Had enough dreariness? Enough of this not-really-winter but not-yet-spring gray slush? Maybe you don’t want to schlep your luggage halfway around the world but you’d like to get away in spirit. Here you go.
The Europe Book: A Journey Through Every Country on the Continent, 2010, Lonely Planet Publications, 256 pages. This is a paperback reissue of a coffee-table book that was first published in 2008 in hardcover. It’s a large book with lots of superb, bright, colorful photographs, so you can get a little lost in the places it depicts — Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz brilliantly lit up at night, the Northern Lights in Finland’s sky, the blue waters of a swimming hole in Montenegro. Imagine yourself one of the Nordic skiers traversing a sunlit glade in the Czech Republic’s Sumava Mountains, or one of the Ukraine beachgoers. It’s not all warm and happy, of course: farming in Slovenia is clearly a hard-knock life. And though the Siberian reindeer herder looks cozily bundled under a beautiful blue sky, you probably don’t want to trade places with him. Still, it’s fun to browse. Even the people waiting inside a glacial cave in Switzerland for a wine sample look somehow warm. Lonely Planet, known for its travel guides, offers similar pictorials for other parts of the globe, like The USA Book and The Asia Book.
Go Slow England: Special Local Places to Eat, Stay & Savor, by Alastair Sawday with Gail McKenzie, photographs by Rob Cousins, 2011, The Little Bookroom, 263 pages. Talk about slow — the Royal Oak at Luxborough in Somerset “goes back 500 years” and “meat hooks are still visible in the beams” from when it housed the local abattoir. It has 11 rooms and a lively pub serving local beer to game hunters in season. Or how about the Old Forge in Dorset, where you can choose to spend the night in a restored wagon planted on the edge of a field, with shower and toilet in a converted outhouse nearby and “spectacular” views. You might also enjoy a vintage picnic or a talk with the owner about his antique cars. Many of the places described in this book are very small, just two or three rustic rooms; most are into local food and many produce it on site. At the swankier end of the spectrum is the Griffin Inn in Sussex, a 13-room 16th-century inn serving local and organic food made by seven chefs; it’s family-run and hosts wine tastings and live jazz music. For each inn, the authors give contact and price information and they have spoken with the innkeepers at some length about why they do what they do.
Fodor’s Ireland 2011, edited by Robert I.C. Fisher, 2011, Fodor’s Travel, 706 pages. Yes, Fodor’s travel guides are meant for people who are actually travelling, but they also make for good virtual travel. If you’d enjoy a half-hour TV travelogue with a host guiding you around Ireland, you might just as much enjoy a half hour perusing this book. It’s a small, handleable book but physically heavy and informationally dense — yet well organized and good for browsing. Of course Fodor’s has guides for everyplace; this Ireland entry is just an example. By browsing through, you can immerse yourself in Irish pub culture or Dublin’s literary scene (the first 200 pages are devoted to greater Dublin). The photos are crisp and colorful. Sidebars enlighten you about popular activities such as equitrekking, Irish dance and the sport of hurling. And you can read about attractions all over the country — museums, libraries, historic castles and churches, the Blarney Stone (”scrubbed with disinfectant several times a day”) and many more. Of course, the book also has all the details on where to stay, where to eat, and what bus stops you’ll use should you decide to actually visit.