Books of the Year: Travel books

Six classics offer a guide to saving the world from CO2, modernisation and architectural misnomers
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What's not to like about a travel book for Christmas? It can feed the wanderlust of your intrepid nearest and dearest, and summon up the adventurous spirit of close ones who will only ever stir from their armchair for two weeks on the Costa del Sol.

For a classic literary choice, I defer to Jonathan Lorie, director of the annual Travellers' Tales Festival. Voices of the Old Sea by Norman Lewis (Picador, £7.99) is his recommendation. "An elegy for the old Mediterranean, this account of three summers spent in a Spanish fishing village in the late 1940s catches a world just as it disappeared," he says. "There's a strong sense of the ancient world still surviving, and of the modern world starting to intrude, as the first holiday- makers trip over the Pyrenees and the smart local money starts to create what they want - a fantasy Spain the locals hardly recognise. By turns funny and poignant, beguiled and enraged, this is a slice of history and a model of travel writing."

For a taste of current travel-writing talent, Lorie suggests Along the Enchanted Way by William Blacker (John Murray, £20). "It's a dip into old Europe as it still survives in the remote mountains of Romania," he says, "where Blacker immersed himself for eight years in a world of snow-bound villages, horse-drawn carts and wild gypsy women. It's elegantly written, with a sharp sense of place and the seasons. It conjures a world of scything the hay by hand, defending the sheep from wolves and foraging firewood from the forest. And then he falls in love..."

I prefer a little more focus on the facts and by far the best addition to my bedside library of late has been Jonathan Neale's excellent book, Stop Global Warming, Change the World (Bookmarks, £11.99). Squarely aimed at those of us grappling with the impact of our travels on the environment, Neale's polemic argues that global warming will be stopped only by governments taking action, with solid facts and figures that reveal a sea change is needed in how our world is organised. Sounds too worthy? Nobody who ever read anything by this talented author would deny his ability to put across his radical point of view in an entertaining way.

Which leads me to another "conscious" choice, albeit not so opinionated - the new series of Slow Guides from Bradt (£14.99). So far, Devon and Exmoor, Norfolk and Suffolk, and North Yorkshire have received the entertaining Slow treatment, with sustainability at its heart. Each book glories in its location, is packed with ideas about how to make the most of a trip, and comes with recommendations on where to stay from the accommodation-guide publisher Alistair Sawday.

How to Read Buildings by Carol Davidson Cragoe (Herbert Press, £9.99) may not strictly qualify as a travel book, but it's a great pocket-size aid to understanding the built landscape. Want to know the difference between Gothic and Baroque? A turret and a pinnacle? It's all in here.

Enough words, what about some pictures? Look no further than The Travel Book (Lonely Planet, £40). A second edition of this tome has just been published with all new pictures and text, providing an eye-catching journey through 229 destinations. Each is afforded a double-page spread, bearing stunning images, a useful map, and vital information, from when to go to what to eat. Beware: it may prove hard to prise away your guests for Christmas dinner if you leave this book on the coffee table.

Kate Simon is the travel editor of 'The Independent on Sunday'