If reading other people’s European travel tales and adventures are more your interest, some legendary travel writers like Paul Theroux, Bill Bryson, and Michael Palin have all written extensively about Europe. Below is a highly recommended compilation of the following inspiring authors (some classics & some modern). They will help you gain a greater cultural understanding and make a great travel companion:
Neither Here Nor There, by Bill Bryson
In the early seventies, Bill Bryson backpacked across Europe—in search of enlightenment, beer, and women. He was accompanied by an unforgettable sidekick named Stephen Katz (who will be gloriously familiar to readers of Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods). Twenty years later, he decided to retrace his journey. The result is the affectionate and riotously funny Neither Here Nor There.
The Pillars of Hercules: A Grand Tour of the Mediterranean, by Paul Theroux
“At the gateway to the Mediterranean lie the two Pillars of Hercules: Gibraltar and Ceuta, in Morocco. Paul Theroux decided to travel from one to the other – but taking the long way round. His grand tour of the Mediterranean begins in Gibraltar and takes him through Spain, the French Riviera, Italy, Greece, Istanbul and beyond. He travels by any means necessary – including dilapidated taxi, smoke-filled bus, bicycle and even a cruise-liner. And he encounters bullfights, bazaars and British tourists, discovers pockets of humanity in war-torn Slovenia and Croatia, is astounded by the urban developments on the Costa del Sol and marvels at the ancient wonders of Delphi. Told with Theroux’s inimitable wit and style, this lively and eventful tour evokes the essence of Mediterranean life.” Goodreads.com
Postcards from Europe, by Rick Steves
In Postcards from Europe, Rick Steves takes you on a private tour through the heart of Europe — introducing you to his local friends and sharing his favorite travel moments — from the Netherlands through Germany, Italy, and Switzerland, with a grand Parisian finale.
Whether you’re dreaming in an armchair, have packed, or are unpacking, Postcards from Europe will inspire a love of travel, of Europe, and of Europeans.
The Hidden Europe: What Eastern Europeans Can Teach Us, by Francis Tapon
Francis Tapon yearned for a European adventure, but Western Europe seemed too tame and passé. So he traveled for 3 years visiting every Eastern European country—all 25 of them.
The Hidden Europe cleverly mixes insightful facts with hilarious personal anecdotes. It’s profound, yet light. Francis Tapon is a sharp observer who helps you distinguish a Latvian from a Lithuanian, while not confusing Slovenia with Slovakia.
New Europe, by Michael Palin
Until the early 1990s, when the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, travelling behind the iron curtain was never easy. In undertaking his new journey through Eastern Europe, breathing in its rich history, filming its exquisite sights and talking to its diverse peoples, Michael fills what has been a void in his own experience and that of very many of his own generation. As in all his series, Palin’s New Europe takes the form of a journey through countries which have rich and complex cultures. Few have survived intact, as the ebb and flow of warring armies has continually changed the map of Europe. Starting in the mountains of Slovenia he travels down through Croatia and the former Yugoslavia to Albania before turning northwards to embrace Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, The Ukraine, The Czech Republic, Slovakia, the former East Germany, Poland, the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad (as Konigsberg originally home to the Teutonic Knights), Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, opening up a new and undiscovered world to millions of viewers and readers.
Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert (for the Italy portion of the book)
This beautifully written, heartfelt memoir touched a nerve among both readers and reviewers. Elizabeth Gilbert tells how she made the difficult choice to leave behind all the trappings of modern American success (marriage, house in the country, career) and find, instead, what she truly wanted from life. Setting out for a year to study three different aspects of her nature amid three different cultures, Gilbert explored the art of pleasure in Italy and the art of devotion in India, and then a balance between the two on the Indonesian island of Bali. By turns rapturous and rueful, this wise and funny author (whom Booklist calls “Anne Lamott’s hip, yoga- practicing, footloose younger sister”) is poised to garner yet more adoring fans.
A Year in Provence, by Peter Mayle
In this witty and warm-hearted account, Peter Mayle tells what it is like to realize a long-cherished dream and actually move into a 200-year-old stone farmhouse in the remote country of the Lubéron with his wife and two large dogs.
He endures January’s frosty mistral as it comes howling down the Rhône Valley, discovers the secrets of goat racing through the middle of town, and delights in the glorious regional cuisine. A Year in Provence transports us into all the earthy pleasures of Provençal life and lets us live vicariously at a tempo governed by seasons, not by days.
Under the Tuscan Sun and Bella Tuscany, by Frances Mayes
The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway
The story follows the flamboyant Brett and the hapless Jake as they journey from the wild nightlife of 1920s Paris to the brutal bullfighting rings of Spain with a motley group of expatriates. It is an age of moral bankruptcy, spiritual dissolution, unrealized love, and vanishing illusions.
Zorba the Greek, by Nikos Kazantzakis
A stunning new translation of the classic book—and basis for the beloved Oscar-winning film—brings the clarity and beauty of Kazantzakis’s language and story alive.
First published in 1946, Zorba the Greek, is, on one hand, the story of a Greek working man named Zorba, a passionate lover of life, the unnamed narrator who he accompanies to Crete to work in a lignite mine, and the men and women of the town where they settle. On the other hand it is the story of God and man, The Devil and the Saints; the struggle of men to find their souls and purpose in life and it is about love, courage and faith.
Zorba has been acclaimed as one of the truly memorable creations of literature—a character created on a huge scale in the tradition of Falstaff and Sancho Panza. His years have not dimmed the gusto and amazement with which he responds to all life offers him, whether he is working in the mine, confronting mad monks in a mountain monastery, embellishing the tales of his life or making love to avoid sin. Zorba’s life is rich with all the joys and sorrows that living brings and his example awakens in the narrator an understanding of the true meaning of humanity. This is one of the greatest life-affirming novels of our time.
Part of the modern literary canon, Zorba the Greek, has achieved widespread international acclaim and recognition. This new edition translated, directly from Kazantzakis’s Greek original, is a more faithful rendition of his original language, ideas, and story, and presents Zorba as the author meant him to be.
Travels With A Donkey In The Cévennes, by Robert Louis Stevenson
Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes recounts Robert Louis Stevenson’s 120 mile, 12 day hike, accompanied only by his stubborn and unwieldy donkey, through the Cévennes of south-central France. A pioneering piece of outdoor literature, it is one of Stevenson’s earliest works, and one of the earliest accounts of hiking and camping for recreation rather than necessity. Stevenson’s route is still popular today; recently when asked why the Scotsman still informs the identity of the Cevennes, a politician and historian of the area remarked “Because he showed us the landscape that makes us who we are.”
Tales from the Alhambra, by Washington Irving
Washington Irving’s “Tales of the Alhambra” is really two books in one. The first section chronicles Irvings 1829 visit to the crumbling Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain. Irving was permitted to reside within the palace grounds. His beautifully detailled descriptions of the deteriorating palace and its inhabitants fit well within the romantic vision that was beginning to sweep Europe. One can only imagine Irving’s influence in shaping the Orientalist craze that played out in the Nineteenth Century European art. As a young man, Washington Iriving was inspired to learn Spanish after having read Miguel Cervantes’ “Don Quixote”. In that work, Cervantes interjected long romantic tales into the middle of the narrative. The second half of “Tales of the Alhambra” is a collection of romantic tales inspired by the Alhambra’s Moorish and Spanish past. They are charming tales clearly inspired by Miguel Cervantes. “Tales of the Alhambra” was published in 1832 and has been in continous print. This book survives because of Irving’s ability to recreate a beautiful and romantic past for the ever elegant Alhambra Palace.
Down and Out in Paris and London, by George Orwell
This unusual fictional account, in good part autobiographical, narrates without self-pity and often with humor the adventures of a penniless British writer among the down-and-out of two great cities. In the tales of both cities we learn some sobering Orwellian truths about poverty and society.
A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens
A Tale of Two Cities (1859) is a novel by Charles Dickens, set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution. The novel depicts the plight of the French peasantry demoralized by the French aristocracy in the years leading up to the revolution, the corresponding brutality demonstrated by the revolutionaries toward the former aristocrats in the early years of the revolution, and many unflattering social parallels with life in London during the same period. It follows the lives of several characters through these events. A Tale of Two Cities was published in weekly installments from April 1859 to November 1859 in Dickens’s new literary periodical titled All the Year Round. All but three of Dickens’s previous novels had appeared only as monthly installments.
Journey to Portugal, by José Saramago
When José Saramago decided some twenty years ago to write a book about Portugal, his only desire was that it be unlike all other books on the subject, and in this he has certainly succeeded. Recording the events and observations of a journey across the length and breadth of the country he loves dearly, Saramago brings Portugal to life as only a writer of his brilliance can. Forfeiting sources of information such as tourist guides and road maps, he scours the country with the eyes and ears of an observer fascinated by the ancient myths and history of his people. Whether an inaccessible medieval fortress set on a cliff, a wayside chapel thick with cobwebs, or a grand mansion in the city, the extraordinary places of this land come alive with kings, warriors, painters, explorers, writers, saints, and sinners. Always meticulously attentive to those elements of ancient Portugal that persist today, Saramago examines the country in its current period of rapid transition and growth.
Infused with the tenderness and intelligence that have become familiar to his readers, Saramago’s Journey to Portugal is an ode of love for a country and its rich traditions.
Sea and Sardinia, by D. H. Lawrence
In these impressions of the Italian countryside, Lawrence transforms ordinary incidents into passages of intense beauty. Twilight in Italy is a vibrant account of Lawrence’s stay among the people of Lake Garda, whose decaying lemon gardens bear witness to the twilight of a way of life centuries old. In ‘Sea and Sardinia’, Lawrence brings to life the vigorous spontaneity of a society as yet untouched by the deadening effect of industrialization. And ‘Etruscan Places’ is a beautiful and delicate work of literary art, the record of ‘a dying man drinking from the founts of a civilization dedicated to life.’
For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.
The Road to Little Dribbling, by Bill Bryson (about his travels in Britain)
A loving and hilarious—if occasionally spiky—valentine to Bill Bryson’s adopted country, Great Britain. Prepare for total joy and multiple episodes of unseemly laughter.
Twenty years ago, Bill Bryson went on a trip around Britain to discover and celebrate that green and pleasant land. The result was Notes from a Small Island, a true classic and one of the bestselling travel books ever written. Now he has traveled about Britain again, by bus and train and rental car and on foot, to see what has changed—and what hasn’t.
Following (but not too closely) a route he dubs the Bryson Line, from Bognor Regis in the south to Cape Wrath in the north, by way of places few travelers ever get to at all, Bryson rediscovers the wondrously beautiful, magnificently eccentric, endearingly singular country that he both celebrates and, when called for, twits. With his matchless instinct for the funniest and quirkiest and his unerring eye for the idiotic, the bewildering, the appealing, and the ridiculous, he offers acute and perceptive insights into all that is best and worst about Britain today.
Nothing is more entertaining than Bill Bryson on the road—and on a tear. The Road to Little Dribbling reaffirms his stature as a master of the travel narrative—and a really, really funny guy.
Depending on what country you’re planning on visiting, Conde Nast Traveler recently put out a fun article where they asked foreign ambassadors to the US to recommend one book to read before visiting the respective country they represent.
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