Baedeker guides: The only way to travel in Spain and Portugal

Though not the first travel guides ever written, the “Baedekers” contain several original quirks and features that must’ve influenced today’s Lonely Planet and Time Out writers.

Starting off in the Travel Writing world in 1827, Karl Baedeker (3 November 1801 - 4 October 1859) and successive Baedeker offspring made a lasting contribution to the genre’s development through their informative yet quirky guides – and we’re lucky enough to have recently acquired one.

The IHR’s 1925 second edition of ‘Spain and Portugal : handbook for travellers’ aptly shows off the poetic style of the “Baedekers”, and their commitment to heightening the experience of the determined tourist. Replete in the red cover that became the series’ trademark, the guide is small enough to be carried around in a top pocket and it became well known and recognised from the mid nineteenth century. Though perhaps not quite akin to the Lonely Planet founders’ representation of travel as “a beat-up old car, a few dollars in the pocket, and a sense of adventure”, nevertheless Baedeker’s preface does share a zest for adventure and authenticity:

“The chief object of the Handbook for Spain and Portugal...is to supply the traveller with such information as will render him as nearly as possibly independent of hotel-keepers, commissionaires, and guides, and thus enable him the more thoroughly to enjoy and appreciate the objects of interests he meets with on his tour.” (Preface)

Inside, as well as containing the functional features one would expect to find in a travel guide – fold out maps, geographical and navigational information etc – we also have remarks on the practical side of tourism such as travelling expenses, money, language and passports. Baedeker’s prose is inspired by a sincere desire to both protect the reader from danger in foreign cultures and also to share in the excitement of their discovery. He also writes with an honesty, vividness and affability that makes reading the guide feel almost like reading an old friend’s holiday recommendations.

Take, for example, this politely disparaging description of the lay of the land in Salamanca, north-western Spain:

“The situation of the city, in the gradual slope to the N. Of the Tormes and in the midst of an almost treeless upland plain, has few attractions, though it is saved from absolute dreariness by the distant view of the summits – often clad with snow – of the Peña de Francia to the S. and the Sierra de Ávila to the S. E.” (p.163)

Baedeker’s guides offer not only an insight into the viewpoints and observations of an early twentieth century tourist’s journey through Spain and Portugal, they are also simply a pleasure to read.

 

Here it is on the IHR Library’s catalogue

And for anyone interested in finding out more about the Library’s Travel Writing collection, read our collection guide here

And finally some links to find out more about the Baedeker’s:

 Abe Books, 'Essential Knowledge: Baedeker's guides' 

And collectors information on the series' characteristics from BDKR

Katherine Quinn

22 May 2013