The Literary Salon – Travel Books

If you’re not fortunate enough to get away for a vacation this year, what better activity than to curl up with a travel book and listen to the March winds howl, (like a lion the same way they came in).    Last year I wandered into the travel section at and never left.   There are so many wonderful travel books available, it’s difficult to narrow it down to just a few, but here are some of my personal favorites.    (Warning: travel memoirs can be equal parts enjoyable and annoying.   There can be a fine line between reading about someone’s wonderful experiences in a sunnier place, especially when you are still in the dull dreary dregs of winter, and resenting the hell out them.    But remember there can be comfort in staying home too…see The Golden Age of Travel post).      

The Pioneer

Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim, was published in 1923, and could be called the first travel memoir of it’s kind.   Set in Italy, I profiled it in a blog last year – see link   How could a book with a captivating opening sentence like this, not be good.    

“To those who appreciate wisteria and sunshine.  Small medieval Italian castle on the shores of the Mediterranean to be let furnished for the month of April. Necessary servants remain.  Z, Box 1000, The Times.”

The King and Queen  

A Year in Provence (1989) by Peter Mayle was the first travel memoir I read, and I found it LOL funny.   He went on to write a whole series of memoirs  (read) and a few novels (not read), about Provence.   He made Provence so famous that at one time he moved to Long Island to get away from all the publicity.   He died last year, shortly after his last Provence book was published, My Twenty-Five Years in Provence – Reflections on Then and Now, (read) which is a summary of his life there.   

If Peter Mayle is the King, then Frances Mayes, of Under the Tuscan Sun fame, is the Queen, and she made Tuscany a very popular place to visit.   It’s been 25 years since her bestselling book, and she has written wrote four or five more travel books, (read) and has a new one coming out this year See You in the Piazza – New Places to Discover in Italy.  (on order)  She also wrote a novel, Women in Sunlight, last year, which I found so unreadable that I can not recommend it.   I’m still not sure how a novel about four women who travel to Italy can miss, but it did.   Travel memoirs are definitely her forte.   

My Personal Favorite

Susan Branch is my personal favorite of all the travel writers.    For those who think of her as just The Heart of the Home cookbook author, did you know that after she lost her publishing contract with Little and Brown in 2009, she started self-publishing and now has a trilogy of marvelous illustrated journals, with a fourth on the way next year about England, Ireland and Wales.   Her first, Martha’s Vineyard, Isle of Dreams, is about her move from CA to Martha’s Vineyard in the 80’s after a divorce, which I enjoyed as that is a part of the world I would love to visit.  (Her second is about growing up in the 60’s and 70’s and is not really a travel book, but more a memoir of her youth).  

A Fine Romance:  Falling in Love with the English CountrysideA Fine Romance: Falling in Love with the English Countryside by Susan Branch

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Her third, A Fine Romance, is about her trip to England and is full of photos and watercolor illustrations, of such sites as Beatrix Potter’s farm in the Lake District and the Jane Austen House in Chawton. 

Susan Branch book

Susan Branch book

I find her monthly newsletters inspiring, and you can check out her books and order them from her website.    I wish she would venture into France and Italy.   

A Paris Year - Janice MacLeod

A Paris Year – Janice MacLeod

All About Paris

One of my favorite books about Paris, is Janice McLeod’s, A Paris Year, which I profiled last year in a blog titled, April in Paris – Part Two  A watercolor artist, her journal is illustrated with her own artwork, and is a quirky and whimsical look at her day to day life in Paris.  

A Paris Year - Janice MacLeod

A Paris Year – Janice MacLeod

Italy Revisited

Marlena de Blasi has written three memoirs about Italy – A Thousand Days in Venice, A Thousand Days in Tuscany and The Lady in the Palazzo – At Home in Umbria, which was my favorite of the three.    Her books are well-written and  often poetic, but sometimes irritating with respect to her ex-pat mentality and whining about their failure to fit into a foreign culture.   So if you want to read about someone who makes an impulsive decision to buy a run down palazzo and then complains about how long it takes to renovate it, then this book is for you.    So much of appreciating a travel memoir is based on finding the essayist appealing, still it’s an interesting if illogical journey.  

My Current Read

Elizabeth Bard wrote Lunch in Paris – A Love Story with Recipes, about her  move to Paris and subsequent marriage to a Parisian, which was good, even if I wasn’t much interested in the cooking part, (there are recipes at the end of each chapter).    But I am really liking her second book, Picnic in Provence – a Memoir with Recipes, about their move to a small village in Provence, with their young son.   The writing is honest and real and so well done, that it’s easy to overlook the fact that she has a wee bit of a privileged princess attitude.  

Le Road Trip book

My Latest Discovery

My latest discovery is Vivian Swift, another watercolor artist, found while browsing the bookoutlet website.  (I feel like I’m regressing to my childhood with all these picture books!)    Le Road Trip – A Traveler’s Journal of Love and France is a self-illustrated memoir of her fun and whimsical jaunt through France on her honeymoon.

Le Road Trip Book

 Her latest book (2015) entitled, When Wanderers Cease to Roam – A Traveler’s Journal of Staying Put  details the pleasures of finding a place to call home (Long Island Sound) after 23 years of wandering – because sometimes there’s nothing nicer than staying home and reading about travel!    

As you can see, my tastes run to England, France and Italy.   But there’s a whole wide world out there.  What is your favorite travel book?


17 thoughts on “The Literary Salon – Travel Books

  1. says:

    Love(d) these books, Joni! Several I’ve read more than once. I didn’t realize that Elizabeth von Armin wrote ENCHANTED APRIL (WordPress doesn’t allow italics, so I’ve capped instead)! I LOVE that story, both book and the film. I was enchanted. And SUNSHINE AND WISTERIA — a friend who’s moved away used to own a delightful, boutique bookstore she named “Wisteria & Sunshine,” only borrowing and not copying the name in order to avoid copyright infringement. She sold it to one of her workers who renamed it “Inklings.”

    By the way, Elizabeth von Armin is the final literary gardener I planned to write about in that series on Invitation to the Garden, but then St. Patrick’s Day and all thing Irish sort of intruded! I’ll get to her later. This week I’m working on an Irish Castle garden that reputedly was Queen Victoria’s favorite summer retreat.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Joni says:

      Glad you enjoyed them! I will probably make Enchanted April my Literary Salon selection for April…..mostly because I am lazy and the outdoors beckons! Looking forward to seeing the Irish Garden.


  2. brilliantviewpoint says:

    These are absolutely wonderful. I’ve never had an interest in travel books OR at least, not thought about reading one. With not so many hours in the day, I normally go to historical fiction… but some of these that you found look very nice. Thanks

    Liked by 2 people

  3. lindasschaub says:

    These were great reviews of travel books Joni. I have never read a travel book, though when I traveled years ago, I used to subscribe to “Travel and Leisure” and a cruise magazine as well. As to cruises, after that terrible storm last week in Norway, I now thank God that I never had any issues while on board because I don’t know how to swim. The airline disasters, train derailments, even the buses rolling over, along with the people who go overboard on cruises, all make me cringe. I never thought of any of these misfortunes happening … not to mention traveling by air is nothing like it used to be with all the restrictions. I like your line: (“I feel like I’m regressing to my childhood with all these picture books!”)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      I have no desire to travel these days, but I do like reading someone else’s travel adventures. The picture books seem to be popular, as it just gives you that added visual bonus. I’ve been on two cruises, one big and one smaller Windjammer cruise, and did not care for either one – the big one was too crowded and regimented, the smaller one I was seasick the whole five days. And I can’t swim either! I never worried about it at the time, as disasters did not seem to be as common. I would hate to have flown on one of those Boeing 327 Max’s they just took out of commission. I read Captain Sully’s book, Miracle on the Hudson, which mentioned the lack of airplane maintenance standards and pilot training for ER’s, so I could picture those pilots getting the ER manual out and trying to go down the checklist. Ever since 911 in New York happened I can’t stay above the 6th floor of any highrise hotel, and I stayed way way up high when I was in NY years ago and never thought anything about it. I used to live on the 25th floor of an apt building in Toronto when I was a student. I guess when we stop to think about what could go wrong, we shouldn’t think about it!

      Liked by 1 person

      • lindasschaub says:

        You are so right Joni – and I’ll bet older people said to you that you were brave and adventurous to travel around the world or country on your own and you laughed it off. I was at the diner and customers said that to me and I said “I was with a tour group so they pretty much never let us out of their sight and if we wanted to go somewhere after hours, they gave us directions to give to someone in case we strayed to far and got lost. You were braver than me doing Eurail and also doing a Windjammer cruise. Now, I look back on travels sometimes and think “maybe I was more adventurous than I thought I was at the time!” Interesting re: Captain Sully – I’ve heard interviews with him on the radio before and I believe he has a position to do with airplane safety. I’d be worried flying these days.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Joni says:

        I only did two solo trips – the Ireland one and the Windjammer cruise. I had a high school friend who I used to travel with every year, for the others. I will blog about the Windjammer cruise when I do the Tall Ship post in the summer. I usually don’t get seasick on boats, so it was totally unexpected for me, but the ship left from St. Marten’s and it was a rough stretch of water, so the whole boat was sick the first two days. I never did get my sea legs and was glad to get off! I read my Ireland travel journal over recently (when I was without Internet last week), and I see I am mentioning how brave Irish people thought I was….but the world was a safer place then, and it was Ireland which was considered low in crime – I would never have gone to Europe by myself, then or now. When I look back, I never once called my parents during the whole 3 weeks I was away, long distance was expensive and it never occurred to me that they would be worried, so when I got home that Sunday, they came to my apartment to check on me. It was thoughtless looking back not to have checked in mid-way, but I guess young people are sometimes thoughtless. I was still sick with the cold when I got back on Sunday, but I still went to work the next morning, jet lag and all – young people are also more resilient!

        Liked by 1 person

      • lindasschaub says:

        I never called my parents either and I was gone for a like amount of time – but I was with a tour group so I felt pretty secure. None of my friends wanted to travel … there were six of us who were very close in high school and we graduated and four of us went on to college – two of us lived at home and two of us went away, so that started breaking up the group a little. The other two got jobs, met their future husbands, had kids – when we got together that first year at Christmas, it was not the same group that had graduated in June of 1973 from high school. We only got together for the two weddings, then had a five-year reunion at Christmas of 1978. We were hard pressed to sustain a conversation that evening. We were so darn close to one another … people stay friends for years but then there was no social media … we just went our own ways. Any high school friends I keep in touch with on Facebook, to be quite honest, were just acquaintenances, not close friends. We sometimes reminisce about school on FB, but it is not the same. I did a post about those five friends … one of them died of ovarian cancer. I felt badly as she had first gone to Ferris State to study in their pharmacy program – lost touch a little then (it is not near me, but in Michigan and she only came home holidays), then her roommate had a family member that had a factory in Waco, Texas. That girl worked there every Summer and got Sheila (my friend) a job there as well. She met a guy there, stayed in Texas, married, had kids and her parents were older and both passed away – Sheila never returned to Michigan. Both her and her husband died of cancer within a year of one another – their kids were grown by that time. This is a long read for sometime when you bored:


  4. Chomeuse with a Chou says:

    I really enjoyed your Enchanted April post last year and always appreciate your posts on France and Italy. Provence is heavenly! Sadly we are unlikely to stray further afield than my parents’ home in the UK this year, although I am still hoping for a trip to the nearest coast for a quick seaside holiday for my Chou. Reading about other people’s travelling adventures is then definitely the next best thing. And I always prefer pictures!!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Denise says:

    Paris…Paris…how I love Paris. I have a lot of family living in France and hope to get back one day soon. Great reviews and I Love your Eiffel Tower painting too!! I also enjoyed “On the road again” while I was looking around your site…so fun!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      Thanks! If you have been to Paris then you might not find the books as enjoyable having seen the real thing! My mom did the Eiffel Tower painting for a show she had last year called Home and Abroad. I try and have a theme on my front page, even though most people don’t look at it, I have fun switching it around. I would rather be seeing cherry blossom snow today!


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