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On the top of a windswept cliff, overlooking the beach below sits the Sylvia Beach Hotel. The exterior of the historic Victorian style building is a warm teal, similar in color, yet different in shade to Shakespeare and Company, the now-famous American bookstore in Paris started by the hotel’s namesake, Sylvia Beach. Weathered bare wood shows in large patches where the sea wind has taken away the siding, making the outside look like any well-loved book should, worn and faded.
Inside, however, is neat and tidy, and a bibliophile’s dream retreat. The book-print reupholstered chairs that greet lovers of literature in the lobby only hint at what you’ll find above stairs.
I dropped my phone into my bag. I wouldn’t really need it for the next couple days and I was excited.
When I called to make my reservation the woman on the other end of the line had quizzed me.
“You’re aware there’s no Wi-Fi?”
“And no TVs?
“And a cat?”
I’d done my research.
Sylvia Beach, with help from her female partner started an American lending library and bookshop in Paris in 1919. The shop drew the now-famous American expatriate authors of the 1920’s living in Paris and became much more than a shop. It became a place to stay, discourse, and eventually a publishing house. Beach loved books and gathering readers and writers around her for company.
Years later, two women in Newport, Oregon had a similar desire to create a place for readers and writers to retreat, discourse, read, and write. Rather than a bookshop & lending library, however, they created the Sylvia Beach Hotel, a bed & breakfast with each room themed through the decor for a different author. You’ll also find a sea-view living room where cellphones are prohibited and a library in the loft at the top of the house. With no Wi-Fi and no TVs in the bedrooms, you’re encouraged to put your screens away for your stay and enjoy print books and face-to-face conversations without distractions. Except petting the cat, because every good reader’s retreat has a cat. Though from the way this cat looked at me, I’m convinced this kitty may have actually been Professor McGonagall.
After we received our keys, the cat met us at the top of the stairs and escorted us to our room. We had chosen the F. Scott Fitgerald room for our first night and the J. K. Rowling room for our second. Both were on the third floor with a view of the ocean.
The bed & breakfast has 21 guest rooms, themed for various well-known authors, though only a few who were patrons of Beach’s Paris bookshop. Those include Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. The rest of the rooms pay tribute to Tolkien, Oscar Wilde, Jules Verne, Ken Kesey, Virginia Woolf, Steinbeck, Shakespeare, Lincoln Steffens, J.K. Rowling, Jane Austen, Herman Melville, Emily Dickinson, Dr. Seuss, Amy Tan, Alice Walker, Mark Twain, Colette, and Agatha Christie.
To reserve any of these rooms, one must call and talk in person to the front desk and then you may request the themed room of your choice. There is no online reservation system. Make sure to study your options beforehand on the website. Rooms have differing bed sizes and prices based on popularity and whether they look towards the sea. I’d recommend having a list of your top 5 choices on hand when you call. (And if you want the J.K. Rowling room, you may need to be flexible with your travel dates. Just FYI.)
Although it may take several return visits to experience all the rooms, you may be able to peek inside some of the other rooms. Around noon when rooms are cleaned, the empty rooms are left open for guests to view. And don’t forget to check out the bathrooms in the Dr. Seuss room and Rowling room if you get a chance.
Breakfast and Dinners are held on the bottom floor in the Table of Contents dining room. The tables are family size because you’re expected to converse with the other guests. No phones were pulled out at the table except for exchanging contact info and book recommendations with new acquaintances.
Breakfasts are a simple affair with one hot meal choice and a fruit, yogurt, and baked goods bar.
Dinner, at $35/person is a more formal affair. You must reserve a place and choose your entree by 5:30pm. The dinner options change each day and the other courses are served family style for the table to share. The entrees are so big, that you may end up sharing those too. At 7pm the dinner bell is rung throughout the hotel and dinner guests are asked to congregate in the lobby before going down to dinner together where they will be assigned to a table.
We were lucky enough to be joined by Goody, one of the co-owners of the hotel. Sometimes she resorts to the game Two Truths and a Lie to facilitate dinner conversation, however, there was no need on this night. Our conversation flowed naturally. We learned that many of the other guests were return visitors, staying in rooms they hadn’t been in yet. As we ate the fog settled in, obscuring the view and making me want to do nothing more after dinner than curl up in a comfy chair upstairs in the library with a book.
The Library, Sitting Room, and Tea Room
Up on the third floor, down the hall from our rooms, we found the living room with an oceanfront balcony perfect for watching the sunset on clear days. The reading area, where cell phone use is prohibited, is filled with comfortable looking chairs and couches, but before settling down you’ll want to grab yourself a drink. You’ll be able to find coffee and tea at all hours in the tea room, and at 9pm spiced wine will arrive. There’s also a table for puzzles in the tea room so if you feel like being social you can chat over the puzzle.
Although ecstatic over what I’d seen so far, my bookish heart bubbled over when I took the stairs up to the loft overlooking the living room. Here was the library, another puzzle table, and just a couple more cosy chairs in the corner by the window. With book acquired, and a mug of tea in hand, I installed myself in an armchair by the window and stayed there until bedtime.
There is no excuse to not have a book for your stay. If you can’t find something in the loft library you might grab a book from the Little Free Library outside, or the gift shop in the lobby, or the small bookshop two houses away.
After two days of minimal screen time and good conversations with new acquaintances about our favorite books and authors, I felt relaxed and rejuvenated. I wanted to stay longer. Next time I visit I’d like to have no plans to explore Newport beyond the hotel’s living room and just stay in and read. If I’d done that, however, I wouldn’t have discovered a local author’s book that took me to several Newport locations. More about that in the next post.
To see more of the inside of the Sylvia Beach Hotel, check out the vlog on YouTube:
Have you visited the Sylvia Beach Hotel? Which rooms have you stayed in? Do you want to visit? Which rooms are your top choices? Let’s discuss in the comments below!