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Over the course of more than 2,000 years, countless travel books have transformed little known places into popular destinations. (© Owen Franken / CORBIS)

The Top Ten Most Influential Travel Books

Even before there were armchairs, voracious bookworms traveled the world just by reading

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 10. Peter Mayle, A Year in Provence (1989)

Mayle's breezy account of his mid-life decision to escape dark and sodden England to renovate a farmhouse in Ménerbes, a village in the south of France, created an entire sub-genre of do-it-yourself travel memoirs filled with charmingly quirky locals. It also inspired thousands to physically emulate his life-changing project, flooding Provence and other sunny idylls with expats in search of a rustic fixer-upper and supplies of cheap wine. Aided by the relaxed residency laws of the European Union, discount airlines and France's super-fast TGV trains, the once-impoverished southern France quickly became gentrified by retirees from Manchester, Hamburg and Stockholm, until it is now, in the words of one critic, a “bourgeois theme park for foreigners.” (Tuscany became equally popular, thanks to Frances Mayes' beguiling books, with the shores of Spain and Portugal following suit). Things got so crowded that Mayle himself moved out – although he has since returned to a different tiny village, Lourmarin, a stone's throw from his original haunt. In recent years, Elizabeth Gilbert's wildly successful Eat Pray Love (2007) offered a similar spirit of personal reinvention, inspiring a new wave of travelers to follow her  path to the town of Ubud in Bali in search of spiritual (and romantic) fulfillment

 

A Smithsonian Magazine Contributing Writer, Tony Perrottet is the author of five travel and history books, including Pagan Holiday: On the Trail of Ancient Roman Tourists and The Sinner's Grand Tour: A Journey Through the Historical Underbelly of Europe; www.tonyperrottet.com

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