The best books that capture the spirit of a country for the traveller

The Books I Picked & Why

Mornings in Mexico

By D. H. Lawrence

Mornings in Mexico

Why this book?

I love this book because Lawrence is one of the great travel writers. His highly individual style of writing, so full of energy and life, makes Mexico in the 1920s come alive. In the marvellous opening chapter you are with him in his Mexican garden, seeing what he sees, smelling what he smells, hearing what he hears. Very few travel writers have this gift and it’s hard to believe that this book is nearly 100 years old when it is as fresh as the day it was written.


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The Songlines

By Bruce Chatwin

The Songlines

Why this book?

Some people think that Chatwin’s first book In Patagonia is his best but I prefer this marvellously idiosyncratic book about Australia and its aboriginal culture because I have been to the country myself and can testify how accurately he conjures up a place like Alice Springs. The songlines were a way that the aboriginal people “sang the world into being”, a mythological map of Australia, and Chatwin both describes the myth and expounds his own philosophy of walking, of our vital human need for movement. It is vivid, often funny, and wonderfully thought-provoking. Even if you think his ideas are batty he will make you see Australia in a new way.


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Roumeli: Travels in Northern Greece

By Patrick Leigh-Fermor

Roumeli: Travels in Northern Greece

Why this book?

Although its eloquent erudition might now strike some people as a little old-fashioned this is a book about Greece that still works for me and is the product of a lifetime’s immersion in Greece and its history and culture, a place which Leigh-Fermor made his home and whose language he spoke fluently. This is not the Greece of the tourist resorts and the package tours, it is the Greece of the post-classical age brought to life by an independent scholar and consummate stylist.


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South from Granada

By Gerald Brenan

South from Granada

Why this book?

The best travel writing is by people who have spent longer than five minutes in the country they are writing about and Brenan lived much of his life in Spain, writing about it and translating its literature. This book, written in the late 1950s, is about Andalusia before the tourist boom and combines vivid description with an exploration of the history and culture of the region and colourful accounts of his village life punctuated by amusing accounts of visits by his Bloomsbury friends. His attachment to his village and affection for its inhabitants make this one of the most attractive twentieth-century books about Spain.


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Journey Into Cyprus

By Colin Thubron

Journey Into Cyprus

Why this book?

Colin Thubron is our best living British travel writer whose books about China, India, Russia, the Middle East, and many other places are essential for anyone thinking of visiting those places. In the spirit of the great British Victorian travellers he travels alone, with the minimum of baggage except for his formidably well-informed mind which makes each book an education as well as a pleasure to read because of his wit and lightness of touch. He conveys so well the feel of a journey – which makes the title of this book so appropriate – and knows how to talk to the people he meets on his 600-mile tramp on foot around the island of Cyprus shortly before the conflict erupted there. It made my own journey to Cyprus so much more fruitful and enjoyable.


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