Good books. What do they mean to you? Stories that are so gripping they transport you to a different world? You become so consumed by what happens that it’s impossible to put the book down? There is nothing better than being lost within the pages of a novel as our imaginations know no bounds. But what if an excellent story is set in a real-life location – where the descriptive prose evokes a true sense of surroundings? This is exactly why there are so many books to inspire travel – a real sense of a faraway destination that, after devouring each and every word, you want to pack your bags and book your tickets.
As much as we would love to have read every single book that has ever been written, we haven’t… But what I can do is offer up some of my best and most favourite recommendations to feed your wanderlust. I promise these timeless classics are some of the best travel books around – and can be enjoyed over and over again…
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis de Berniéres
Set in Kefalonia during World War Two, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin tells the story of a doctor Iannis and his daughter Pelagia, engaged to a local fisherman, Mandras, who leaves to join the resistance fighters. When Italy invades Greece, Pelagia ends up falling in love with the commander of the Italian unit occupying the island – Captain Antonio Corelli. It’s a story of both love and war, against the backdrop of one of Greece’s most breathtaking islands.
Shantaram – Gregory David Roberts
From a daring prison escape in Australia, convicted criminal Lin flees to the streets of Bombay in India, where he discovers the hidden underbelly of the city and all that makes it tick. Shantaram is an epic tale of love, adventure and spirituality. But at the heart of this evocative piece of writing is the heady sights, smells and slums of a colourful and vibrant Bombay.
Shogun – James Clavell
The perfect way to whisk yourself to Japan and a great introduction to Japanese culture and history. A fictionalised account of the first Englishman to reach the country in the 16th century, it’s not only a great plot, with countless twists and fascinating characters, you’ll also find yourself picking up some basic Japanese along the way.
A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
Set in early 50s India after Independence and Partition, this is a wonderful doorstopper of a book that transports you to the subcontinent, with the cast of characters showing the different aspects of the country at a pivotal point in its history – through the plot you meet the rich and powerful and those living in squalor, the new India emerging from the old, not to mention religion, heritage, food and all the vibrancy of the country.
The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho
An Andalusian shepherd boy called Santiago experiences a recurring dream and sets off from his homeland Spain in search of treasure buried near the Pyramids in the Egyptian desert. He meets many different characters along the way, learning something from them all before discovering the importance of realising your true self.
Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
This tale of love and betrayal centres around Sayuri, a peasant girl who is sold as a servant to a Geisha house in Kyoto. The book delves into the mysterious world of Geishas – which has all but vanished today – as readers learn about Geisha customs and the ebb and flow of the Gion district. Follow Sayuri as she suffers a miserable apprenticeship and finally triumphs as the greatest geisha of her generation.
The Beach – Alex Garland
What was once a backpacker’s bible, The Beach captures the very essence of trying to discover the perfect idyll when you’re trying to get away from it all. The Lord of the Flies of Generation X, the story sees backpacker Richard meets Daffy in Bangkok, who gives him a map to an island. The next day after discovering Daffy has taken his own life, Richard sets off on an adventure to discover the island, and if you can truly live in paradise…
The Summer Book – Tove Jansson
Set on an island in Finland, there’s something whimsical about The Summer Book which features a child and her grandmother and a summer spent alone in such beauty, questioning each other, and getting to know one other. Tove Jansson spent so many years on an island in Finland herself, writing her Moomin stories amongst others and poured herself into this story.
The Snow Child – Eowyn Ivey
Set in a remote farm in 1920s Alaska, the novel is part mystery, part fairytale, and the story stays with you long after you finish reading. The evocative descriptions of the landscape of the book will inspire all to want to travel to the shimmering lands of Alaska.
Inspector Montalbano – Andrea Camilleri
The stories are set in contemporary Sicily and offer an insight into Sicilian society as well as a taste of the island’s delicious food and wine. The books were made into a successful TV series, and you can visit the locations where filming took place in Sicily.
The Magus – John Fowles
The Magus follows a set of challenges for the protagonist Nicholas Urfe as he tries to figure out what is real and what is artifice in his new experiences on the fictional island of Phraxos. But unusually for a novel, the characters and the shifting sands of the plot are not the stars of the show. The landscape, the light and the wind in the trees grab you and charm you, and in the sunsets and silences, you find a book worth returning to. Read it and plan your next Greek island escape.
This post was originally posted on Armchair Travels. Do head over there for more virtual travel ideas.