Thuy Phuong

Bookworms won’t want to miss a visit to the French village of Montolieu.

France is regarded as having one of the world’s densest book supply systems, with 20,000 to 25,000 bookstores, 3,500 of which are private retailers. Bookstores, supermarkets, hypermarkets, cultural centers, and museum boutiques all sell books. France also has eight official “book towns”, where books are sold, read, and exchanged in bookstores, book markets, museums, libraries, exhibitions, bookbinding workshops, paper-making workshops, and other venues. Montolieu is one of eight such villages and the only “book town” in the South of France.

Montolieu’s 18 bookshops sell all types of books


The “book town” movement began in 1961, when a bookseller named Richard Booth managed to transform the sleepy village of Hay-on-Wye in Wales, United Kingdom, into a place that sold thousands of second-hand and antique books. In the following decades, this business and tourism model became popular throughout Europe. The second “book town” in Europe was Redu, Belgium, which got this title in 1984. In 1987, Bécherel in France was declared a “book town”, followed by towns all over Switzerland, Finland, Norway, and the Netherlands. These villages or small towns are located in the countryside, far from commercial centers. In the mid-1970s, when local factories shut down, the rural economy stagnated and people moved to the cities. Many villages were left desolate.

Since the 1980s, a group of book-related professionals ranging from bookstore owners, bookbinders, typesetters, paper-crafters, and secondhand book dealers, has been working to revitalize these villages. After more than 40 years, many villages in Europe have become unique cultural tourist attractions revolving around books and reading culture. This model is a paradigm for sustainable rural development: bringing tourists and economic opportunities to remote areas and increasing cultural interactions between city dwellers and rural people.

Since then, “book towns” have popped up all over Europe. The International Organization of Book Towns, founded in 1998, has established a global network. This organization has organized International Book Town Festivals every two years since 2000.

A book sculpture in Montolieu


The French village of Montolieu is set on 23.65 square kilometers and has a population of 900 people. It was once prosperous thanks to the wool industry, which flourished there since the 17 th century. The village was home to the Royal Carpet Factory under King Louis XV. Thanks to the initiative of Michel Braibant, a Belgian-born bookbinder familiar with the “book town” model, Montolieu was declared a “book town” in 1990. The town is home to the Museum of Art and Bookmaking, which inherited Michel Braibant’s collection of rare and antique books, objects, and tools, with some printing and binding machines also on display. At this time, the village boasts 18 bookstores offering some 100,000 titles, including antique books, old books, rare books, and new but discounted books.

Montolieu is surrounded by mountains and vineyards, with olive trees, cypress trees, and cacti growing in every nook and cranny. Visitors entering Montolieu will find themselves in what feels like a massive, disorganized library, with corridor-like small streets and room-like small shops appearing unexpectedly around every corner. This lack of planning allows tourists to wander through bookstores carrying all sorts of old books, from novels, poetry collections, comics, and detective stories to science fiction, scripts, sketchbooks, scientific books, esoteric books, gardening books, and cookbooks. Most of these bookstores are housed in old buildings. Visitors can tour an artist’s studio, browse for books and read for hours, and then shop for jewelry made of stone, metal, paper, dried flowers, wood, and other materials. Whenever they are hungry or thirsty, they can swoop into a restaurant to enjoy Southern French specialties.

Montolieu is open regularly and welcomes 52,000 tourists each year, including book collectors and high school students.


In addition to its 18 bookstores, Montolieu is also an art center with 22 art studios and six bookcraft workshops, as well as three cultural centers, including the Book Art and Craft Museum. Over the past 20 years, artists specializing in painting, sculpture, pottery, comics, photography, inscriptions, and visual arts have settled in Montolieu and established workshops, breathing new life into the village’s art scene and society. The village’s vitality and dynamism are further reflected in cultural activities held throughout the year, such as book fairs, seminars, concerts, internships, training courses for students and adults, author exchanges, exhibitions, the Pages de Jazz Festival, and the village’s International Day of Art.

Readers who only hear about this village may imagine a place filled with nothing but paper and words. However, some shops specialize in old vinyl records, so visitors from all over the world can hear soft music coming from small street corners. Walking through the village transports us into a world of calm, allowing us to forget the hustle and bustle of city life. Every street and every corner of this village is like turning the pages of a book – exciting, relaxing, and curiositypiquing all at the same time!