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What we're reading: June 2018

Countless travel books have charted the so-called 'golden age' of travel, but none are quite as epic as this hefty new tome

By Sarah Barrell
Published 8 Jun 2018, 09:00 BST, Updated 14 Jul 2021, 14:51 BST
Reading June 2018
Photograph by Marc Walter Collection

Why should you stump up £150 for this latest book on the much-eulogised era of the Grand Tour? Because — like many of the first Grand Tours themselves — this book is of epic scale. Weighing in at a hefty 15lbs and standing one-and-a-half-feet tall, it's not a holiday read unless you have a steamer trunk and a team of luggage wallahs. But it is comprehensive, exploring the Tour heyday of 1869 to 1939, divided into six geographical sections based on the classic routes favoured by privileged pre-Second World War travellers: Southern & Western Europe; Rhine to Black Sea, Northern, Orient, Far East & Australia, and New World & Africa.

It traces these routes via vintage posters, and brochures from tour operators, sailing ships, steam liners, and elegant railway hotels, along with archive photography and postcards featuring everything from the dining room aboard a Graf Zeppelin to ornate villages at the foot of the pyramids. There are also such escapist ephemera as luggage labels from baggage rooms and hotels of yesteryear, restaurant menus, tourist brochures and illustrated maps.

It's a hymn to transport: a gallery of trains, planes and Oldsmobiles, Zeppelins, boats, horses, donkeys, and camels, many of them rendered in atmospheric turn-of-the-century photochroms in which the book's graphic designer and photographer, Marc Walter, specialises. The supporting text — by documentarian Sabine Arqué — is in French, German and English, which certainly contributes to the book's formidable bulk, but seeing these Old World languages sitting side by side seems fitting: the lexicons of Grand Tour exploration. This is a passport into a lost epoch of aristocratic adventure, albeit a jumbo, 634-page one.

The Grand Tour: The Golden Age Of Travel, by Marc Walter & Sabine Arqué is published by Taschen, RRP: £150

We're also reading: Sky, sea and sofa

This story, of a woman temporarily liberated from a battle with breast cancer by learning to fly a glider, is both a personal journey taken above the great landscapes of the world, from the Alps to Himalayas, and a passionate study of the history of powerless flight. RRP: £16.99 (Picador)

London on Sea
This illustrated guide of day-tripping ideas from London instantly makes us want to swap desk for deckchair. Like its colour-soaked drawings, recalling tourist posters of yore, the book's destinations are pretty timeless, so shouldn't suffer too much from coastal hipsterisation. RRP: £9.99 (Ebury)

Couchsurfing in Iran
German journalist Stephan Orth chronicles his 62-day trip through Iran. Driven by a desire to reveal Iran's 'hidden world', a maxim Orth picks up from one Iranian host goes "there are no bad places if the reason you are travelling is to meet people". RRP: £12.99 (Greystone Books)

Follow @TravelBarrell

Published in the July/August 2018 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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