From the Shelf - Lonely Planet Andalucía

Earlier this summer, I returned to Spain for the first time in nearly a decade. Naturally, my favorite way to prepare for travel is to dive into a stack of relevant books. Besides the excellent Lonely Planet Andalucía (Lonely Planet, $24.99), which I found indispensable, I discovered several books that made my trip both más fácil (easier) and más divertido (more fun).

book coversPatricia Harris writes with verve and a keen eye for detail about 100 Places in Spain Every Woman Should Go (Traveler's Tales, $19.95). Divided by region, her guide includes all the classics: Granada's stunning Alhambra, live flamenco performances, tiny tapas bars and sprawling markets. But it's also full of quirky gems: an olive oil tasting workshop; the house of a former duchess, now a museum; a meditation on the title character of Bizet's opera Carmen. Harris's book sparked my enthusiasm and inspired me to take in a few unusual sights.

While I did rent a bike one afternoon in Sevilla, I still stand in awe of British cyclist Polly Evans's intrepid journey through Spain on two wheels, chronicled with dry wit in her memoir It's Not About the Tapas (Delta, $16). From San Sebastián to the Costa del Sol, Evans battled fatigue, recalcitrant bike gears and the local wildlife (including goats), as she sampled the food, culture and cycling trails in every region of Spain. It's a highly entertaining journey through a vivid, fascinating country.

My vacation reading stack included Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind (Penguin, $17), which I'd been meaning to read for years. Though I didn't visit Barcelona on this trip, Zafón's utterly bewitching novel of postwar love and revenge--set in a bookshop!--had me spellbound on bus rides between various cities.

Needless to say, I'm already planning my next viaje a España--and the requisite reading material. ¡Olé! --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams