From Ecuador to Egypt: our editors’ favourite long reads

The editors of National Geographic Traveller and National Geographic Traveller Food have selected eight of their favourite travel tales from our archives, each one lifting the lid on far-flung corners of the world and each a masterclass in storytelling.

Monday, 20 April 2020,
By National Geographic Traveller
A felucca vessel moors on the river banks under a moonrise.

A cruise along Egypt's Nile is a classic journey and Emma Thomson's piece 'Life on the Longest River' covers the region's fabled history and desert landscapes, offering snapshots of local life by the river. Here, a felucca vessel moors on the river banks under a moonrise.

The very best longform travel stories lead the reader deep into countries and cultures unknown, with the writer sharing their discoveries with an immediacy and momentum that captivates until the very last, artful sentence. It's this level of storytelling that we ask of our wordsmiths when we send them out into the world to dare, discover and dine — and, over the years, we’ve amassed a back catalogue of scintillating and transporting (and, frequently, award-winning) travel features. Our editors have each selected a stand-out story to champion here. So, settle down comfortably and peruse this selection, bursting with some of our wildest and most wonderful travel inspiration. 

Egypt: Life on the longest river by Emma Thomson — chosen by Connor McGovern, commissioning editor, National Geographic Traveller
For me, this epic odyssey along the River Nile is travel writing at its finest — evocative, informative and, above all, inspiring. A cruise along the world’s longest river is a classic journey, and this piece captures everything that has ever appealed to me about a Nile cruise: fabled history, desert landscapes and snapshots of local life by the river. But what I love most of all is how the writer skilfully paints a portrait of a dynamic, ever-evolving Egypt, sailing between the ancient and modern societies of this intriguing nation.

Ecuador: The hothouse heart of the jungle by Adrian Phillips — chosen by Pat Riddell, editor, National Geographic Traveller
If you want the perfect example of escapism through prose, this Ecuador piece is the place to start. Not only did it pick up an avalanche of awards, it stands up as well today as it did when it was first written in 2017. From the off-hand opening and the claustrophobic cloak of the Amazon it ingeniously portrays, to the conclusion that focuses on the community and the good that tourism can do, the whole article has the sense of place, ease of reading, ethos and values of everything that National Geographic Traveller stands for.

Mexico: Stirring up michelada by Liz Dodd — chosen by Glen Mutel, editor, National Geographic Traveller Food
These days, beer in the UK is a good as it’s ever been. But have you ever bought a pint, taken a sip and thought “that could really do with some tomato juice, a little stock and a dash of chilli sauce"? If so, you’ve probably been to Mexico, home of the ‘cerveza preparada’ — essentially a beer loaded with surprising extras. In one of my favourite long reads, we got acquainted with the michelada, one of the craziest concoctions you’ll ever drink. And if beer mixed with clam juice and topped with cucumber and prawns doesn’t sound appealing, perhaps approach it with an open mind.

Louisiana: Hoodoo & Voodoo, ghosts & graves by Aaron Millar — chosen by Maria Pieri, editorial director, National Geographic Traveller
The bayous, the Voodoo, the music and the history of Louisiana unravel in this story to evoke the mysticism and reality of America’s Deep South. The piece took me somewhere almost otherwordly with the story told through chance encounters with the likes of priests and healers, musicians and watermen. “There's a spirit here that can soak right into your soul,” says the writer, and he’s not wrong — this is a world where history, magic, myth and reality collide.

Georgia: Experiencing a supra like a true Georgian by David Farley — chosen by Farida Zeynalova, assistant editor, National Geographic Traveller Food
In just under 2,000 words, the writer’s eye for detail and evocative storytelling manages to teleport me from my London flat to a bountiful family feast in the mountains of Georgia. He draws the reader in from start to finish: first the treacherous journey to northwest Georgia, then the preparation of the ingredients and, finally, the pie-eyed, joyous dancing synonymous with Georgian get-togethers. It’s everything a National Geographic Traveller Food feature should be. 

Svalbard: Singing for ghosts by Jamie Lafferty — chosen by Sarah Barrell, associate editor, National Geographic Traveller
As we can now all attest, humans have lived through some strange times. Pyramiden, an abandoned Soviet mining town in a snow-blown corner of the Svalbard archipelago is testament to this — and the fact that, as a species, we’ve managed to settle, survive and thrive in our planet’s most isolated corners. Describing an eerie post-industrial landscape and otherworldly glacial backdrop, the writer paints a ghostly picture of Pyramiden as a destination for the defiant few.

Alentejo: Portugal’s time capsule by Julia Buckley — chosen by Amelia Duggan, acting deputy editor, National Geographic Traveller
Time is the main protagonist on this road trip through the ancient, sunbeaten heart of Portugal. This is a bucolic land with a “soundtrack that flits between cowbells and wine corks being popped”, the writer rhapsodises, where a carousel of civilisations has left its mark. Her set pieces are almost magic realist: an improbable marble palace, stumbled upon in the middle of nowhere; wild swimming with turtles atop a modern Atlantis; and prehistoric petroglyphs of horned shaman that throb with vitality, as if daubed on the rock yesterday. 

Nashville: The smoky taste of Tennessee by Laura Chubb — chosen by Nicola Trup, deputy editor, National Geographic Traveller Food
Breaking Bread is my favourite section of National Geographic Traveller Food, with each issue centring around one meal with a different family in a different destination. Here, the writer takes us to Nashville, exploring Tennessee’s food culture with one of the city’s top barbecue ‘pitmasters’, Pat Martin. The lyrical writing evokes Pat’s intense energy, the smoky smells and flavours, and Southerners’ emotional connection to their food. It transports you from your home to someone else’s, and is sure to leave you wanting to fire up the barbecue.

Mexico: A message from the Gods by Amelia Duggan — chosen by Charlotte Wigram-Evans, content editor, National Geographic Traveller
This piece pulls you in from the first sentence. As the writer navigates her way through twisting underground tunnels and tumbledown ruins, she ignites that sense of adventure we’re all craving as we stay indoors. Then, travelling from Mexico’s jungles to the sun-drenched streets of San Cristóbal, the latter half of this feature fulfils another longing: to stroll around a city bursting with life. 

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