OK, I love travelling. And I love television. If you can’t physically strap your worldly goods to your back and head off on an epic adventure, surely watching it while eating crisps from the comfort of your sofa has to be (almost) the next best thing? A lot of the travel I’ve done, visits I’ve made to foreign cities, historical sites and museums have been because I’ve discovered them through the magic of television.Only last week, a story I saw about Greenland had me flicking through the internet, looking for ways to get there, places to see and things to do. But I’m sure I’m preaching to the converted. You love telly too, right? In case you’re looking for a spot of exotic inspiration or escapism to transport you to some far-flung places via the medium of tv, here, in no particular order, are my top five travel programmes which I can watch over and over and never fail to make me yearn to see the world.
Only 80? Can’t we see all of them, please. I’ve personally watched this entire series three times (I don’t get out much). Every time I watch I have a renewed longing to see such wonderful ancient ruins at Machu Picchu, the Nazca Lines of Peru and Rio de Janeiro where the treasure is the giant statue of Christ the Redeemer. And that’s only in the first episode. Mr Cruickshank, fantastically enthusiastic in his presentation style as well as being incredibly knowledgable, travels the world (clue is in the title) in five months, introducing the viewer to new treasures which you may never have heard of as well as the old favourites like the Taj Mahal and the treasury at Petra. Ten one hour episodes, each covering (average) 8 treasures, this series should satisfy even the itchiest of feet for a little while, at least.
Special mention: Dan Cruickshank’s Adventures in Architecture. Also worth a look for exotic locations and the making of inspiring travel plans.
Kevin McCloud, is best known for being a big ole nay-sayer and pessimist when ordinary folks are building houses (but I love him, really) in his show Grand Designs. In this show, he takes the viewer on the Grand Tour, a tour of Europe taken mostly by young men of means back in the 17th-19th centuries. Kevin’s purpose for this tour though is to enlighten the viewer as to how architecture trends in Europe influenced Britain’s architecture and culture. He travels to places such as Florence (my favourite episode), Rome, Athens and even Switzerland, following in the footsteps of some of his favourite architects, visiting sites of particular importance in the influence of the buildings of Britain.
Special mention: The Medici: Makers of Modern Art Andrew Graham Dixon runs around Florence exploring the infamous Medici family and their influence on renaissance art.
Lest you think I am obsessed with boring things like art & architecture (I am but am a total dilettante), here’s a food-based travel programme. Yes, I am also obsessed with food. I’ve got a soft spot for Rick Stein, he seems like a nice man, he cooks the most amazing seafood dishes and he had a lovely wee dog. I’ll watch anything he’s in but this one is probably my favourite because far eastern food is so very, very tasty.
Rick Stein travels the far east from Cambodia to Vietnam to Malaysia, Bali and Bangladesh. He visit markets where the food is vivid in colour and tries food from street vendors which makes you wish someone had already invented smell-o-vision (they haven’t, have they?) He shows the process of a family making rice noodles in the old traditional style and each and every restaurant or business he visits finishes up with his trademark vignette of the workers/proprietors standing outside their work. Plus, he cooks and shares delicious recipes. I love it.
This show changed my mind about travelling the USA completely. Before I was quite happy to perhaps visit New York, Los Angeles and a couple of the other big American cities in my lifetime. After watching this programme, I felt I had to see it all. I especially felt drawn to New England, although that may be because I love lobster.
It’s highly unlikely you haven’t seen this, I think everyone probably has, Stephen Fry drives a black London cab around the USA visiting every state (except one, I think). The premise is that he wants to explore the land that he was nearly born in (his father was offered a place teaching at some university while his mother was pregnant but his father chose to stay in England.) Frankly, that’s a bit of a weak premise but that’s the only thing that’s weak. The whole show is fascinating. No, really.
Special mention: Rick Stein also did a show where he ate lobster in Maine. I think it was Rick Stein’s Seafood Odyssey. I still think of that 10 minutes of tv fondly.
This is a bit of a cheat. Not so much a travel programme as a nature documentary, this one. But, it does, in its six episodes, travel the world; the polar region, the Serengeti, the Kalahari and the oceans are all featured in hour length episodes which focus on the changes in those regions as the seasons change over the course of one year. Although the focus is on the wildlife, the cinematography of the landscapes is breathtaking, and will surely make the viewer yearn to see it all, and perhaps even the wildlife too, with their own eyes.
Special Mention: BBC’s Great Bear Stakeout which shows off Alaska’s amazing landscape in glorious technicolour.
There’s so much out there. We may not have enough time or the means to see it all in person but we can experience a little (or a lot) via the good old goggle box. Isn’t telly marvellous?