10 to try: Literary journeys
Follow in the footsteps of great travel writers and experience a break with a difference
The book:\n\nTravels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck
\n\nJohn Steinbeck is frequently cited as one of the great American novelists. His works The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men are praised for creating realistic views of depression-era America. It is this travelogue, recounting a road trip taken with trusty poodle named Charley, however, that gives the greater insights into the real country. Steinbeck took the trip the book was based on after falling ill and a desire to see the country of his birth one last time took him onto the road. Suitable for first time visitors to the US or long-term residents In Search of America chronicles a 10,000mile expedition from Long Island, New York down to Texas via California and Maine before circling back across to New York.
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\n\nSteinbeck started and completed his journey in New York and whatever the itinerary when touring America it is the logical place to explore from. The city’s iconic Ellis Island has been the starting point for millions of American journeys and few landmarks give a better indication of the “real America” Steinbeck sought. Just a few short minutes away from this historic location is The Ritz-Carlton, Battery Park. The hotel has sweeping views of the Statue of Liberty, Smithsonian museums and the Hudson Bay. Guests looking to immerse themselves in Americana could not be better situated with other cultural treats such as a visit to Broadway within a short cab ride.
The Ritz-Carlton, Battery Park
The book:\n\nAmong The Russians by Colin Thurbon
\n\nThurbon has been critically acclaimed for both fact and fiction and is regarded as one of Britain’s most accomplished post-war writers. This vivid account recounts a car journey from St Petersburg to Soviet states such as Georgia and Armenia. The commentary envisages the fall of the Soviet Empire and is an accurate expose of the lives of ordinary working Russians in the early 1980s. The passion for every aspect of Russian life is evident and although the politics, economy and lives encountered in modern Russia may be significantly different the universal truths of Eastern Europe are recognizable in the writing. The enigmatic culture of Russia shines through in the poetic prose and the book stands well not only as a riveting read but as a historical document.
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\n\nAlthough it is booming Moscow that probably first springs to mind when considering Russia as a tourist destination Thurbon’s choice of St. Petersburg is an excellent option. The city’s rich history and cultural significance to not just the former Soviet Union but across Europe cannot be overestimated and the hundreds of museums, theaters, concert venues and art galleries are regularly packed. To see the grander side of Russian life of which Thurbon speaks so eloquently stay at the Taleon Imperial Hotel. How often, after all, do you get to wander around, let alone stay in, a renovated 18th century palace. Expect lavish chandeliers, enormous domed ceilings and ostentatious décor throughout.
Taleon Imperial Hotel
The book:\n\nThe Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux
\n\nAnybody who adheres to the credo that it is the journey rather than the destination which makes travel so fascinating should read Theroux. Despite being an accomplished and highly-decorated fiction writer it is his travel books for which the American wordsmith is best known. The Great Railway Bazaar documents the writer’s four month intercontinental journey through the Middle East, India, Europe and much of South East Asia. The route is selected to take in many of the world’s most famous train lines and Theroux’s enthusiasm for rail is beautifully told in his descriptions of iconic journeys such as the Khyber Pass, Orient Express, The Golden Arrow and, eventually, the Trans-Siberian railway. Of course it is not the transport that captured his attention but the people who ride it and Theroux’s many encounters bring to life the daring spirit of adventure that epitomises travel on this scale.
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\n\nPaul Theroux’s journey starts in London and ends in Moscow but the route between the two is hardly direct. Of the dozens of cities visited in between – Delhi, Bangkok, Tehran, Tokyo and Paris to name just five – it is probably Istanbul that best sums up the spirit of the trip. No other city acts as a gateway between Asia and Europe in quite the same way. The melting pot nature of the city and its location on the ending point of the original Orient Express rail route makes it the ideal point to savour what Theroux experiences in his travelogue. Located on Istanbul's Taksim Square The Ritz-Carlton, Istanbul is an Ottoman-inspired hotel paying homage to the rich historical traditions of Turkey. Features such as the on-site hamam enrich the traditional architecture and views of the Golden Horn capture the evocative atmosphere of a culturally diverse city. \n\n
The Ritz-Carlton, Istanbul
The book:\n\nIn Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin \n
\n\nJournalist Bruce Chatwin had already achieved some notoriety for his work with the acclaimed Sunday Times Magazine before this genre-defining travelogue was published. But it was this travel masterpiece, about the dramatic landscapes of South America which propelled his fame and critical acclaim. Chatwin’s genius comes through his weaving of historical fact with readable anecdote in such a way that conventional structure is delightfully discarded in favour of a collection of almost 100 untitled chapters – many as short as just a few hundred words – detailing experiences encountered in Patagonia. Critics claim Chatwin may have simply invented many of the colourful characters encountered in the book, but as a literary introduction to the cultures of Chile and Argentina it is hard to improve upon.
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\n\nVisitors following in Chatwin’s footsteps and visiting Patagonia, an area boasting some of the world’s most striking views, are likely to recognise much of what is described in the book. Little has changed. The region’s best hotel is the suitably named Singular Patagonia. The hotel is a former industrial storage warehouse which has been painstakingly redeveloped to become one of South America’s most distinctive boutique hotels. So lovingly has the refurbishment project been handled the Government of Chile has listed the building as a National Historic Landmark. Located in the Southernmost region of Latin America the luxury hotel overlooks the Patagonian fjords and mountains that so captured Chatwin’s imagination.
The Singular Patagonia
The book:\n\nArabian Sands by Wilfred Thesiger
\n\nWidely regarded as one of the defining travel pieces on the Arabian Peninsula, Thesiger’s masterpiece details his trips around the Empty Quarter between 1945 and 1950. Although born into nobility and educated at the famous Eton College Thesiger spent much of his life travelling the Middle East and Africa. Arabian Sands, the more famous of his two travelogues, recounts the slow decline of the Bedouin way of life. Anybody with an interest in travelling in the Middle East– beyond the guide book and tourist-friendly hubs – should encounter the lyrical and moving descriptions of a traditional way of life in the region.
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\n\nQuite what Thesiger would make of modern Arabia it is hard to imagine. The Bedouin way of life he described as being in decline more than 50 years ago has all but eroded now. The Empty Quarter, or Rub' al Khali, remains largely untouched, however. Excursions can be arranged from many of the region’s top hotels. For the best “now and then” comparison check into The Ritz-Carlton, Dubai. As would be expected from a Ritz-Carlton property the hotel is finished to the highest standard and all of the 138 rooms and suites feature Gulf views. 35,000 square feet of landscaped gardens and one of the longest stretches of private beach are provided for guest comfort. For visitors looking to witness something more akin to what Thesiger could have seen, the hotel offers a range of dessert safaris. From overnight trips, complete with Bedouin-style camping, to mountain or coastal excursions this is the best way to experience a way of life which was once standard for millions of Arabs.\n\n\n
The Ritz-Carlton, Dubai
The book:\n\nDown Under: In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson
\n\nOne of the most prolific travel writers of recent decades Bryson’s work has received both critical and commercial acclaim. Arguably his most famous works have been wide-ranging tours of Northern Europe and North America with the comedic tone combining historical curiosity with modern-day absurdity. It is a formula recreated successfully for this exploration of Australia. Freely admitting it is a country he did not know extensively before writing the book Bryson takes the reader on a voyage of cultural and natural discovery as he traverses the island visiting many landscapes for the first time. Visiting both the desert outback as well as thriving coastal cities it serves as an excellent introduction to modern Australia as well as a highly-readable account of the nation’s development in the 19th century.
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\n\nBryson travels far and wide, taking in coastal and central Australia and it would be impossible to find a base that covers all his experiences in a single hotel. However, Sydney is a wonderful start and finish point for any journey to the World’s largest island. Finding a hotel with views of the amazing opera house should be a priority and on that criterion it is hard to look beyond the InterContinental, Sydney. The former Australia Treasury Building has uninterrupted views directly down on Sydney’s most famous building and is just a 10-minute walk (through the Royal Botanic Gardens) away.\n\n\n
Intercontinental Hotel, Sydney
The book:\n\nHokkaido Highway Blues by Will Ferguson
\n\nThe sight of cherry blossom trees in full bloom is among the most beautiful vistas Japan has to offer. Writer Will Ferguson’s poetic tribute to Japan follows the gradual sweeping northward of the blossoming season. From the first appearance of the pink flowers on the islands’ southern most tip in spring time all the way to the snowy north many weeks later it is a site recorded and reported on with the enthusiasm of a major sporting event in Japan. Ferguson was inspired to discover more of the insider’s Japan when he first saw the sakura, as the blossom is officially known, and chose to hitchhike the full route. The journey, and also writing, skips lightly from profound to hysterical and is always lyrical as Ferguson encounters popular Japanese culture and traditional sensitivities alike.
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\n\nAs the book states the blossoming of the cherry trees gradually sweeps across Japan so if trips are timed correctly visitors have a chance to witness the beauty in most parts of Japan. For maximum impact, however, a visit to Osaka during its annual sakura festival is recommended. 5,500 cherry trees blossom over a period of a few weeks in the Japanese Garden of the city’s Natural and Cultural Park. As a base from which to explore the region it is hard to find a better option than The Ritz-Carlton, Osaka. The city centre hotel is regarded as the most luxurious hotel in Osaka and is in the prestigious Nishi-Umeda district. Two Michelin star hotels, superb shopping facilities, nearby museums and the popular Universal Studios theme park will also give an insight into Ferguson’s Japan.\n\n\n
The Ritz-Carlton, Osaka
The book:\n\nDark Star Safari by Paul Theroux
\n\nOf the thousands of books of travel writing a surprising minority put the African continent under the microscope. Those that do tend to focus on particular regions – with North Africa in particular being more popular – rather than the continent as a whole. It falls then to one of the greatest masters of the craft to create the most memorable work. Dark Star Safari chronicles Pal Theroux’s epic journey from Cairo to Cape Town. As with many of his other works the journey is taken by a ramshackle collection of planes, trains, automobiles, buses and even armoured car convoys. Theroux’s sharp eye for detail and keen observations of the society through which he is travelling is evident throughout as he questions the impact of decades of aid programs from Western nations.
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\n\nVisitors to Africa extol the continents diversity and point to the wonderful geographical and cultural splendour as reasons for exploration. Theroux’s investigative eye wonders over the less glamorous side of the continent and first time visitors often find Cape Town to be a more accessible starting point. The spectacular city is wildly cosmopolitan and boasts some of the most arresting natural beauty in the world. Way down at sea level and looking up to the Table Mountain is the Cape Grace Hotel. Situated in its own private quay and with private bridge access this boutique hotel commands the best views of Cape Town’s most famous landmark. The hotel is strictly in the boutique category with chic furnishings, stylish architecture, sophisticated dining and a luxury spa. The style is one of modern Africa and works well to bring the best of manmade and natural beauty together. Theroux, you could imagine, would approve.\n\n
Cape Grace Hotel, Cape Town\n\n\n
The book:\n\nThe Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
\n\nErnest Miller Hemingway was arguably the most famous of American novelists, revered by his countrymen as an epitome of manliness and bravery. He was a journalist and his short sentences and reportage style have remained fresh to this day. Two major themes in Hemingway’s novels are comradeship and betrayal by women. Even more evocative in his writing is the sense of place and an enduring love of Paris and Spain which reappeared through many of his books. The Sun also Rises and Death in the Afternoon both extol the virtues of Spain in particular. To read either is to be transported to a world of cobbled streets, machismo and artistic endeavour. In the simplest of language Hemingway writes about European cities so evocatively that the sweat of a bullfighter can almost be smelled on the page.
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\n\nSo brutal is Hemingway’s writing at times it is something of a relief that the sport of bullfighting is on the decline. In 2010, in fact, the sport was outlawed in Barcelona and although it lives on in parts of Spain it does so in diminished form. Despite this there is much to experience from Hemingway’s work across Spain. A stay at The Ritz-Carlton, Hotel Arts in Barcelona is advisable for Hemingway enthusiasts. Although the property is not one which the author himself stayed at it does represent the values of art, culture and physical dominance. Hotel Arts Barcelona rises 44 stories above the city’s Olympic Port and is firmly of the new school of megalithic boutique hotels. Public spaces in the hotel are decorated with dramatic murals, paintings and sculptures by renowned Spanish artists and much of Barcelona’s most recognisable architecture can be spotted from the panoramic viewing spots. The Picasso Museum, Sagrada Familia and Gothic Quarter are a short walk away.\n\n\n
The book:\n\nThe Road to Oxiana by Robert Byron
\n\nA genre-defining travelogue which other travel writers hold up as the pinnacle of the art form. Byron’s journey is a detailed account of a 1930s trek through the Middle East. Iran and Afghanistan, in particular, are explored with a major emphasis being on the architecture of the region as well, of course, as the people inhabiting the lands. The journey itself was undertaken on foot, by car and in many memorable passages on the back of horses. The trip was by no means a luxury trek with Byron experiencing extremes of heat and cold as well as physical illness and infestations of bugs and insects.
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\n\nByron’s journey was, as the expression goes, no holiday. As wonderful as the book and the writing is few right-minded travelers would want to follow directly in his footsteps. Which is not to say the territories he explored are not spectacular in their own right – every serious traveler must visit the region. Consider starting, as the author himself did, in Cyprus. The island is politically divided between Turkish and Greek allegiances and sits in the Mediterranean Sea. Stay at the Elysium Hotel to ensure a five star quality to your vacation. This low rise property has the distinction of direct beach access, seclusion and the best\nElysium Hotel, Cyprus.
Elysium Hotel, Cyprus