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Top Travel Books as Suggested by Our Members

We had a "Books for Books" contest on our forums recently where we asked our members to share their top five favorite travel books. These could be guides, novels, series or non-fiction. Below you will find their suggested books, organized by country. When a book covers multiple countries, you will find it under Multiple Countries.

If you would like to contribute your own top 5 or add comments to any of the books below, let us know on our forums.

Top Travel Books by Country

Australia

Click to order from Amazon In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson

aprillilacs: I read this funny book while on a five-week trip to Australia, which was perfect timing. Bryson, who hones in on the odd and unusual features of life, is often hilarious and sometimes informative. I have him to thank for the information that in Australia there are more things that will kill you than anywhere else.

The Rhodes: Absolutely hilarious. .. a laugh out loud kind of book. Great information on Australia.

China

Click to order from Amazon

River Town - Two Years on the Yangtze by Peter Hessler

Jane: Written before the damming of the Yangtze. Again a look a culture foreign to us and insight into the a society unknown to us.

England, Scotland & Wales (Great Britain)

Click to order from Amazon

Historic London: An Explorer's Companion by Stephen Inwood

Alwina Bennett: It's like exploring London through a thousand years of history!

Click to order from Amazon

Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson

From Amazon: Veering from the ludicrous to the endearing and back again, Notes from a Small Island is a delightfully irreverent jaunt around the unparalleled floating nation that has produced zebra crossings, Shakespeare, Twiggie Winkie's Farm, and places with names like Farleigh Wallop and Titsey.

France

Click to order from Amazon A Month of Sundays:Villa Life in the South of France by Ira and Barbara Spector

Menton1: A truly wonderful read, another couple who discovers France by "accident." The writing is superb, the adventures are funny, interesting, fascinating and humbling. A great read!

Buy this book from Amazon

A Life of Her Own (aka Wild Herb Soup) by Emilie Carles

Phirhon: A wonderful true story of one woman's life in a lovely valley near Briancon.

Roz: This is a truly remarkable book, but the second title above is a literal English translation of the original book in French (Une Soupe aux Herbes Sauvages). Unfortunately, the English title is not nearly so evocative: A Life of Her Own. I wish my French were good enough to read it in the original, as my only quibble about that book is that the translation is not very good. I suspect the original French was better written. But it is one of the most memorable books I have read about France.

SL Jones: I loved A Life of Her Own too, and visited her valley.

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A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle

The Rhodes: This book and the TV series is what started our quest to travel, especially to France. It is a classic, one of the original books about moving to a new country that started the whole flurry of everyone writing about their experiences. It, and his other books in the series, should be read by everyone!

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Almost French by Sarah Turnbull

From Amazon: The charming true story of a spirited young woman who finds adventure--and the love of her life--in Paris.

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An Hour from Paris by Annabel Simms

Alwina Bennett: Twenty destinations on the Ile de France all no more than an hour a way by train. Some are well-known, some lesser known. The book is currently out-of-print but used copies can be found.

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Cooking and Travelling in South West France by Stephanie Alexander

Phirhon: A wonderful mix of travel and recipes by one of Australia's leading cooks. It was French cookbook of the year several years ago and is gorgeous.

 

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From Here You Can't See Paris by Michael Sanders

Doug Phillips: A portrait of Les Arques, a small village in the Lot region of France. Les Arques is on the verge of extinction, relying for its survival on the legacy of a dead artist and an excellent restaurant established in the empty village school. The focus of the book is the restaurant, La Recreation, and chef Jaques Ratier, his wife Noelle and their small staff.

SL Jones: We loved not only the descriptions of the experience in the village, but the details about the challenges of being a chef and owning a restaurant. We went there once, as we were passing nearby, but it was too early in the morning to even think about lunch. The staff was outside at a table and they waved as they noticed me taking a photo.

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Granite Island: A Portrait of Corsica by Dorothy Carrington

Doug Phillips: By far the best book written about Corsica. First published in 1971, it is extensively quoted or referenced in more recent guide books. Very well-written, her descriptions of the culture, history and appeal of the island are still relevant. Dorothy Carrington is an excellent companion on a visit to Corsica.

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Great Eats in Paris by Sandra Gustafson

cubbies: This was our inspiration before Slow Travel, originally as "Cheap Eats..." Also Great Sleeps. Several other cities, but her Paris guides were best. Sadly not current (2007 is the latest, I think.)

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I'll Never Be French (no matter what I do): Living in a Small Village in Brittany by Mark Greenside

Menton1: A totally charming account of an unexpected discovery and then unabashed love of France and in particular, Brittany. (The Finistère.) A true delight and a book one can read again and again.

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Just Enough French and Pardon My French-From Paris To The Pyrenees And Back by Sally Hammond

Phirhon: Two books about a couple who travel around France staying in chambre d'hotes. I enjoy these because they visit lots of places we have also visited

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Memories of Gascony by Pierre Koffman

Phirhon: Memories of holidays spent on the author's grandparents farm in the Gers region of France.

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Paris in the Fifties by Stanley Karnow

Doug Phillips: I had to include a book about Paris, and this is the one I chose. A loving portrait of a great city in an interesting period by an excellent writer. Karnow was a Time correspondent in the 1950s. He saw it all and writes about his experiences with clarity and passion.

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Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik

SL Jones: Haven't read this for awhile, but greatly enjoyed this journalist's account of his expat experience.

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Paris to the Past: Traveling through French History by Train by Ina Caro

Menton1: A unique description of two dozen one-day train trips out of Paris, with 700 years of history that goes along with them. An unconventional guidebook; wonderfully informative and interesting.

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Paris, Paris: Journey into the City of Light by David Downie

The Rhodes: He and his wife explore parts of Paris that most tourists don't. We used it on our last trip to explore some of the areas.

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Stuff Parisians Like: Discovering the Quoi in the Je Ne Sais Quoi by Olivier Magny

Menton1: An insider Frenchman's look at the real way Parisians think, what is really important to them, and what raises their hackles. Many topics of interest to travelers and expats alike. Fascinating stuff.

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The Discovery of France by Graham Robb

SL Jones: I could read this nonfiction book again. He's a wonderful writer. I also read his biography of Victor Hugo. The delicious little details about history of ancient rural France are so enjoyable. This tells about all the quirks of everyday life in early France. For example, we learned about the persecuted cagots, how people traveled, how communication developed, the development of the French language .. .all of this before France was a fully formed nation.

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The Oysters of Locmariaquer by Eleanor Clark

BuckyE: Won the National Book Award in 1965. Most absorbing book I'ver read about a place, a way of life, struggles to keep on. Plus, I love oysters!

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The Piano Shop on the Left Bank: Discovering a Forgotten Passion in a Paris Atelier by Thad Carhart

SL Jones: Delightful story. My mother, who was a pianist, loved it. I loved it for the details of Paris.

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The Ripening Sun: One Woman and the Creation of a Vineyard by Patricia Atkinson

Doug Phillips: An English woman creates a vineyard in the Dordogne. Sounds easy? Well, it wasn't. Even years after reading the book, I can still recall some of the details of the physically hard work, the disappointments and the triumphs of her journey.

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Three Rivers of France by Freda White

BuckyE: Describes geography, folklore, local art treasures, farming practices, you name it. A lovely part of France, lovingly laid out.

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Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes by Robert Louis Stevenson

BuckyE: One of the first travel books; that is, a tale of a journey undertaken purely for the pleasure of moving along. The tale of Stevenson's troubled relationship with Modestine is classic. And, for the adventurous, there's the Stevenson Trail! (Loie and I are probably a bit beyond tackling that. Quel dommage.)

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Undiscovered France by Brigitte Tilleray

Phirhon: A lovely book highlighting some villages that are not as well known ( and some that are).

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Wine and War by Don & Petie Kladstrup

SL Jones: WW2 - how vintners protected their wine and their traditions from the Nazis. Great reading.

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Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman by Alice Steinbach

Alwina Bennett: This book made me believe anything was possible, for example: a woman of a certain age could end up living in Paris if she was brave enough!

Greece

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The Greek House: The Story of a Painter's Love Affair with the Island of Sifnos by Christian Brechneff

Menton1: A terrific story about the adventures of a young man (in 1971) and his discovery of the Greek island of Sifnos. A coming of age, a very honest book, and an inside look at a remote and less-traveled Greek island. He's an established painter now with works displayed at major museums, and his drawings scattered throughout the book are amazing.

India

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Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo

aprillilacs: This prize-winning narrative nonfiction book about a slum adjacent to Mumbai airport in India is a gripping story that I would recommend to both travelers to India and nontravelers. It's thought-provoking and a good read.

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Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

From Amazon: mesmerizing first novel set in the underworld of contemporary Bombay

Ireland

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Transatlantic a novel by Colin McCann

caplanco: If you are going to Ireland, this is for you. I've never been there, but felt like I had been. It starts with the first transatlantic flight from Newfoundland to Ireland, covers Fredric Douglass' time there, and George Mitchell's negotiations all seen through the experiences of one set of women. Widely available.

Italy

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A Culinary Traveller in Tuscany: Exploring and Eating off the Beaten Track by Beth Elon

jan55612: It was published in 2006 and includes locations that are off the beaten path, together with recipes. We used this book on our first trip to Italy, following several of her suggestions to find great meals in places we would never have found without this book.

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A Traveller in Rome by H.V. Morton

BuckyE: Marvelously evocative of Rome in transition from old-time to new.

Doug Phillips: I cannot imagine a better travel writer than H.V. Morton. His description of the excavations under St. Peter’s is the next-best-thing to a Scavi Tour. The whole book is like that.

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A Venetian Affair: A True Tale of Forbidden Love in the 18th Century by Andrea di Robilant

Annie M: Venice in the age of Casanova - masked balls, elegant salons . . . social, political and romantic intrigue.

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After Hannibal by Barry Unsworth

From Amazon: The region where Hannibal defeated the Romans is now prey to a different type of invasion: outsiders buying villas with innocent and not so innocent dreams.

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Art & Architecture Rome by Brigitte Hintzen-Bohlen

Sidney: My favorite "read before you go" guidebook for Rome. Easily accessible information on history, art, architecture, churches, neighborhoods,sites, with lots of pictures. Information beyond the typical tourist must see sites.

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As the Romans Do by Alan Epstein

From Amazon: "This vibrant insider's view of the most mature city on earth is the perfect companion for anyone who loves anything Italian. In 1995, after a twenty-year love affair with Italy, Alan Epstein fulfilled his dream to live in Rome."

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Beautiful Ruins: A Novel by Jess Walter

jgk: A poignant, sometimes funny, literary novel set in a fictitious town in the Cinque Terre as well as other Italian locations and in the states.

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Bella Tuscany by Frances Mayes

Linda Hagstrom: Always a favorite

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Brunelleschi's Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture by Ross King

Alwina Bennett: This book introduced me to Florence and the Italian Renaissance and inspired my first trip to Italy and an appreciation of the architecture.

caplanco: A non-fiction must if you are going to be in Florence.

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Chow Venice by by Shannon Essa, Ruth Edenbaum

JoanneH: gives great overview of food choices in Venice.

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Cooking with Fernet Branca by James Hamilton-Paterson

From Publishers Weekly: Usually writers taking a holiday from their serious work will use a pseudonym (DeLillo as Cleo Birdwell), but British novelist Hamilton-Paterson (Gerontius, etc.), who lives in Italy, bravely serves a very funny sendup of Italian-cooking-holiday-romance novels, without any camouflage.

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Donna Leon Books featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti

jgk: Some are better than others but I love to go strolling through Venice with Commissario Brunetti and friends.

caplanco: bring you right into Italy, sparking wonderful memories of your own time there. Very fun reads and widely available.

Death at La Fenice is the first.

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Extra Virgin: A Young Woman Discovers the Italian Riviera, Where Every Month Is Enchanted by Annie Hawes

Linda Hagstrom: The story of sisters who buy a home in Liguria, told with a great sense of humor.

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Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World by Anthony Doerr

From Publishers Weekly: Acclaimed novelist and short story writer Doerr turns out a well-observed chronicle of his family's year in Rome, when he was a fellow at the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

 

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Italian Hilltowns by Norman F. Carver

Sidney: A black and white photographic introduction to some of Italy's most charming hilltowns.

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Italy (Small Panorama Series) by Michael Heatley

JoanneH: A great coffee table book, not to expensive, no worries if your photos did not come out well just browse through this to bring back your memories.

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Italy for the Gourmet Traveler by Fred Plotkin

jgk: Of all the foodie type books, this is the one I like to go back to again and again.

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Living in a Foreign Language: A Memoir of Food, Wine and Love by Michael Tucker

The Rhodes: Thought it was going to be just another story about buying and renoing a house in Italy and it was, but Michael Tucker is actually a great author, storyteller and by the end I just wanted to sit down and have a glass of wine with the guy.

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Michael Dibdin books featuring Aurelio Zen

caplanco: : bring you right into Italy, sparking wonderful memories of your own time there. Very fun reads and widely available.

Ratking is the first.

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Miss Garnet's Angel by Salley Vickers

Annie M: A novel about love, an historical mystery and an exploration of other worlds.

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The Birth of Venus: A Novel by Sarah Dunant

jgk: Great historical fiction set in Florence.

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The Land of the Etruscans from Prehistory to the Middle Ages by Marisa Bonamici, Riccardo Francovich, Renata Grifoni Cremonesi, Andreina Ricci, Leonardo Rombai

JoanneH: This is a somewhat older book still floating around great history and photos.

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The Popes Elephant by Silvio A. Bedini

Sidney: An engaging true account of Rome during the time of Pope Leo X.

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Time Out Naples

JoanneH: Great guide not only to Naples but the whole coast and islands.

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Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes

Linda Hagstrom: Always a favorite.

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Venice For Pleasure: 40 Years On by J.G. Links

cubbies: Insightful background reading.

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Venice Is a Fish: A Sensual Guide by Tiziano Scarpa

jgk: A unique point of view and full of interesting insights on Venice.

JoanneH: Somewhat different take on Venice.

Japan

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Classic Japanese Inns and Country Getaways by Margaret Price

aprillilacs: All the necessary details (rates, contact information, etc.) and descriptions of dozens of ryokan around the country, including an introduction to the experience of staying in a traditional inn. I pull this book out every few months and think about what inn I want to stay next time I save up enough money.

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Foot-Loose in Tokyo: The Curious Traveler's Guide to the 29 Stages of the Yamanote Line by Jean Pearce

cubbies: Yamanote Line reminds me of the El around the Loop in Chicago, and this little volume was a helpful guide to numerous discoveries.

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Hitching Rides with Buddha by Will Ferguson

Dennis Switzer: The adventures a young English teacher in Japan by three-time Leacock Award (Canada's literary prize for humour) author. Also worth a read by the same author: Beyond Belfast: a 560 mile walk across Northern Ireland on Sore Feet.

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Tokyo Step by Step (an Insight Guide)

aprillilacs: Another walk book, this one allowed me to begin to scratch the surface of the vast city of Tokyo. The 16 itineraries include maps, directions, restaurant recommendations, and other highlights of each area. Walking is the way to go!

Multiple Countries

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Balkan Ghosts: A Journey Through History by Robert D. Kaplan

cubbies: My 1993 edition alerted us to the stew in that region.

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Between the Woods and the Water: On Foot to Constantinople: From The Middle Danube to the Iron Gates by Patrick Leigh Fermor

From Amazon: The journey that Patrick Leigh Fermor set out on in 1933—to cross Europe on foot with an emergency allowance of one pound a day—proved so rich in experiences that when much later he sat down to describe them, they overflowed into more than one volume. Between the Woods and the Water, the second volume of a projected three, has garnered as many prizes as its celebrated predecessor, A Time of Gifts.

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Cafe Europa: Life After Communism by Slavenka Drakulic

Jane: Author was a Croatian woman. This is a fascinating, easy read telling of the difficulties in transitioning from the restrictions of life under communism to what the 20th century had to offer.

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The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux

From Amazon: First published more than thirty years ago, Paul Theroux's strange, unique, and hugely entertaining railway odyssey has become a modern classic of travel literature. Here Theroux recounts his early adventures on an unusual grand continental tour. Asia's fabled trains -- the Orient Express, the Khyber Pass Local, the Frontier Mail, the Golden Arrow to Kuala Lumpur, the Mandalay Express, the Trans-Siberian Express...

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Mosaics by P.B. Hetherington

Sidney: Lovely photographs of some of the worlds most famous mosaics.

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The Lost Heart of Asia by Colin Thubron

Jane: Thurbron traveled by train, bus, car and foot through Central Asia's five republics--Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Kirghizstan. This is a fascinating report of what these countries were like at the fall of the iron curtain and gives a lot of insight as to what they remain today--tribes, religions, traditions, etc.

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The Old Patagonian Express: By Train Through the Americas by Paul Theroux

Alwina Bennett: From Belmont Massachusetts to the tip of Argentina - the journey and his adventures along the way will bring out the adventurer in you!

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The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho

From Amazon: Step inside this captivating account of Paulo Coehlo's pilgrimage along the road to Santiago.

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The Pilgrims' Road to Santiago: A Practical Guide for Pilgrims by Millan Bravo Lozano

Dennis Switzer: out of print. Offered free by Turespana to prospective walkers of the Camino, it was our primary resource on our first pilgrimage and now a dear souvenir.

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The Pillars of Hercules: A Grand Tour of the Mediterranean by Paul Theroux

The Rhodes: He is such an amazing author. You hate him and love him at the same time. He can be incredibly cynical but says it like it is. He is truly a traveler as opposed to a tourist and as a result explores places and meets people that truly give insight into the areas he's visiting.

Order Time Out Guides on Amazon

Time Out Guides

caplanco: We rely on the Time Out Guides for the best current restaurant tips. They often mention some off-beat things as well.

Poland

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Full Circle: A Homecoming to Free Poland by Radek Sikorski

Jane: Another fascinating read for anyone who likes a look into recent history. "...a mixture of autobiography, modern Polish history, travelogue, documentary accounts of Nazi occupation and the Second World War...has a surprise on every page."

Spain

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Everything but the Squeal: Eating the Whole Hog in Northern Spain by John Barlow

Dennis Switzer: A humorous look at Spain's penchant for pork and the many festivals in Galicia.

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Iberia by James Michener

Dennis Switzer: A guide for my first visit to Spain in 1969 and the start of my affection for the country.

 

The Maribel's Guides to Spain

caplanco: I read about these on a SlowTrav forum and found them to be excellent on our trip. You can download them and/or print them out.

Tibet

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Seven Years in Tibet by Heinrich Harrer

Sidney: Tells the story of the authors 21 month trek to Tibet and his seven years living in the capital city. Don't let the mediocore movie keep you from reading the book.

Turkey

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A Fez of the Heart: Travels around Turkey in Search of a Hat by Jeremy Seal

Dennis Switzer: The quest by a young teacher from the USA to find a "real" fez in Turkey. His account of his journey includes glimpses of the westernization push by Ataturk in the early 20th century.

Jane: Another fascinating, engrossing read. As Seal travels Turkey he touches on all the dichotomies of life, history, culture, peoples of Turkey. "..what any fair-minded reader would call simply a modern travel classic."

USA

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An Explorer's Guide Maine by Christina Tree & Nancy English

cubbies: Written by travel writers for the Boston Globe, this is exactly what I want in a guidebook: accuracy, readability, completeness.

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Beautiful Swimmers: Watermen, Crabs and the Chesapeake Bay by William Warner

BuckyE: This Pulitzer prize winning book is as good as Ms. Clark's, for all the same reasons. Takes you there, in many ways: technical discussions of the nature of the Bay; lyrical descriptions of the people, a true immersion without getting wet.

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Stairway Walks in San Francisco by Adah Bakalinsky with Marian Gregoire

aprillilacs: Using this book has been a fantastic way to explore our new hometown. The 29 walks, all but one with some sort of stairs, get you out of the areas packed with tourists and into the local neighborhoods that make up the soul of the city, often with great views, quirky architecture, and an interesting history.

Recommended Guidebooks and Maps by Country

See our country sections for guidebooks and maps for each country.

Trip Planning Tips by Country

For more help with trip planning by country:

Italy Trip Planning: This section lists recommended guidebooks, food guides, novels/memoirs, maps for traveling to Italy.

France Trip Planning: This section lists recommended guidebooks, food guides, novels/memoirs, maps for traveling to Italy.

United Kingdom & Ireland Trip Planning: This section lists recommended guidebooks, food guides, novels/memoirs, maps for traveling to Italy.

Switzerland Trip Planning: This section lists recommended guidebooks, food guides, novels/memoirs, maps for traveling to Italy.

Spain Trip Planning: This section lists recommended guidebooks, food guides, maps and other suggestions for traveling in Spain.

North America Trip Planning: This section lists recommended guidebooks, maps and other suggestions for traveling in the USA, Canada and Mexico.

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