barresi on her Harry Potter themed tours through England and Scotland. The trips include an excursion on the "Hogwarts Express," the actual train (pictured below) that appears in the Harry Potter films, a broomstick ride (thanks to modern virtual-reality technology), lessons in the science of magic-making, and a brisk ground-bound game of Quidditch. Barresi offers both family-friendly and adult tours during the summer months.

"The adult tours always sell out first," says Barresi, who is accepting bookings for the 2006 trips in early October.

Angels, Demons and Pagan Illuminati

Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code has been credited for inspiring the recent resurgence of literary travel, and there are numerous excursions for Code fans. Some devote themselves to vigorously debunking poor Dan, others offer gentler insights. British Tours supplies a personal "symbologist" who provides background information on the Code's mysteries to groups traveling through Paris and London. Sacred Journeys' women-only "Da Vinci Pilgrimage" invites travelers to "explore the invisible, expand your intuition and reconnect to your soul" while traveling through England.

Fans of Brown's earlier book Angels and Demons can sign on for a two-day Pagan/Illuminati Tour through Rome and time-travel back to the gory glory days of the ancient empire.

Those who think a relaxing vacation should include a few dead bodies (hopefully faux) will be happy to know there are plenty of tours for mystery fans. Farside Africa's Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency Special plunks devotees of Alexander McCall Smith's African detective series right into the village life of fictional female detective Precious Ramotswe. Novel Explorations offers an Agatha Christie tour and will happily put together custom adventures for small groups based on the author's works. The company also offers a number of pre-planned itineraries focused on various British authors, including Beatrix Potter, Jane Austen, the Brontes, and Shakespeare.

If you enjoy tippling as much as reading, you might be interested in the Edinburgh Literary Pub Tour, which takes travelers into five Edinburgh pubs, homes-away-from home for such famous writers as Robert Burns and Robert Louis Stevenson. "These watering holes were upper-class people's main source of contact with ordinary people and their everyday lives," says Morris Paton, who organizes the evening-long tours. He adds that while liquid refreshment isn't the primary point of the tour, "having a few drinks along the way certainly contributes to a more relaxed and convivial atmosphere."

Deep Stuff

No less convivial but decidedly more sober, Classical Pursuits is for people who crave the ?ook club experience on location.

"The idea is to expand understanding of a particular place by discussing the books that were grown on its soil," says Gary Schoepfel, vice-president of the Great Books Foundation in Chicago, a non-profit organization that promotes reading and talking about books.

Schoepfel leads Classical Pursuits tours through Italy, Paris, Ireland, Greece, New Orleans and New York. Up next: a Sicilian journey centered around three books: Giovanni Verga's Little Novels of Sicily, sad and sometimes funny tales of village life; The Wine-Dark Sea, a contemporary collection of short stories by Nobel prize nominee Leonardo Sciascia; and Prince Giuseppe Di Lampedusa's The Leopard, a dark story of a decadent and corrupt Sicilian aristocracy threatened by revolution and democracy. The latter tour begins in Rome and proceeds to Palermo, Sicily's capital city, for five days and then moves on to the mysterious medieval town of Erice. It winds up in the ancient city of Siracusa, with a slew of sidetrips to cultural treasures and classical sites.

Sound a bit academic for vacation? Not for hardcore book people. But whether a trip is built around the latest blockbuster or time-tested classics, one constant in literary tours is how much fun everyone seems to be having, even the guides.

"Our travelers are smart, interesting people who become deeply engaged with the places they are visiting. I really enjoy spending time with them. They're not just bodies we're shuttling around from one spot to the next," says Schoepfel.

His thoughts are echoed by Barresi of Harry Potter Fan Trips. "Everyone on the tour has a common interest, so there's a real feeling of community right from the start," says Barresi. "And our travelers are so enthusiastic. Seeing their eyes light up when they fly around on a broomstick is a truly magical experience for me."

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