Maybe Fascinating; Maybe Not

GRAND TOURS AND COOK'S TOURS: A History of Leisure Travel 1750-1915 by Lynne Withey (William Morrow, $30).

Maybe this is a travel book that only a travel book columnist could love. But I found it fascinating that 18th century travelers could call on the French king at Versailles; that before Romanticism, most tourists despised the Alps; that Niagara Falls was a hot honeymoon spot by the 1830s; that a Thomas Cook package tour may have inspired Jules Verne's 1872 book, "Around the World in Eighty Days."

If you're stifling a yawn just reading the above list, forget "Grand Tours." It's packed with travel history minutiae. However, Withey has also spiced it with quotes from famous travelers. In "Grand Tours," we hear Samuel Johnson grousing about the French ("a gross, ill-bred, untaught people"), Florence Nightingale gushing over Egypt, Mark Twain satirizing everything.

Withey's history begins in the mid-1700s, when it became relatively common for the British upper classes to tour the Continent; it ends with the advent of automobiles, airplanes and World War I. She deals mainly with upscale trips, not jaunts from Liverpool to London. Because of its wealth, social structure and empire, England provided most of the international travelers in this period and "Grand Tours" focuses on the English tourist industry.

Much of the book's fun comes from revisiting tourist cliches. Some have changed: the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone was once more popular than the Grand Canyon. Some have not: In 1840, crowds of tourists in Paris caused French writer Theophile Gautier to write, "The English are everywhere except in London."

A VILLAGE IN FRANCE: Louis Clergeau's Photographic Portrait of Daily Life in Pontlevoy, 1902-1936 text by Jean-Mary Couderc (Harry N. Abrams, $45, photos).

For more than 30 years, Louis Clergeau photographed the people, places and events of his home, a Loire-Valley village near the town of Blois. Clergeau created this photographic chronicle as a hobbyist and as a professional--he shot lots of weddings and many of the photos shown in "Village" have formal compositions.

Over the years, he, and later his daughter, took thousands of black-and-white photographs, creating a kind of time-lapse image of French country folk. The photos are arranged by theme, for example: "The Importance of the Schools," "A Way of Life Tied to the Land," "The Great War and the American Presence." So things are a bit confusing, chronologically. Thumbing through the photos, you see women's styles shift from traditional bonnets to stylish Parisian hats and back to bonnets.

Ultimately, it's the people rather than their quaint clothing or archaic implements that capture our imagination. Who is that band member with the cloth hat and twinkle in his eye? What happened to that dashing student pilot when World War I broke out? Which pretty schoolgirls stayed in Pontlevoy; which ones moved to Paris or Los Angeles?

Quick trips:

HIKING CALIFORNIA'S DESERT PARKS by Bill Cunningham and Polly Burke (Falcon, $16.95, paperback, maps, photos). One-hundred-eleven hikes in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Joshua Tree National Park, Mojave National Preserve and Death Valley National Park. Informative and well-designed (though maps are sometimes separated from trail descriptions). Hike information includes difficulty ratings, elevation gains and losses and a list of key points with mileages.

HOT SHOWERS, SOFT BEDS, AND DAYHIKES IN THE SIERRA: Walks and Strolls Near Lodgings by Kathy Morey (Wilderness Press, $16.95, paperback, maps, photos). Good idea. Helps hikers commune with nature by day and have comfort by night. Guide to 120 hikes in nine Sierra areas. Each area has a separate listing of hotel/motel/lodge possibilities. Hikes are 10 miles or less and most involve less than 2,600 feet of elevation gain. Each hike is described in some detail and accompanied by a trip summary chart filled with initially confusing, eventually logical icons and abbreviations.

TRAVELER'S GUIDE TO EUROPEAN CAMPING by Mike and Terri Church (Rolling Home Press, $19.95, paperback, maps). Geared to RVers, though useful for other campers. Outlines scores of campgrounds in Western Europe, Great Britain and Ireland. Listings include detailed directions, descriptions, facilities and some possible excursions. Introductory chapters discuss a variety of practical concerns such as insurance, renting versus buying and electrical services.

EUROPE FROM $50 A DAY (Macmillan, $21.95, paperback, maps). Fortieth anniversary of the famous guide that began as "Europe on $5 a Day." Original author, Arthur Frommer, has passed the writing duties along to a phalanx of writers and editors, but it's still a superb all-purpose budget guide. Focuses on 23 major cities. Jammed with facts and figures while retaining some of the Frommer chattiness. The $50 goal is for meals and lodging only. The inclusion of the word "from" in the title allows writers to include some upscale hotels and restaurants.

ANTARCTICA: A Lonely Planet Travel Survival Kit by Jeff Rubin (Lonely Planet, $17.95, paperback, maps, photos). Shopping? Restaurants? Hotels? The usual guidebook concerns don't apply here, so Rubin concentrates on Antarctic cruise options and natural history. Includes section on getaway cities such as Cape Town, South Africa, and Punta Arenas, Chile. Also new from Lonely Planet: TREKKING IN THE KARAKORAM & HINDUKUSH by John Mock and Kimberley O'Neil (Lonely Planet, $16.95, paperback, maps, photos). Includes detailed outlines of numerous routes in Mongolia and in the Central Asian Hindu Kush mountain range.

Books to Go appears the second and fourth week of every month.

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