The best travel writing captures the heart and the imagination. The author’s ability to conjure up a sense of place leaves us longing to go there. If you wept over the dust-pale sunsets and sheer romance of Out of Africa, read on. Rose Gamble picks six destinations made famous by books
Ngong Hills & the Masai Mara, Kenya – Out of Africa, Isak Dinesen (1937)
This iconic memoir recounts the 17 years that Karen von Blixen-Finecke (pen name Isak Dinesen) spent in British East Africa. Her lyrical descriptions of galloping over the Kenyan plains pink with dust, and sleeping beneath starlit skies, are the inspiration behind many tented camp safaris. Sydney Pollack’s much lauded film adaptation in 1985, starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford, later elevated Out of Africa to almost-legendary status, bringing even more tourists flooding to Kenya.
Literary stay Be transported back to von Blixen’s era by spending a few days at Cottar’s 1920s Safari Camp, on the edge of the Masai Mara, where you can expect antique furnishings, roll-top baths and liveried staff.
Great Karoo, South Africa – Disgrace, J.M Coetzee (1999)
By the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, this novel follows a disgraced university lecturer who takes refuge on his daughter’s farm in the Eastern Cape. Although bleak in subject matter, Coetzee’s descriptions of the startling contrasts of the Karoo landscape — at once beautiful, ominous and powerful — are magnetic.
Literary stay The 14,000 hectares of Mount Camdeboo Private Game Reserve illustrate the disparity between this beautiful region’s sweeping, gold-green grasslands and the Sneeuberg Mountains’ mouthful of jagged teeth. Choose to stay in Camdeboo, Hillside or Courtyard Manor.
Botswana – The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, Alexander McCall Smith (1998)
Alexander McCall Smith’s gentle detective stories are a cheerful alternative to the bleakness of many African novels. His jovial protagonist Mma Precious Ramotswe and other characters bathe Botswana and its capital Gaborone in a friendly and appealing glow.
Literary stay Deception Valley Lodge boasts a name that would surely pique the interest of the ever-curious Mma Ramotswe. Set on the northeastern border of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, it works with local San bushmen to teach guests about survival in the bush: just the skills needed by a lady detective.
Cairo, Egypt – Children of Gebelawi, Naguib Mahfouz (1981)
Originally published in Arabic, this novel is an allegory of the history of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It earnt Mahfouz the Nobel Prize in Literature (as well as an assassination attempt), and the reader is swept into a buzzing Cairo of twisting, stone-walled streets, drenched in a fascinating past.
Literary stay The city’s first boutique hotel The Talisman is entered from a frenetic alleyway at the heart of bustling central Cairo. The hotel itself is wonderfully calm, but step outside and you’ll enter the world of Mahfouz’s masterpiece.
Shiwa Ng’andu, Zambia – The Africa House, Christina Lamb (1999)
This is a fascinating account of the construction in 1920, by the much-admired Sir Stewart Gore-Browne, of Shiwa Ng’andu, an extraordinary mansion and estate in the granite hills and rolling plains of what was then Northern Rhodesia. This grand edifice, complete with a gilded library and beautiful rose garden, must be seen to be believed.
Literary stay Sir Stewart’s grandson has restored the property to its pristine splendour, and the 22,000-acre estate is open to visitors. You can stay in one of the four guest rooms, furnished with original pieces. Supper is served on the original table where the great man himself would dine in full evening dress.
Lake Manyara & The Serengeti, Tanzania – Green Hills of Africa, Ernest Hemingway (1935)
Hemingway’s nonfiction journal tells the story of a month-long safari in Tanzania he and his second wife Pauline Marie Pfeiffer enjoyed together in 1933. Although there’s a strong focus on big-game hunting (interspersed with some philosophical ruminations on Russian literature) the stark but evocative descriptions of the land paint a picture of an unspoilt wilderness teeming with game.
Literary stay Namiri Plains, situated in a remote corner of the Serengeti, is almost as untouched as Hemingway’s Africa, still abounding in big cats. With only eight tents, the camp will make you feel as if you have the place entirely to yourself.