Best books to read in 10 different holiday destinations

Guest post by Suzi Butcher, editor of Packabook Travel Novels

If there is one thing that goes hand-in-hand with a well-deserved holiday, it’s a good book to read during those leisurely hours between breakfast and cocktails. But while the latest vampire novel or sci-fi adventure might give you a welcome break from reality, you might also enjoy reading a novel set in your holiday destination of choice.

Novels allow you to immerse yourself in the history and culture of the place you are visiting without leaving your sunbed, and they can also offer some surprise ideas for things to do during your trip. Here are some recommended novels for 10 popular holiday destinations.


American writer Paul Bowles made Morocco his home for around 50 years, so he could claim an insight to the country beyond most other western authors. His novel The Spider’s House takes you to Fez (or Fes) in 1954, at a time when Moroccans were rebelling against their French rulers. Sipping mint tea in Fez’s ancient medina will mean much more to you after reading this novel, and you can even stay in the same hotel as Bowles’s main character – a former palace with stunning gardens and exotic Moroccan decor.


Paris is a city filled with art and passion – and you will get a bit of both in Susan Vreeland’s Luncheon of the Boating Party, which fictionalises the story behind August Renoir’s famous painting of the same name. Better still – the restaurant at the heart of the novel has now been renovated after being abandoned for many years, and you can have your own luncheon on the very balcony overlooking the Seine where the action is set.


It’s not all sun and sand in Spain – try taking a trip to Basque country with Dave Boling’s novel Guernica for something a little different. Not only will you learn a great deal about what is reported to be the ‘oldest tribe in Europe’ you will also be taken to the heart of one of the most horrific attacks on civilians of the Spanish Civil War. The 1937 bombing of Guernica was famously portrayed in a painting by Picasso.


The Phi Phi islands are amongst the most recognised in Thailand (think of the Leonardo di Caprio film ‘The Beach’) but while you are enjoying their pristine waters and magnificent bays, local Thais are working hard to provide you with all the services you need. In John Shors’ novel Cross Currents we meet a Thai family struggling to run a small resort on one of the islands – and given that the novel is set in the week leading up to the Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004, we know things are about to get a whole lot tougher for them.


High on most people’s lists for a trip to India is a visit to the Taj Mahal. Why not enhance your journey by reading a novel which tells you the romantic story behind this iconic building’s creation? In the 17th century, grief-stricken Mughal Emporer Shah Jahan decided to build a memorial to his dead wife. With the help of 20,000 workers the Taj Mahal was completed 20 years later. Timeri Murari’s novel Taj explores the love Sha Jahan had for his wife and looks at the political struggles of the time.

Czech Republic

While many of us have enjoyed a long weekend in the capital Prague, the Czech Republic’s second largest city Brno is also attracting its fair share of visitors. While there are a number of historic castles and churches to see, another more recent building should also be on your itinerary. Villa Tugendhat, a house built between 1928 and 1930, is a pioneering example of modern architecture and a UNESCO world heritage site.  In Simon Mawer’s novel The Glass Room, he takes you right inside a house based on this famous villa, the focal point of his World War Two drama. By the end, you will feel as if you’ve lived in it yourself!


Cast your mind back to 1999 and you may remember when north-western Turkey was hit by a powerful earthquake. Alen Drew’s novel Gardens of Water takes us back there, as the members of one Istanbul family find their lives irrevocably changed by the disaster. Touching on issues such as the conflict between Turks and Kurds, and religious and cultural clashes between locals and aid workers, this novel will show you a side of Istanbul you are unlikely to come across on your travels.


A land of excellent beaches and fine food, Greece and her islands have been a holiday destination of choice for many years. But in the late 1940’s the country was deeply involved in a civil war that left the country in ruins. Reading Nicholas Gage’s novel Eleni, based on his own family’s experiences, makes you realise just how divided the country was and how much hardship people endured as neighbours and families were pitted against each other in the brutal conflict.


It is pretty impossible to tell the story of Jamaica without looking at the country’s slave history – and Andrea Levy’s The Long Song takes us to a plantation near the port town of Falmouth, once central to the slave trade. But with the slave ships now replaced by cruise liners, tourists are finally discovering one of the best-preserved Georgian towns in the Caribbean.


A visit to Egypt is dominated by the country’s history – so a trip to the past is almost essential for your Egyptian reading list. One delightful way to get there is through Elizabeth Peters’s series of novels featuring amateur detective Amelia Peabody. This parasol-wielding Victorian feminist takes us on a tour of classical Egypt, as she solves murders and kidnappings along the way. But be warned, once you get started, you may never stop. There are now more than 20 books in the series, and they are highly addictive!

* Suzi Butcher is the editor of Packabook Travel Novels, a website that aims to combine a love of reading with the joy of travel. With novels categorised by location, Packabook helps you find the perfect read for your holiday.

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