Travel: Book of the week

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The Independent Travel
Grand tours and Cook's Tours (Aurum Press, pounds 18.95 hardback published 1 April) by Lynne Withey.

This fascinating book is a history of travel between the years 1780 and 1915: or more precisely a history of Anglo-American-French tourism. The joy of it is in the details. Did you imagine for example that in 1780 you could book transportation across much of the continent from London? And that Switzerland was already deemed to be "over-run" with tourists according to Edward Gibbon? And that there were regular scheduled cross- channel ferries running between Dover and Calais in the middle of the 18th century, and that these took between three and five hours to make the crossing? It is also interesting to discover that the compulsion to go "off the beaten track" and then write about it is something that has been around for a long time as well and this book draws heavily on such sources. Just for example, 200 travel accounts were published by British travellers to the United States between 1816 and 1860. The story follows the development of the so-called Grand Tour (often young men in search of sex with Italian girls) through to the advent of package tourism and then world tourism. Along the way, we encounter the young entrepreneur and moralist Thomas Cook, the first man in history to hit upon the idea of (a) the discounted ticket and (b) organised trips for the masses, including train transport, hotel accommodation and meals.

By the 1860s, Thomas Cook's tours were available for destinations as far-flung as Egypt and Palestine. Cairo's most luxurious restaurant was reported as being frequented by "between two and three hundred" western tourists on a nightly basis. By the end of the century western tourists were even penetrating Japan, where they were advised by guidebooks to take portable provisions such as "dried meat, sausage and corned beef". Who could have imagined, in that far off age, that 100 years later the world would have learned to love sushi?