When I am not on the road exploraing new destinations and finding unique experiences, I love to read about them. Here are ten travel books I read in 2023 and loved.
House of stone - Anthony Shadid
In the summer of 2006, racing through Lebanon to report on the Israeli invasion, Anthony Shadid found himself in his family’s ancestral hometown of Marjayoun. There, he discovered his great-grandfather’s once magnificent estate in near ruins, devastated by war. One year later, Shadid returned to Marjayoun, not to chronicle the violence, but to rebuild in its wake.
So begins the story of a battle-scarred home and a journalist’s wounded spirit, and of how reconstructing the one came to fortify the other. In this bittersweet and resonant memoir, Shadid creates a mosaic of past and present, tracing the house’s renewal alongside the history of his family’s flight from Lebanon and resettlement in America around the turn of the twentieth century. In the process, he memorializes a lost world and provides profound insights into a shifting Middle East.
Adventure Coordinators review: a good read. I enjoyed how Shadid wove his ancestors' journey from Lebanon to the US into his own memoir, along with the wider history and political background of the region. 8.5 out of 10
Robert MacFarlane - Underland
In Underland, Robert Macfarlane takes us on a journey into the worlds beneath our feet. From the ice-blue depths of Greenland's glaciers, to the underground networks by which trees communicate, from Bronze Age burial chambers to the rock art of remote Arctic sea-caves, this is a deep-time voyage into the planet's past and future.
Global in its geography, gripping in its voice and haunting in its implications, Underland is a work of huge range and power, and a remarkable new chapter in Macfarlane's long-term exploration of landscape and the human heart.
Adventure Coordinators review: a good read about travels to some unusual places. I appreciated the impact his experiences had on the author. 8 out of 10
The hills of Tuscany - Ferenc Mate
This hilarious, international bestseller is a true-life adventure of a New York City couple moving to Tuscany.
Ferenc Máté’s enthusiastic prose is infectious. He brings to life the real Tuscany: the contadini neighbors, country life—the harvest, grape, and olive picking, wine making, mushroom hunting, woodcutting—the holidays, and of course the never-ending, mouthwatering meals.
Adventure Coordinators review: a good collection of vignettes, introducing many great characters and told with a sense of humor and awe. 8 out of 10
Outposts - Simon Winchester
A quirky and charming tour of the last outpost of the British empire, Outposts is Simon Winchester’s journey to find the vanishing empire, “on which the sun never sets.” In the course of a three-year, 100,000 mile journey―from the chill of the Antarctic to the blue seas of the Caribbean, from the South of Spain and the tip of China to the utterly remote specks in the middle of gale-swept oceans―he discovered such romance and depravity, opulence and despair tht he was inspired to write what may be the last contemporary account of the British empire. Written with Winchester’s captivating style and breadth, here are conversations and anecdotes, myths and political analysis, scenery and history―a poignant and colorful record of the lingering beat of what was once the heart of the civilized world.
Adventure Coordinators review: 9 out of 10. I loved the characters Winchester meets and the stories he tells. This book fuelled my wanderlust to get to some of the globe's most remote outposts.
Tip of the iceberg - Mark Adams
In 1899, railroad magnate Edward H. Harriman converted a steamship into a luxury "floating university," populated by some of America's best and brightest scientists and writers, including the anti-capitalist eco-prophet John Muir. Those aboard encountered a land of immeasurable beauty and impending environmental calamity. More than a hundred years later, Alaska is still America's most sublime wilderness, both the lure that draws one million tourists annually on Inside Passage cruises and as a natural resources larder waiting to be raided.
Armed with Dramamine and an industrial-strength mosquito net, Mark Adams sets out to retrace the 1899 expedition. Traveling town to town by water, Adams ventures three thousand miles north through Wrangell, Juneau, and Glacier Bay, then continues west into the colder and stranger regions of the Aleutians and the Arctic Circle. Along the way, he encounters dozens of unusual characters (and a couple of very hungry bears) and investigates how lessons learned in 1899 might relate to Alaska's current struggles in adapting to the pressures of a changing climate and world.
Adventure Coordinators review: 8.5 out of 10. Having done the ferry journey from Vancouver Island to Prince Rupert and Haida Gwaii, after reading this book, a journey on the Alaska Marine Highway is high on my list!
The Salt Path - Raynor Winn
Just days after Raynor learns that Moth, her husband of 32 years, is terminally ill, their home and livelihood is taken away. With nothing left and little time, they make the brave and impulsive decision to walk the 630 miles of the sea-swept South West Coast Path in the UK.
They have almost no money for food or shelter and must carry only the essentials for survival on their backs as they live wild in the ancient, weathered landscape of cliffs, sea and sky. Yet through every step, every encounter, and every test along the way, their walk becomes a remarkable journey.
The Salt Path is an honest and life-affirming true story of coming to terms with grief and the healing power of the natural world. Ultimately, it is a portrayal of home, and how it can be lost, rebuilt, and rediscovered in the most unexpected ways.
Adventure Coordinators review: a beautifully written inspiring travelogue that makes you question what is important in life and how humans should treat each other. 9 out of 10
The Danube - a journey upriver from the Black Sea to the Black Forest - Nick Thorpe
The magnificent Danube both cuts across and connects central Europe, flowing through and alongside ten countries. Travelling its full length from east to west, against the river’s flow, Nick Thorpe embarks on an inspiring year-long journey that leads to a new perspective on Europe today. Thorpe’s account is personal, conversational, funny, immediate, and uniquely observant—everything a reader expects in the best travel writing. Immersing himself in the Danube’s waters during daily morning swims, Thorpe likewise becomes immersed in the histories of the lands linked by the river. He observes the river’s ecological conditions, some discouraging and others hopeful, and encounters archaeological remains that whisper of human communities sustained by the river over eight millennia. Most fascinating of all are the ordinary and extraordinary people along the way—the ferrymen and fishermen, workers in the fields, shopkeepers, beekeepers, waitresses, smugglers and border policemen, legal and illegal migrants, and many more. For readers who anticipate their own journeys on the Danube, as well as those who only dream of seeing the great river, this book will be a unique and treasured guide.
Adventure Coordinators review: The author does a wonderful job at meeting people and letting them tell their stories. 8 out of 10
Michael Asher - Sands of death
In December 1880 a French expedition attempted to map a route for a railway that would stretch from their colony in Algeria right across the Sahara desert to reach their territories in West Africa. No native opposition was expected.
Four months later, a handful of emaciated survivors staggered into a remote outpost on the edge of the desert. Although armed with modern rifles, the column had been lured to destruction by the self-styled 'lords of the desert', the Tuareg. The survivors had been pursued for weeks on end, driven into the waterless desert to die. The desperate lengths they resorted to shocked Victorian sensibilities. They do not make easy reading now. This grisly story, told by our greatest living desert explorer reveals what happened when the conceit of western colonialism met the equally arrogant Tuareg, who had dominated this remote region, and anyone trying to cross it, for a thousand years.
Adventure Coordinators review: 8 out of 10. While the author doesn't question the morality and legality of the French entering another country, the book did make me add travelling to the Ahaggar Mountains in southern Algeria to my bucket list!
The way of the stars - Robert C. Sibley
In The Way of the Stars, the journalist Robert Sibley, motivated at least in part by his own sense of discontent, recounts his walks on one of the most well-known pilgrimages in the Western world—the Camino de Santiago.
A medieval route that crosses northern Spain and leads to the town of Santiago de Compostela, the Camino has for hundreds of years provided for pilgrims the practice, the place, and the circumstances that allow for spiritual rejuvenation, reflection, and introspection. Sibley, who made the five-hundred-mile trek twice—initially on his own, and then eight years later with his son—offers a personal narrative not only of the outward journey of a pilgrim’s experience on the road to Santiago but also of the inward journey afforded by an interlude of solitude and a respite from the daily demands of ordinary life. The month-long trip put the author on a path through his own memories, dreams, and self-perceptions as well as through the sights and sounds, the tastes and sensations, of the Camino itself.
Adventure Coordinators review: 8 out 10. A lovely read with lots of interesting detail and observations.
Minarets in the mountains : a journey into Muslim Europe - Tharik Hussain
Writer and documentary-maker Tharik Hussain sets off with his wife and young daughters around the Western Balkans, home to the largest indigenous Muslim population in Europe, and explores the regions of Eastern Europe where Islam has shaped places and people for more than half a millennium. Encountering blonde-haired, blue-eyed Muslims, visiting mystical Islamic lodges clinging to the side of mountains, and praying in mosques older than the Sistine Chapel, he paints a picture of a hidden Muslim Europe, a vibrant place with a breathtaking history, spellbinding culture and unique identity.
Adventure Coordinators review: 7.5 out of 10. An eye-opening read of a culture we are not always aware of exists in Europe.