5 Travel Books to Treasure

I recently read this article on Conde Nast Traveller’s website (one of my favourite online travel resources) on books that inspire you to travel. The article listed 16 books, ranging across diverse locations such as Istanbul, Ho Chi Minh, Marrakech, Alaska, Ireland, and my very own Mumbai (Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers). The UK’s Telegraph has also come up with its own list of the 20 best travel books of all time.

Rambling somewhere in The Cotswolds, England
It’s so true; every time you pick up a book you get transported to another land, provided the writing is good! There are some books that are not travel books, strictly speaking; yet, they manage to weave such a vivid picture of the place that they’re set in, that you just want to pack your bags and go. Both the articles got me thinking about some of the travel-related books that I treasure. So here’s my list of Top 5 Travel Books. All of them are non-fiction works. And it’s no coincidence that 4 of them are set in Europe!

The City of Falling Angels – John Berendt
Dark Decadence
The title of this book is derived from a sign posted outside an under-repair church in Venice – “Beware of falling angels”. I don’t know if it was this book that triggered my love affair with Venice or whether I picked it up because it has always been my dream destination. Either way, I absolutely adore this book. Berendt’s writing flows as smoothly as the gondolas gliding in the Venetian canals. The book revolves around the 1996 fire that gutted the historic Fenice – the Opera House that is Venice’s pride. The book is peppered with interesting real-life Venetians and their quirks and foibles. It paints a decadent and mysterious picture of Venice, beautifully weaving the resurrection of the Fenice (Italian for phoenix, very aptly) into the story.

My Family and Other Animals – Gerald Durrell
My well-thumbed copy!
This book always brings a smile to my face – and loud laughs while reading it. Durrell writes about the couple of years he and his family spent on the Greek island of Corfu when he was a boy. He grew up to be a naturalist and his love for nature and all things that move was a childhood affliction. The book gives incredibly detailed accounts of life in Corfu and the flora and fauna that Durrell found fascinating, not to mention his eccentric family members and their antics! And this book gave me one of my favourite food descriptors – 'toast covered with a melting shawl of butter' – so redolent and such a perfect way of putting it, don't you think?

The Motorcycle Diaries – Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara
Of course, it was turned into a movie!
Eight years before the Cuban revolution, Guevara and a friend set out to explore South America by road – on La Poderosa, their 500cc Norton motorbike. Argentina, Chile, Peru and Venezuela all feature in this high octane ride, full of discoveries and debacles. Guevara’s writing is poignant with more than a touch of humour, and the book paints a human picture of the future revolutionary hero.

The Sweet Life in Paris – David Lebovitz
Quintessentially Paris - Coffee & Croissant
If you’re visiting Paris, I suggest you lose the guidebook (just kidding!) and pick up this gem. Lebovitz is an American pastry chef who now resides in the ‘city of lights’ and in this book he writes about surviving the city. Written in his trademark dry humorous style, it’s choc-a-bloc with information on where to get the best baguette, the best hot chocolate, the best chocolates... you get the drift? Interspersed with his recipes, this book also gives tips on dining etiquette, the farmers’ markets, the Parisian predilection to le fromage and le bronzage... All in all, a delicious read!    

A Year in Provence – Peter Mayle
Image courtesy http://www.wedohawaii.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/a-year-in-provence-e1358163037682.jpg
Mayle’s delightful account of his time in a tiny French village in Provence has long been amongst the best travel books. From run-ins with lazy builders to facing the Mistral, from driving long distances for the perfect meal to summer evenings with friends and wine (but of course!), the book paints an idyllic picture of the rustic life in southern France. Interspersed with eccentric characters and drenched in sunshine (for the most part), this memoir will definitely make you hungry – the sheer number of food references in it is mind-boggling!

So, that's my list. Which are your favourites? Leave me a comment below.
The pebbled beach in Brighton, England
Pssst - I'm covering two of the places listed above during my big fat summer vacation this year! Details coming soon :) 

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