‘Her lust for adventure was honey to me’: Readers’ Favorite Travel Books | Travel writing

Winning tip: Spain and Portugal before tourism

Fabled Shore is Rose Macaulay’s account of her 1949 journey, alone and by car, along the coast of Iberia from Catalonia to the Algarve. She found abject poverty and the Spain she describes, still reeling from the civil war, is now unrecognizable to us. Today’s tourist traps then were empty, pristine beaches with dilapidated houses, sometimes only with a shed to sleep in, and curious children gathered around this strange creature – a foreign woman traveling alone by car. The prose is full of beautiful descriptions, with a very funny account of what she found in Gibraltar. Strange to think that there are still people who remember that time. Read this and cry.
Barbara Forbes

Bedouins and expats, the Middle East

Children playing in Hababa
Photo: Christophe Boisvieux/Getty Images

Arabia: Through the Looking Glass by Jonathan Raban was published in 1979. The author visited the Middle East before the vast wealth of the oil boom of the 1970s damaged Arab culture and traditions. Raban’s sociable nature and the talkative eloquence of his writing reveal the hidden depths of the people he encounters. You are drawn into conversations with expats and Bedouins with the same intensity. As a young child I lived in Saudi Arabia for two years, right around the time of Raban’s research. This book allowed me to experience the entire region with the insight, humor and well-crafted observations of an adult.
Emma Russell

Portrait of Scotland

Uig Sands, Isle of Lewis.
Uig Sands, Isle of Lewis. Photo: Brian Jackson/Alamy

I promised my eldest I wouldn’t book another holiday in Scotland this year…but that was before I read Helen Ochyra’s Beyond the Bagpipes and now it will take all my willpower not to book us another remote Scottish cottage. Beyond the Bagpipes charts the author’s journey through Scotland after her mother’s death and is a clich√©-free and evocative portrait of the country. I found my own experiences of places like the ‘shaped seascape’ of Uig Sands reflected in Ochyra’s descriptions, flipping page after page to mark all the places I have yet to visit.

A place for bums, Italy

Two gondoliers on the Grand Canal in Venice
Photo: Mint Images/Getty

Jan Morris’s incomparable Venice is a love letter to a city that still exists behind the superficial bustle of mass tourism: a place with a unique character, breathtaking contrasts and the indomitable spirit of a grand heritage. Venice takes me to the serene twilight of quiet alleys and the ever surprising emergence in bright, busy squares. It reminds me that the old town is a place for bums and rewards those who are ready to stray from the well-worn tourist trails. Less of a travel book, more of a book that urges you to stay and take the time to get to know a place, a people and their history.

Buttery Bike Tour, France

Croissants and coffee
Photo: Malcolm P Chapman/Getty Images

One More Croissant for the Road by Felicity Cloake made me want to go straight to a Paris bakery as soon as I read it. A woman cycles through France in search of the perfect croissant while trying numerous French delicacies along the way. There are recipes, great descriptions of the food, fantastic descriptions of experiencing France on two wheels and just a general love of travel and France on every page. Beautiful and truly evocative of the tastes, sights and smells of this diverse country. Fantastic.
Claire Austin

A stay in Paris

Bastille Place.
Bastille Place. Photo: calinore/Getty Images

Vintage travel books have a special place in my heart. The Flaneur: A Stroll through the Paradoxes of Paris by Edmund White is one such book. Drawing on his 16 years of experience as a resident between 1983 and 1998, White shows us a Paris full of contradictions. He leads us through an intoxicating mix of elegant literary characters sharing ideas in bohemian cafes, while breathing life into the lives and experiences of some of the marginalized groups that call Paris home. The Flaneur will leave you feeling entertained, just a little bit smarter and eager to know more.
Trudy Scherf

Can I have the check please?

Crocodile jumping in Adelaide River, Darwin
Photo: Artie Ng/Getty Images

I like Bill Bryson’s Down Under because the author never seems to use the same approach for any of his books. Is this book going to be snarky Bill? Is this going to be funny Bill? Will this be a funny but informative Bill? Will this be a snappy, yet informative Bill? I could go on, but my hands would start to cramp from the unlimited combinations. While many of the scientific discoveries described in the book were a little beyond me, I thoroughly enjoyed Bryson’s descriptions of the larger-than-life personalities behind the discoveries, who really brought the science described to life. Bill Bryson loves Australia too, and it shows.
Aisha Khan

Cycling from Ireland to India

Dervla Murphy
Photo: Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

Reading Full Tilt by Dervla Murphy showed me how far you can go just by turning the pedals of a bicycle (in her case from Ireland to India). An open mind, a bucket of resilience, and a deep respect for everyone she met only added to the joy of adventure. It took a while between reading the book in my twenties and cycling east to west and north to south across the US in my fifties, but she has been with me the whole way, even smiling at my shoulder when it felt a little difficult, to urge me on.
Debbie Carr


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Wonderful escape in New Zealand

Woman walks in New Zealand
Photo: Matteo Colombo/Getty Images

Anna McNuff’s adventure books, especially The Pants of Perspective: One Woman’s 3,000 Kilometer Running Adventure Through the Wilds of New Zealand, were the best escape for me during the first (and never-ending second) lockdown. Her bouncy voice and humor, and her lust for adventure, were honey to my hurt, quarantined soul. I felt like I was there with her on the Te Araroa trail, feeling like I could handle anything and had that precious escape from WFH stress and pandemic anxiety.
Beatrice Vetter-Ceriotti

Romance and War, Italy

Italian farm workers
Photo: Keystone/Getty Images

Eric Newby’s Love and War in the Apennines was one of the books that inspired me to travel around Italy. It is about the kindness of strangers to outsiders, based on the help Newby himself received from local families and farmers as an escaped convict during World War II. Newby struggled with a broken ankle, hid in a hayloft for months, and eventually met his future wife, Wanda. They exchange Italian and English lessons, learning about each other’s cultures and backgrounds while dodging enemy soldiers. Newby is moved from house to house, works on a remote farm and is hidden in a cave. You can smell wood fires – and share sunsets, fears and hopes. A great read.
Nigel Cox

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