Simon Reeve visits Burma (BBC)

    Six classic travel documentaries to feed your wanderlust

    30 March 2020

    Wanderlust isn’t an easy feeling to switch off, and, as the days lengthen and we enter the period where we are – in more normal times – beginning to plan our summer holidays, many of us will be feeling thwarted by the lockdown. But we can still fantasise and imagine – isn’t the planning often the best bit of a holiday anyway? And there’ll be plenty of time to catch up with TV programmes and films in the coming weeks. Herewith, then, our round-up of the best travel documentaries. We recommend watching them somewhere sunny, with a glass of rosé in hand, and let the escapism wash over you…

    Brian Sewell’s Grand Tour

    Brian Sewell (Getty)

    If art critic Brian Sewell’s mellifluous tones don’t soothe you during these troubled times, nothing will. Watch the master of snobbery as he follows in the footsteps of generations of aristocrats before him, visiting Rome, Florence, Venice and Naples. It’s worth lingering on his pronounciation of ‘Medici’ – that voice! – and his horror of the grand ball during the Venice carnival. (DVD available on Amazon).

    Michael Palin’s Around the World in 80 Days

    The nicest man in showbusiness is just as charming as you’d expect in this vintage take on Jules Verne’s classic. It harks back to the days when Corona was an outlandish Mexican import and the Cambridge Footlights churned out star after well-mannered, well-spoken star. Fascinating and soothing in equal measure, start here and then explore the wide world of Palin’s other documentaries. (Available on Google Play).

    Bettany Hughes

    Travel not just in the world but back in time with the doyenne of historical Mediterranean documentaries. Classical historian Bettany Hughes is authoritative but friendly: you come away feeling as though you’ve delved under the surface of a place. (Some series available on Channel Five).

    The Trip

    Rob Bryden and Steve Coogan play, loosely, charicatures of themselves in this comedy travelogue where the friends and sometimes rivals pootle around various scenic locations, bickering gently. It’s got everything you want from a travel programme: delicious food, beautiful scenery, local culture. But it’s also larded with infectious impressions, in-jokes, doubt and middle-class self-loathing. A joy. (Some series available on Netflix).

    Simon Reeve series

    Let’s just say that Simon Reev satisfies more than just my wanderlust. There’s pretty much nowhere he hasn’t been: you’ll find something to suit every destination on your travel bucketlist, from Ireland to the Indian Ocean, Columbia to Burma. His boyish enthusiasm is infectious and he makes unfamiliar cultures accessible and fun. (Available on BBC iPlayer).

    Louis Theroux in America

    Sometimes the best form of escapism from the strange times we live in is to immerse yourself in other people’s weirdness. And Louis Theroux is undoubtedly the master of, gently and politely, uncovering the strange obsessions, beliefs and ticks that other people have. America is a breeding ground of opportunity for him: the series LA Stories, Dark States and Altered States are all set in the U. S. of A. (as well as some episodes in other series) and our hero casts his quizzical, courteous eye over pimps, polyamorous couples and LA’s dog world. (Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends is available on Netflix).