There's something about the consumption of a good novel that is, quite simply, soothing to the soul. Whether you view your literary pursuits as an escape from reality, comfort in an unfamiliar place, or as an educational tool, the written word has a way of burrowing into minds and changing hearts. As such, it should come as no surprise that even while you're off galavanting the globe, there are plenty of places to cozy up with a good book. Here are some of our favorite hideouts.
A pedestrian walking through the streets of Porto may not find the Neo-Gothic facade of Livraria Lello particularly stunning, but sauntering past without at least a quick peak inside (Did we say quick? We’d spend the rest of our lives in here if we could) would be a huge mistake. The moment you step through the door you'll struggle to tear your eyes off the curvy crimson staircase, the magnificently detailed woodwork, the busts of highly acclaimed Portuguese literary figures, the stained glass mural on the ceiling...not to mention the ceiling-high shelves packed with rare books that are often centuries old.
which was first opened in 1906, was designed by Francisco Xavier Esteves, an
engineer who spent much of his life in Porto. His official job may have been
grounded in the Sciences, but his love of the Arts is apparent in a building so
painstakingly and creatively designed that many consider it to be the most beautiful
bookstore in the world.
Libreria Acqua Alta - Venice, Italy
Libreria Acqua Alta literally means “Library of High Water,” which is a particularly fitting name for this cozy Venetian hideout. Due to Venice's unpredictable waterways, at times the shop does flood, but the books remain stay safe and dry in a variety of bathtubs, gondolas, boats and raised shelves. Just a few minutes walk from St. Mark's Square, Luigi Frizzo opened the store a few years ago and crowds have grown steadily ever since, fans eager to navigate the narrow aisles of floor to ceiling stacks. As you peruse the antiquated volumes, new releases, and hodgepodge of collectibles, don’t be surprised if you stumble across a cat or two napping. Frizzo seems to have taken several in and they’ve made themselves right at home.
Selexyz - Maastricht, Netherlands
A 700 year-old Catholic church seems an unlikely candidate for use as a military storage facility, a bike shop and a bookstore, yet that’s precisely what's happened to the Dominican cathedral in Maastricht. This magnificent structure was built in 1294 but its days as a house of worship came to an abrupt halt in 1794 when Napoleon Bonaparte decided to use the space as a place to stockpile weaponry while he had his go at world domination.
In 2005, an Amsterdam-based architectural firm took up the task of renovating the sadly neglected building for its current use as a bookstore. Although the cathedral's limited floor space was initially an issue, the vaulted ceilings provided a convenient solution. Today you’ll find black steel bookshelves towering three stories above you as a series of elevators, staircases and walkways allow browsers access to the books and unobstructed views of the stunning frescoes that adorn the ceiling. The other side of the church features a cleverly-constructed table in the shape of a cross where the remaining books are kept.
Get your nature fix and browse the latest thrillers in this small chain of bookstores which takes the use of decorative plants to a whole new level. Greenery sprouts from the top shelves down to the books, looking strangely as if they’re growing out of the shelves themselves. Besides a wide variety of Spanish and English titles on the shelves, Cafebreria has become a cultural hub of sorts with its collection of records, art films, literary courses, poetry readings, book presentations, and live music. The cheery, open space and the café’s tasty treats encourage patrons to sit back and stay awhile.
El Ateneo - Buenos Aires, Argentina
Plush velvet drapes. Frescoed ceilings. A splendid stage. It sounds like the setting to a night at the opera, not where you'd purchase a couple of novels, but that’s because Buenos Aires’ most visited bookstore was, at its inception, a performing arts theater. The stage, once showcasing legendary tango dancers, is now full of stationary individuals lounging at tables and sipping coffee. Box seats once reserved for the most privileged, are now claimed by the everyday bookworm, eager to cozy up in the converted reading nook. Where rows upon rows of seating once faced forward, rows of shelves now hold standard bookstore fare. Three thousand people walk through the doors of El Ateneo every day and even though much has changed in the space, you'll find the interior just as grand as it was 100 years ago.