Books Set in France – Five Novels to Read Before You Travel

So you are about to set off on the trip of a lifetime to one of the most-loved countries in the world — France! You have been practicing your ‘bonjours‘ and your ‘mercis‘, and studying maps of Paris to work out how to get around, but there is one more thing you can do to make sure your trip is extra special. And that is to immerse yourself in French life by reading some books set in France.

Reading novels set in Paris or the French countryside will give you an insight into the country which is impossible to get from the guide books. As the characters walk along the Seine or drink their coffee at a table on the Parisian pavement, it will fill you with anticipation to do the same — making the experience so much sweeter when you finally get to do it yourself. If the novel is set in the past, you will have more appreciation for France’s history, bringing many of the places and old buildings alive when you visit them on your trip. And if the novel is set in the present day, there’s nothing more fun than trying to find the streets, bars and restaurants that might be mentioned in the story.

So what books should you read? Here is a selection of five novels which do a great job in bringing France to life, even before you set foot on that plane.

‘Foreign Tongue’ by Vanina Marsot

Nursing a broken heart, Anna moves to Paris from Los Angeles. She begins working as the translator of a cryptic erotic novel and of course, finds herself some romance. The book is a love-letter to the city, with plenty of wanderings through the streets as well as descriptions of French life, food and cafes.

‘The Coral Thief’ by Rebecca Stott

History, mystery, romance and intrigue intertwine in this novel set in post-Napoleonic Paris. It is 1815 and a young Englishman travels to Paris to take up a position at the renowned Jardin des Plantes. But when the collection of rare coral specimens he is carrying is stolen by a beautiful woman, he is drawn into a plot involving revolutionaries, spies and the intelligentsia. Victorian Paris comes alive in this novel, which will surely enhance any present day visit to the Jardin des Plantes, France’s main botanical garden.

‘Luncheon of the Boating Party’ by Susan Vreeland

Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s ‘Luncheon of the Boating Party’ is a famous painting depicting a group of Parisians enjoying lunch on the terrace of a restaurant on the Seine. In this novel Vreeland tells the story of those in the painting and how they came to be there. It is a glorious look at Paris at the time of the Impressionists, and you can still eat at the restaurant itself today.

‘Five Quarters of the Orange’ by Joanne Harris

Now we move out of Paris and into the Loire Valley with this novel by Harris that takes us to a village occupied by the Germans in WWII. The book moves between WWII and the present day, giving us an insight into the long-term effects the Nazi occupation had on the French people. And as it is a book by Joanne Harris, there is a of course lots of time spent exploring French food!

‘The Matchmaker of Perigord’ by Julia Stuart

We finish up with something fun and quirky, in a fictional village in France’s south-west. Amour-Sur-Belle might not be a real place, but it gives a taste of some of the declining villages of rural France. Here, the town barber decides to reinvent himself as a match-maker, quite a task when there are only 33 residents to match up. Filled with delightful characters and semi-ridiculous situations, this novel should just leave you giggling and enjoying the French temperament.

So if you have your tickets booked for Charles de Gaulle airport or you just WISH you had a holiday planned for France, try the books above to immerse yourself in a bit of French life and culture. And if you find yourself enjoying them…well, there’s plenty more to explore…Bon Voyage!

Books Set in Spain – Five Novels to Read Before You Travel

If you are planning a trip to Spain, you might be thinking it is all about the sun, sand and Sangria.

That is the side of Spain that is often portrayed in the popular media, but if you’d like to know a little bit more about the country you are traveling to then it might be time to turn to some books set in Spain that delve into Spanish life and tell us something of the country’s difficult history.

It has not been such a long time since Spain was divided by a bitter civil war and the subsequent years of fascism. It wasn’t until General Francisco Franco died in 1975 after a forty year reign, that the country was able to embark on becoming the democratic country it is today.

You can find out what it was like for Spaniards in those years by reading the following novels.

‘Guernica’ by Dave Boling

The town of Guernica is in the Basque region of northern Spain. In 1937 hundreds of residents were killed when the town was bombed by German and Italian war planes. This inspired Pablo Picasso to create a painting of the event — the horror of the images helping to bring attention to the Spanish Civil War. This novel is the story of that painting and the people depicted in it We become immersed in the lives of the Ansogegui family in the lead up to the war, as well as the devastating years of the war itself — following them as they try to come to terms with the impact the conflict has on themselves and their loved ones. If you’d like to know more about the Basque people and this particular slice of history, then this novel is ideal.

‘The Time of the Doves’ by Merce Rodoreda

Set in Barcelona before, during and after the Civil War, this novel follows the life of Natalia through her suffering and depression. It may be a tear-jerker, but it is also a tale of hope and survival. And when you go to Barcelona, you can visit La Placa Del Diamant, the original Catalan title of the novel, and a crucial location in the novel.

‘A Manuscript of Ashes’ by Antonio Munoz Molina

This novel begins during the latter years of Franco’s reign, in the late 1960’s. Minaya is a university student who has been imprisoned for his role in a demonstration. He flees to the countryside to work on his thesis and becomes absorbed in a story from the past. It’s a mystery, a love story, and a portrayal of the complexities and tumult of the Civil War.

‘Winter in Madrid’ by C.J. Sansom

As the title suggests, the location of this novel is the Spanish capital. Englishman Harry Brett has been sent to Madrid by the British Secret Service to spy on an old friend. It is 1940, and Harry is soon immersed in the political complexities of post-Civil War Spain. There is also of course, a love story or two…

‘The Return’ by Victoria Hislop

This novel is a curious mix of chick-lit and historical fiction. And while the style of the writing could be considered ‘beach read’, the subject matter is not. Told in a mix of past and present, the novel gives a frightening portrayal of the war in the city of Granada. It shows how civil war pits neighbors and even brothers against each other, while the chaos that follow destroys the dreams and relationships of those who are left behind. If you are planning on visiting Granada, then this book is a must.

By all means enjoy the fantastic lifestyle and culture that you will experience on a trip to Spain today, but if you want to really understand the people that you meet on your journey, then any of these books will help you to do that. Immersing yourself in the history of a city or country does much to enhance your travels, so why not read these novels and take that first step. And once you have done that, there are plenty of more books set in Spain to explore….

Travel to Paradise – Phuket Island Thailand

Phuket Island Thailand – One of the World’s Great Island Holidays

Most people visit Phuket for the beaches and because it’s one of those ‘must-see’ tropical islands. For those who can pry themselves away from the regular tourist trappings and head across the island, they can catch a glimpse of what the island offered prior to the growth of the tourism industry.

At the island’s main crossroads at Ban Tha Rua stand bronze statues of Khunying Jan and her sister Mook, celebrating their heroic and successful resistance to the Burmese invasion in 1785. In Phuket City, the ornate Chinese wats of Jui Tai and Put Jaw are testament to the island’s economic history. Tin was once the primary source of wealth for the island, and from the 16th century onwards, Hakka Chinese entrepreneurs and their workforces came to the island to exploit the mines.

When the price of Tin dropped, the island shifted its primary production to rubber and pineapple plantations and then, in the mid 1970’s, turned it’s attention to maximizing the possibilities provided by an inexhaustible stream of tourists.

Between the headlands, particularly on Phuket’s west coast, are the sandy beaches fringing the Andaman Sea against a backdrop of the little explored interior of heavily forested mountains. Chief among these beaches is Patong, the eternally busy repository of most of Phuket’s hustle and bustle. This is where the Hawkers hawk, touts tout and the kathoey ladyboys bamboozle beer-soaked tourists in the bars of Soi Bangla.

In the 2004 tsunami Patong’s many hotel developments suffered badly, though Hat Kamala slightly to the north bore the full brunt.

If the pace of life in Patong is taking it’s toll, if the prospect of yet another karaoke night seems simply too demanding, there are a myriad of alternatives to chose from. After all, Phuket is a considerably large island, nearly the size of Singapore in fact, so your options are hardly restricted.

To find the quieter beaches it’s advised you head to the northern end of the island, where Phuket’s largest beach, Hat Mai Khao, remains relatively unspoiled and less crowded. Just round the corner of the islands southern tip is Rawai Beach, which (by virtue of its east coast location) offers some fabulous sunset views.

Away from the water and the ribbon developments visitors will find the interiors national parks and reserves, along with the rubber and pineapple plantations. If the mind is soothed by these peaceful surroundings, the body can also enjoy it’s own vacation during the nine-day vegetarian festival that falls each October, at the end of the cool season in Phuket – a true detox for body, mind and spirit.

Amongst the myriad of pleasures on Phuket is the fabulous local cuisine. Don’t be afraid to be adventurous and seek out the eating-houses where locals are dining on mass. This is a sure sign that the food is good and inexpensive. The experience alone is enough to satisfy you but the quality of the meals will draw you back time and again.

Relax and enjoy this slice of paradise, an island so rich with offerings and yet so peaceful and rejuvenating. The speedboat day-trips to Phi Phi Island are highly recommended. Take in James Bond Island and the location for the filming of Hollywood movie ‘The Beach’. It’s wonderful day on the water and a visual delight.

For a wonderful holiday that will not break the bank, Phuket Island Thailand has to be one of the most attractive destinations on the planet. Arrive, relax, indulge and experience…