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Travel

Vacations by the book

Carla Hayden is one of Baltimore's best-known book lovers, one who has spent 21 years at the helm of the city's Enoch Pratt Free Library. When the busy bibliophile takes time off to travel, she appreciates accommodations where books are part of the experience.

"One of my favorite hotels is The Library Hotel in New York City," said Hayden, president emeritus of the American Library Association. "It's definitely more than a hotel stay; it's a literary experience."

Housed in a 1912 Neo¿Gothic style "sliver building" — just 25 feet wide and 100 feet long — the luxury hotel is located steps from the New York Public Library. It boasts more than 6,000 hardcover books arranged according to the Dewey Decimal System, with each of its 10 floors dedicated to major classifications of knowledge such as The Arts and Philosophy, Literature and Language.

Sophisticated guest rooms, 60 in all, feature unique assemblages of books and art that explore a distinctive topic. "The rooms are like private libraries that allow you to indulge and read a good book," said Hayden.

Famous authors and celebrities at the hotel have included John Grisham, Amy Tan, Erica Jong and astronaut Neil Armstrong, who reportedly preferred the Biography and Astronomy rooms.

Indeed, cultured travelers nationwide are discovering a novel idea: literary-themed lodging at select hotels, bed-and-breakfasts and inns that incorporates books, authors or some version of the written word.

Bookish types are being welcomed not only with traditional hotel amenities, but specialty offerings that run the gamut from onsite libraries to custom book binding and bespoke stationery to cocktails minted with the names of famous authors.

In Maryland, the Alexander House Booklovers' B&B in Princess Anne on the Eastern Shore offers four artfully arranged rooms that pay homage to writers Jane Austen and Robert Louis Stevenson, among others. The Mark Twain reading parlor has a fireplace and comfy couch for curling up with a book.

"I'm a book-a-holic," said co-owner Elizabeth Alexander of her decision to open the Victorian B&B with husband Peter some 12 years ago. "We also do workshops that give writers a chance to meet peers and enjoy solace while creating."

On the other side of the state, the Inn BoonsBoro in Western Maryland is owned by best-selling author Nora Roberts, who undertook a restoration of the historic building. Many of the inn's eight graciously appointed rooms and suites bear the names of literary lovers. Think Elizabeth and Darcy from "Pride and Prejudice," Jane and Rochester from "Jane Eyre," as well as Shakespeare's Titania and Oberon from "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

The literary love fest continues at the newly renovated Radisson Blu Warwick Hotel in Philadelphia. Its grand lobby features massive "word walls" — art installations that tell a story. In this case, it's a tale of two brothers — one younger, one older — conversing back and forth about their lives.

Elsewhere in town, there's a lofty library inside the historic Architects Building, now home to the Hotel Palomar Philadelphia. The LEED-registered boutique hotel has kept the original library completely intact but relocated it to the 25th floor. Guests can escape into the pages of a book while taking in sweeping views of the city skyline.

Farther south in Virginia, the Morrison House in Alexandria, has a nook off the hotel's living room that's called the Library. Recently, the hotel launched a complimentary book exchange. Guests can swap a personal book for one of the books in the library area, so there's always a rotating collection of reading material from guests, local residents, restaurant patrons and staffers.

You never know what you'll find there, says general manager Kate Ellis. "Any time you can sit down with a good book it's like an escape, and our guest-to-guest book exchange offers a nice pick-me-up for travel weary, road warriors."

The trend of literary-inspired digs has really taken off in the nation's capital, home to the Library of Congress National Book Festival, which takes place this year on Saturday, Aug. 30.

For starters, The Jefferson DC — an award-winning luxury hotel that bears the surname of America's third president — has declared 2014 to be "The Year of the Author."

The elegant establishment has a cozy first-floor alcove known as The Book Room, which boasts more than 800 leather-bound volumes that Thomas Jefferson either had in his personal library or was interested in as topics. Additionally, there's a contemporary section that includes signed editions by present-day authors who have been hotel guests.

"We wanted to create a sanctuary for guests who have interest and curiosity … in the beauty of the written word," said Philip A. Wood, the hotel's managing director.

The hotel's yearlong series, which includes an informal online book club, has recognized a different iconic author every month, commemorating them with literary libations created by mixologists at the hotel's Quill bar.

Herman Melville of "Moby Dick" fame was feted with a special sip in August, while "The Great Gatsby" author F. Scott Fitzgerald (whose 118th birthday anniversary falls on Sept. 24) will be honored with a cocktail made with bourbon, two types of vermouth, and bitters served in a martini glass. Edgar Allan Poe's libation will be available in November, timed in light of All Saints' Day on Nov. 1 when his readings are typically done across the country on the day after Halloween. The drink's ingredients will include brandy, spiced rum, egg and nutmeg. The Quill team chose those components for the cocktail based in part on Poe's family's recipe for eggnog.

Meanwhile, one of the city's premier hotels, the St. Regis Washington DC, has collaborated with Thornwillow Press. In 2011, the hotel unveiled an "invisible store," positioned in the lobby where an expertly curated collection of hand-crafted leather books, library accessories, fine stationery, and other curiosities is available for purchase. Guests are attended to by the Thornwillow Librarian and encouraged to linger, enjoy a cup of tea, espresso or fine whiskey.

One national hotelier with a Washington outpost decided to pay homage to African-American literati.

Monique Greenwood is co-founder and "chief enjoyment officer" of Akwaaba Enterprises, which is a collection of upscale bed-and-breakfast inns in Brooklyn, Cape May and D.C. She and her husband, Glenn Pogue, also own a new boutique resort, The Mansion at Noble Lane, on the former estate of F.W. Woolworth in Bethany, Pa.

"Our culture tends to spotlight athletes and celebrities, but I felt like I wanted to celebrate authors," said Greenwood of Akwaaba DC, a restored 19th-century townhouse in the Dupont Circle neighborhood.

The inn is an architectural gem with a fireplace, parlor and grand dining room where breakfast and tea are served daily. The decor melds traditional furniture, antiques and modern touches, along with shelves filled with an array of fiction and nonfiction reads.

Guests can choose from a crimson-colored retreat named for Zora Neale Hurston, graced with a bay window, king-sized brass bed and a Jacuzzi tub for soaking while reading "Their Eyes Were Watching God." Or they can relax amid rich brown and green hues in the Langston Hughes lair, where a black-and-white photographic portrait of the Harlem Renaissance writer is artfully displayed.

Greenwood, a former Essence magazine editor-in-chief, also dedicated other spaces in homage to popular contemporary authors, including Toni Morrison and Walter Mosley. She incorporated romance and poetry genres, too.

"I want to inspire our guests by the spirit of great authors," she said, noting that the concept has proved popular. "People are coming from Europe and all over the world."

If you go

The Willard InterContinental in Washington, D.C., 1401 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W., Washington, DC, washington.intercontinental.com, 202-628-9100. Rates start at $229. The hotel is touting its literary roots by partnering with the famed independent bookstore Politics & Prose on a series of teas and luncheons with notable authors and thinkers. Speakers to date have included from journalist and author Cokie Roberts and international best-seller David Baldacci. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor is on tap next month. Tickets include lunch or afternoon tea, author discussion and a signed book. To reserve tickets, call 202-364-1919 or visit politics-prose.com.

The Jefferson DC, 1200 16th St. NW, Washington DC, 202-448-2300, jeffersondc.com. Rates start at $349- $379 per night.

The St. Regis Washington DC, 923 16th St. NW, Washington DC, 202-638-2626, stregiswashingtondc.com. Rates for August begin at $275.

Morrison House, 116 South Alfred St., Alexandria, Va., 703-838-8000, morrisonhouse.com. Rates start from $149.

The George, 15 E St. NW, Washington DC, 202-347-4200, hotelgeorge.com. Rates start at $159.

Palomar Philadelphia, 117 South 17th St., Philadelphia, 215-563-5006, palomar-philadelphia.com. Rates start from $149.

Akwaaba DC, 1708 16th St. NW, Washington DC, 877-893-3233, dcakwaaba.com. Rates start at $145, depending on room and season.

The Alexander House Booklovers' B&B, 30535 Linden Ave., Princess Anne, 443-880-6858, bookloversbnb.com. Rates start at $125.

The Library Hotel, 299 Madison Ave., New York, 877-793-7323, libraryhotel.com. Rates start at $296.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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