Cruise to the ports that inspired the world's greatest authors

Lesley Bellew
Santiago inspired the poetry of Pablo Neruda

When you sail into ports that have inspired some of the world’s greatest authors, it can feel as if you are entering the pages of their books. From Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and James Joyce to Agatha Christie and J K Rowling, there’s always a thrill in gathering your own stories while exploring their fascinating literary haunts from a cruise.

Six-toed cats steal the show

Imagine the sound of Ernest Hemingway’s typewriter keys cutting through the humid air at Hemingway House, in Key West, where he wrote some of his best work between drinking in Sloppy Joe's bar and sea-fishing for marlin. Guests on cruise ship Norwegian Sun’s tour will find the Hemingway Home and Museum oozes glamour – a beautifully furnished French Colonial-style house with wraparound veranda in a tropical garden. But it is the dozens of six-toed, or polydactyl, cats that steal the show; the author of For Whom the Bell Tolls was given a cat by a ship's captain and it is thought every rather well-fed cat at the house is a descendant of the original feline.

A four-day Cuba and Key West cruise sails from Port Canaveral, Florida. From £629pp (included an overnight stay in Havana), departing May 20, 2019 (0333 2412319; ncl.com).

Shine a light on the Scandi Noir

The Explore Ashore team on Saga Cruises’ new ship Spirit of Discovery can arrange private tours and advise on travel during ports of call. So, during an overnight mooring in Stockholm, get directions for the Millennium Trilogy walking tour’s meeting point. Fans of Stieg Larsson's best-selling crime novel The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and its sequels can join the walk in Sweden’s capital, which takes in Bellmansgatan, identified as the home of Mikael Blomkvist, the site of his Millennium magazine office and Lisbeth Salander’s apartment, as well as many more locations mentioned in the books, which have been read by more than 60 million people worldwide.

A 15-night Natural Scandinavia voyage sails on Spirit of Discovery. From £4,615pp, departing August 17, 2019 (0800 50 50 30; travel.saga.co.uk/cruises).

Bellmansgatan, where you can get a closer look at Lisbeth Salander's apartment Credit: iStock

Solovetsky Islands and Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag

Cruise into the White Sea, 100 miles below the Arctic Circle, and when the morning mist rises the eerie, onion-shaped domes of the Solovetsky Monastery come into view. 

It’s a haunting scene and passengers on 684-passenger Nautica can visit the monastery, which became the first gulag in the Russian Empire. Created under Lenin’s leadership after the October Revolution, the Solovki labour camp opened in 1923 and more than one million prisoners were thought to have perished there.

A 50th anniversary abridged version of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s masterpiece The Gulag Archipelago was published last year, describing the conditions through the testimonies of 200 survivors with chilling reports of interrogation, cruelty, spies and secret police. 

Solovetsky Monastery on Solovetsky Islands Credit: Getty

An 18-nights cruise sails from Copenhagen. From £5,169pp, departing August 5, 2020 (0345 505 1920; oceaniacruises.com

Cake and eat it for Potter-heads 

The first designated Unesco City of Literature, Edinburgh, has inspired writers from poet Robert Burns (who merits an App) to Inspector Rebus creator Ian Rankin, Harry Potter author JK Rowling and Alexander McCall Smith who penned The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series.

Potter-heads who enjoy independent exploration, and who are sailing on Regent Seven Seas Explorer’s The Regal Isles cruise, can call in for lunch at The Elephant House, a relaxed writer/reader-friendly cafe where JK Rowling wrote the Harry Potter books over coffee and cake. 

Visitors can also choose from literary pub crawls, walking tours or head to the Writers’ Museum with exhibits devoted to Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson.   

A 12-night round-trip cruise sails from Southampton. From £8,229pp, departing May 30, 2020 (02380 682 280; rssc.com). 

Edinburgh, which has been home to many a famous author Credit: Getty

Poetry and passion in Neruda’s Chile

On the 100th day of Viking Sun’s 245-day World Cruise, the 930-guest ship moors for two nights in Valparaiso, for Santiago, Chile.

People’s poet Pablo Neruda expressed his passion through romantic verse and built his home, La Chascona, in Santiago, for secret liaisons with his mistress. With plenty of time to explore independently from the ship, visit the quirky bright blue-and-yellow love-nest on the hilltop in the Bellavista neighbourhood

Santiago is a city of bookworms so, if you want to improve your Spanish, check out the second-hand booksellers in Lastarria Street or discover Café Literario in Balmaceda Park, home to 30,000 books.

A 245-night round-trip cruise on Viking Sky sails from Dover. From £68,590pp, departing August 31, 2019 (0800 298 9700; vikingcruises.co.uk).

Visit Anne Frank's house on the Prinsengracht Canal Credit: Getty

Moving notes in Anne’s hideaway

At the Anne Frank House, on Amsterdam’s Prinsengracht Canal, visitors can see the Secret Annex where Anne wrote her diaries while she and her family hid for two years during the Holocaust. Her writings were returned to her father after the war when they were discovered by a family friend and first published in 1947 under the title The Annex and, later, The Diary of a Young Girl. Anne’s original works are on display and the Great Railway Journeys’ Rhine cruise moors overnight in Amsterdam so passengers can get into the city early to beat the queues. 

An eight-day cruise on Amadeus Silver II includes a train from St Pancras International to Amsterdam. From £2,395pp, departing September 10, 2019 (01904 898140; greatrail.com).

Grow in God’s Own Country

The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy’s Booker Prize-winning novel, tells the story of a family in Kerala, an unusually lush region of south-west India, known as ‘God’s Own Country’. When 600-passenger ship Seabourn Encore sails into Cochin guests can explore the beauty of Kerala where Roy’s exquisite tale of fraternal twins unfolds against a backdrop of communism and Christianity. A tour of Kerala’s tranquil backwaters and tasting the local dish king fish curry will add to cruise memories of a lifetime. 

Arundhati Roy's fiction will convince you of Kerala's charms Credit: Getty

An 18-night Jewels of Arabia & India cruise on Seabourn Encore sails from Dubai. From £5,999pp, departing on November 9, 2019 (0344 338 8615; seabourn.com).

Feel the soul of Marquez’s masterpieces

When Nobel prize-winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez died in 2014, Colombia’s president declared three days of mourning. His novel One Hundred Years of Solitude rolled off the press in 1967 and it is believed only the Bible has sold more copies in the Spanish language. Marquez worked as a journalist in Cartagena, Colombia, and he said all of his material was taken from reality, so sail in to feel the soul of his work. A second Marquez masterpiece to take on your cruise is Love In the Time of Cholera, the story of a woman and the two loves of her life in a city thought to have been modelled on Cartagena.

A 14-night Islands & Cities of the Mediterranean cruise on 900-guest Boudicca sails from Limassol, Cyprus for Dover. From £1,699pp, departing March 5, 2020 (0800 0355 242; fredolsencruises.com).

See the inspiration for Gabriel Garcia Marquez's cities Credit: Getty

The Shining and more tour

Stephen King has sold more than 350 million books, many adapted for film and TV, including The Shining, memorably starring Jack Nicholson. Fans can take a three-hour tour to visit dozens of places where the author has lived and worked in Maine, USA, which have inspired his stories and film locations. Cruise guests sailing to Bar Harbour on Regal Princess can book independent tours at sk-tours.com which feature settings such as The Barrens, The Standpipe and Birdbath, and the cemetery where Pet Sematary was filmed. 

A seven-day Canada & New England round-trip cruise sails from New York. From £848pp, departing October 5, 2019 (0344 338 8663; princess.com). 

The importance of being in Dublin

Crystal Cruises offers a day’s private car hire during calls to Dublin to make the most of the Unesco City of Literature. Visit St Patrick's Cathedral where the Dean Jonathan Swift wrote Gulllvers’ Travels; see the statue of Oscar Wilde in Merrion Square; tour Trinity College where Wilde studied, not forgetting Nobel Prize winner Samuel Beckett, and don’t miss one of Ireland’s greatest cultural treasures, the medieval Book of Kells, in the college’s library.

Stop off at the James Joyce Centre, in a Georgian townhouse at 35 North Great George’s Street, before returning to Crystal Serenity with a head full of your own stories. A self-guided tour ‘In the Steps of Ulysses’ (audio or print) is available at visitdublin.com.

St Patrick's Park and Cathedral Credit: Getty

An 11-night British Isles Legacy cruise sails from Dover to Reykjavik. From £4,503pp (including return fligh), departing June 10, 2019 (020 7399 7601; crystalcruises.co.uk).

The Channel Island where fact and fiction meet

Follow the storyline of the bestseller The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, set on Guernsey during the Nazi occupation, on Azamara Journey’s British Isles & The Open Voyage this summer. Visit sites that inspired author Mary Anne Shaffer and her niece Annie Burrows (who completed the book after Mary’s death) and stand on the cliff where Elizabeth met her German lover, Christian. The tour includes a visit Le Bouvee, with rustic farms the characters called home. There’s also a stop at the smallest consecrated church in the world and the guide also tells true stories of heroism by islanders during the occupation. 

A 12-night British Isles & The Open Voyage sails from Edinburgh (Leith) for Southampton. From £2,603pp, departing July 17, 2019 (0844 493 4016; azamaraclubcruises.co.uk).

Guernsey has provided inspiration for many Credit: Getty

Walk in the shadow of Zafón

Sail in to Barcelona for The Shadow of the Wind walking tour (viator.com; £12.50). Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s novel has the fascination and mystery of literature as a theme, after the discovery of a powerful book by a 10-year-old boy, and visitors can trace the author’s narrative through the city’s historic heart, taking in the Gothic quarter, the fictional location of Sempere and Sons bookshop and the Els Quatre Gats restaurant.  Don’t miss the medieval arches of the National Library of Catalonia, home to three million books. 

A 14-night Mediterranean Highlights cruise sails on Queen Victoria. From £1,799pp, departing September 6, 2020 (0344 338 8650; cunard.com).

Twain’s novel home life

The Upper Mississippi featured in most of Mark Twain’s works and American Cruise Lines’ paddlewheel-style ship America calls in to his hometown, Hannibal, for a tour of the author’s 25-room mansion. 

Here, Twain and his wife Olivia raised their three daughters with the assistance of a butler, coachman, maid, cook and gardener. The house is now considered one of the best historic homes in the world, according to National Geographic. 

On board, a Mark Twain impersonator dresses for the part and gives readings from favourite novels including The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

The Mississippi is synonymous with Mark Twain's works Credit: iStock

A seven-night cruise sails from St Louis. From £4,489pp (includes flights and a complimentary one-night hotel stay), departing on a choice of dates from September 19 to October 2020 (0800 021 3172; americancruiselines.com).

Fall in love with Kefalonia

It’s been 25 years since Louis de Bernières' novel Captain Corelli's Mandolin brought the Greek Ionian island of Kefalonia to readers’ imaginations. After the Hollywood movie was filmed on location, tourists poured in but numbers have now settled.

Cruise tours from Argostoli with Holland America Line takes fans to stunning settings including the Melissani or the Drogarati Caves and the village of Sami. 

A 12-day Greek Odyssey fly/cruise sails on Vandeem from Civitavecchia (Rome). From £1,799pp, departing May 15, 2019 (0344 338 8605; hollandamerica.com).

Kefalonia, made famous by Captain Corelli's Mandolin Credit: Getty

Sense the spirit of St Louis

Poet and writer Maya Angelou (1928–2014) was born in St Louis, Missouri; the beginning of a turbulent but ultimately triumphant life detailed in her autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. A tour of St Louis covers the US civil rights’ story, from women’s suffrage and the abolishment of slavery to the struggle of Angelou and her fellow campaigners for African-American equality – commemorated with force and dignity in her celebrated poem Still I Rise: “You may kill me with your hatefulness, But still, like air, I’ll rise.” 

A seven-night cruise on paddlewheeler American Duchess sails from Alton (St Louis) to Memphis. From £2,975pp (plus one night in a St Louis hotel, including flights), departing October 18, 2020 (01223 568904; sales@lightbluetravel.co.uk).

Explore Agatha’s English Riviera

Moor in Dartmouth and take the Greenway Ferry along the River Dart to Greenway House – the former home of Agatha Christie. An air of mystery, combined with an evocative whisper of romance, have been caught in Greenway’s timewarp where the author and her family spent holidays with friends. Here they would relax by the boathouse while the novelist read aloud her latest stories. On return, board a steam train from Greenhalt for a nostalgic journey to your ship

A 12-night British Isles Heritage cruise on Norwegian Spirit sails from Southampton. From £1,569pp, departing September 15, 2019 (0333 2412319; ncl.com).

Echoes of the Grand Tour

Lord Byron travelled through Albania during his Grand Tour of the Mediterranean in 1809 and the journey inspired his poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. Albania was off the tourist track between 1944 and 1985, under the Communist dictatorship of Enver Hoxha, but now guests on MSC Cruises can call in to Saranda to tour Butrint, Albania’s most important archaeological site, with ruins including a Greek theatre, the 19th-century Ali Pasha Tepeleni Castle and the spring of Syri Kalter with its Blue Eye, a pond reminiscent of the human iris. 

A seven-night round-trip cruise on MSC Musica sails from Brindisi, Italy. From £859pp, departing June 5, 2019 (0203 856 3087; msccruises.co.uk).

Cruise to Patagonia to see 'the end of the earth' for yourself Credit: Getty

Journey to the end of the earth 

“Because they knew each other's thoughts, they even quarrelled without speaking.” Bruce Chatwin’s insightful encounters with the people whose stories delayed him while in search of a strange beast brings Patagonia to life for travellers to ‘the end of the earth’. Take Chatwin’s travel book In Patagonia on the new expedition ship Ventus Australis where the de rigueur is walking boots and waterproofs to explore remote bays and giant glaciers. The sailing also features Cape Horn and the Drake Channel where Chatwin’s beautifully written observations come to life. 

A five-day cruise sails from Ushuaia, Argentina to Punta Arenas, Chile. From £1,387pp (cruise only) departing October 15, 2019 (0034 93 497 0484; australis.com).

Walk in the path of Mandela

Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom chronicles his life from childhood in a rural village to his inauguration as the first democratically elected president of South Africa. On a cruise departing from Cape Town with Azamara Club Cruises take a ferry ride to Robben Island, the former penal colony where Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years as a prisoner. It is now a Unesco World Heritage site and museum where former prisoners operate enlightening tours. 

A 26-night Indian Ocean Adventure Voyage on Azamara Quest sails from Cape Town for Dubai. From £4,293pp, departing February 20, 2020 (0844 493 4016; azamaraclubcruises.co.uk).

Take in Cape Town from atop Table Mountain Credit: Getty

Ultimate Anne of Green Gables Experience 

Lucy Maud Montgomery has delighted generations with her tales of Anne of Green Gables, the red-headed orphan with a big imagination. The author drew her inspiration from life at Green Gables Farm, on Prince Edward Island, and Princess Cruises’ Ultimate Anne of Green Gables Experience features a visit to the homestead which now has National Park status. Guests can enjoy the well-kept gardens and tour the farmhouse, barns and grounds as well as driving through countryside and visiting the Anne of Green Gables museum.

A 24-day round-trip cruise on Sapphire Princess sails from Southampton. From £2,199pp, departing September 14, 2019 (0344 338 8663; princess.com).