Farmer drying oranges.

A farmer drying oranges, Taiwan. ©Fifi Lan/500px

Christmas presents for travel lovers

If you are still hurting your head trying to think of Christmas presents for your nearest and dearest, I thought I’d mention two rather lovely travel books that have thumped their way onto my coffee table in recent weeks.

The first, Lonely Planet’s The Travel Book, is a monster. Its gargantuan size means that it can have similarly gargantuan pictures…which are quite simply stunning and guaranteed to transport you to exotic climes in a jiffy. Like these…

Machu Picchu, Cusco, Peru

Machu Picchu, Cusco, Peru © Berenger Zyla/500px

Calm lake in Rocky Mountains, Alberta, Canada

Rocky Mountains, Alberta, Canada © Ron Caimano/500px

Water cascading into pool creating rainbow at Seljalandsfoss.

Seljalandsfoss, Iceland. © Gary Latham/Lonely Planet

In fact you can ‘virtually’ visit every country in the world – from Afghanistan (hey?) to Zimbabwe, via the Cayman Islands, Greenland, Papua New Guinea and Wales! The information is snippety and very easy to read. After a short intro, there is bullet pointed information – best time to visit, places of interest, local customs etc. My favourite part (apart from those dreamy pictures) is the ‘Getting under the Skin’ section on each country. It tells you what to read, listen to, watch, eat and drink to get a better understanding of each place. I also love the ‘Random Facts’. Did you know, for example, that most of Barbuda’s 1600 people share half a dozen surnames and can trace their lineage to a small group of slaves brought to the island in the late 1600s? Or that Lake Nyos in Cameroon is one of two ‘exploding lakes’ in the country. It is considered the most deadly on earth – having killed around 1700 people in 1986 before efforts were made to reduce its volcanic gases. Or that Singapore is the world’s largest exporter of exotic aquarium fish? Well you do now!

My other pick is Atlas Obscura – An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders. This book celebrates the most unusual sights, curiosities and events on our planet so that you can arm yourself with a bucket list with a difference!

the famous hanging coffins rest high on the limestone cliffs in echo valley near the mountain village of sagada, in the cordillera region, north luzon, philippines

Hanging coffins, Echo valley near Sagada,  North Luzon, Philippines. © Deddeda

Monument to Ulyanov Lenin in Russia the city of Ulan-Ude. The head was built in 1970 for the centennial of Lenin's birth. It towers over the main plaza at 7.7 meters (25 ft) and weighs 42 tons.

Monument to Ulyanov Lenin in Ulan-Ude, Russia. © Demerzel21

It’s fascinating stuff. It describes the Icelandic Elf School in Reykjavik, Iceland, catering for the many inhabitants who believe in the ‘hidden people’ – elves, fairies, dwarves and gnomes. Travellers can take part in a five hour class which includes a tour of the city’s elf habitats.

Another entry, and one I’ve been to myself, is the excellent Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital, where the locals take their birds for everything from a talon trim to heart surgery. It’s rather amusing to enter the waiting room, where the falcons are lined up as if at a doctor’s surgery, sitting on Astroturf perches and wearing hoods over their eyes to keep them calm.

Or how about the Hanging Coffins of Igorot Sagada in the Phillipines? Here, the dead are laid to rest in the usual wooden coffins but instead of being buried in the ground, they are hoisted and fixed onto the side of a cliff in Echo Valley. It’s believed this keeps them safe from floods and animals and gives them an easier journey to heaven. Holy Schmoley!

• Lonely Planet’s The Travel Book costs £40. For information on where you can order it online, visit www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-book

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* Atlas Obscura costs £25 and is published by Workman Publishing. For more information visit https://www.workman.com/atlas-uk

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