6 Classic Travel Literature books to seek out

While the explosion in social media and online sites makes the world feel all the more accessible, there’s something magical about letting a compelling travel tale transport you to a place. These 6 classic travel books by some of the most celebrated travel writers should inspire your wanderlust, shine a light on a corner of the world you might not know and help you explore more deeply, from the wilds of South America to war-torn Italy, and from the depths of a Polar winter to the deserts of the Middle East. If you’ve missed any of them, catch up now.

1. IN PATAGONIA BY BRUCE CHATWIN
Patagonia

A former Sotheby's art auctioneer, the erudite Chatwin famously quit the London Sunday Times Magazine via telegram to his editor (“Have gone to Patagonia”) and disappeared into the then little-known and remote tip of South America. The resulting masterpiece- is a meandering account of exploring the South American plains in search of a mythical mylodon relic, and finding instead the outpost of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, lonely haven’s for European refugees and a Welsh nationalist colony. Full of history and breath-taking prose, the book brings Patagonia to life and effortlessly evokes place with unexpected images, sounds and smells captured in perfect sentences.

2. THE VALLEY OF THE ASSASSINS BY FREYA STARK
Sand Dunes of Western Iran

A childhood spent reading the Arabian Nights flamed Stark’s interest in Arabic that in turn led her in the early 1930s to remote western Iran. The first Englishwoman to travel there, she journeyed by horseback, often with inept guides on intrepid adventures. Letters of introduction and gifts of canned sheep’s tongue and sardines bought her favour and helped her passage through a harsh, exotic land. The resulting stories, candidly recounted with piercing observations, were to be the inspiration for women to venture into wild spaces.

3. THE WORST JOURNEY IN THE WORLD BY APSLEY CHERRY-GARRARD
Antartica, Emperor Penguins

Cherry was only 23 when he joined the ill-fated Scott Antarctic Expedition to the South Pole in 1912. This, his only book, was the account of an expedition that went disastrously wrong. Opening with the observation that ‘Polar exploration is at once the cleanest and most isolated way of having a bad time which has been devised’, the book centres on the trudge through the dark and cold (-60C) of a Polar winter in search of an Emperor penguin rookery. Full of details of scientific discovery and accounts of human endurance in the harshest environment, it paints an unsparing portrait of Scott, who died alongside four of his men on the return from the pole, and brings the Antarctic into sharp focus to leave an indelible impression of life in the white wilderness.

4. THE GREAT RAILWAY BAZAAR BY PAUL THEROUX
Train Wheels

While some prefer to walk or ride, Theroux revels in train travel. In his first travel book he recounts an epic rail journey from London to Tokyo in 1975. The simple premise to ride the rails of legendary routes such as the Orient Express, Khyber Pass Local, Delhi Mail from Jaipur, Golden Arrow to Kuala Lumpur and the Trans-Siberian Express lets him engage with the places he passes through, immersing himself in landscapes and cultures. But his main subjects are the people he encounters and the snippets of conversation he overhears. Full of a sense of freedom, it’s wonderfully entertaining.

5. NAPLES ’44 BY NORMAN LEWIS
Naples, Italy

Lewis arrived in Naples in 1944 as an Intelligence Officer attached to the US 5th Army, ostensibly employed to liaise with the locals. He discovered a city on the brink, starving and desperate. Disenchanted with his fellow soldiers, Lewis drew comfort from the locals, who despite their travails retained an unquenchable zest for life. Over a year he captures the tempestuous city’s ups and downs, chronicling the lives of the Neapolitans he mingles with to present a lyrical view of life at the end of the war. ‘Were I given the chance to be born again,’ he wrote, ‘Italy would be the country of my choice.’

6. A YEAR IN MARRAKESH BY PETER MAYNE
Marrakesh, Morocco

Time spent living in Pakistan instilled an appreciation of Muslim life in Peter Mayne. He chose to then settle in Morocco in the 1950s, making the backstreets and labyrinthine alleyways of Marrakesh his home for a year. Befriending strangers, he learns the language, integrates and becomes embroiled in the day-to-day enchantments and disasters of the street, capturing the lives, love affairs, gossip and festivities of his new friends in an affectionate, entertaining love letter to the city that brought an understanding of Muslim culture to the Western world.