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In Brasilia, Michael Palin meets rock star and political activist Dinho Ouro Preto who thinks Brazil has a bright future. (Basil Pao)
In Brasilia, Michael Palin meets rock star and political activist Dinho Ouro Preto who thinks Brazil has a bright future. (Basil Pao)

The best TV for an armchair traveller Add to ...

Andrew Ryan offers up eight of the best travel shows on the small screen.

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Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown (CNN, Sundays, 9 p.m.)

Galloping gourmand Anthony Bourdain still has one of the best jobs on television. Recently returned for a third season, this sharp series follows the renowned chef and author on his globetrotting journeys in search of unique food experiences – and as viewers of previous Bourdain series can attest, the big man is not easily impressed. In the next new episode (June 1), Bourdain and fellow celebrity chef Andy Ricker roll into the Chiang Mai province of northern Thailand to explore the country’s highly regarded culinary scene. The best part: The flavours and methods of preparation of classic Thai dishes changes markedly with each new region and season.

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Boundless (Travel + Escape, Mondays at 10 p.m.)

The usual rules of friendship don’t apply when you’re hanging from an ice ledge by your fingertips. Now in its second season, Boundless merges astounding nature footage and extreme sports competition in even measure. And what a concept: Two rugged friends – Simon and Turbo – land in a remote locale for a race where frigid climes or searing heat are the norm. The next competition goes down in the Yukon Arctic with the hardy boys tackling the 161-kilometre course known as “Ultra,” where temperatures dip to -50 C. Simon’s on cross-country skis, while Turbo is riding a fat-tire bike. Even with the imminent risk of hypothermia, it’s a clash of the titans.

You Gotta Eat Here! (Food Network, Fridays, 9 p.m.)

If you want to see the real Great White North, hitch a ride with John Catucci. The genial standup comic clearly enjoys his work in this series that takes him all over Canada in search of folksy comfort-food experiences. Tag along for the next new outing (May 30) when Cartucci hits Saint John, N.B., to determine whether the house special at Burger Revolution lives up to the hype. In the same show, Cartucci pays a visit to the Old Crow Café on Gabriola Island in B.C., where customers swear by the authentic Mexican fare. That’s a whole lot of air miles in a half-hour show.

Scam City (Travel + Escape, Sundays at 11 p.m.)

For anybody planning a trip to a major world city in the near future, this show is must-see TV. Savvy host Conor Woodman has made it his life mission to expose the dark side of popular vacation destinations and goes undercover (while being filmed with hidden cameras) to expose the scammers who make their living off the naiveté of tourists. Coming up next: Woodman returns to his birthplace of London and is instantly aghast at the volume of crime in his hometown. After his cellphone is snatched, he deploys GPS tracking software to retrieve his property – and unwittingly reveals the really big con along the way.

The Illegal Eater (Travel + Escape, Fridays at 5:30 p.m.)

Don’t be put off by the ominous title: Former Barenaked Ladies front man Steven Page keeps things legit (mostly) in this trendy travelogue-style series following him all over North America to determine the validity of various culinary urban myths. In the next new show (May 30), Page wheels into Austin, Tex., in search of a peculiar – and technically verboten – dining experience. During the course of a very strange evening, he ends up getting a lot more than he bargained for – and we’re not talking about portion sizes.

Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives (Food Network, Fridays at 10 p.m)

Guy Fieri may not necessarily be the best ambassador for haute cuisine, but he knows what he likes. Still going strong in its 19th (!) season, this show tracks the bristly haired chef along the highways and byways in search of perfect road food. And since Fieri is driving, he gets to choose his stops. In the next show, he cruises his hot rod down to Miami to sample smoky-fried chicken and Buffalo-style pig wings (pigs have wings?) at a mom-and-pop eatery. And later on he’s in Oahu to determine whether an unassuming roadside diner really does serve the best huli huli chicken in Hawaii.

Brazil with Michael Palin (PBS, June 9-10)

Who wouldn’t want to take a trip with Michael Palin? In keeping with his previous TV jaunts such as Pole to Pole and Full Circle with Michael Palin, the ex-Monty Python mainstay proves a marvellous tour guide in this sprightly trek through the sprawling South American nation that will play host to both the World Cup and the Summer Olympics in the near future. Palin’s journey begins in the northeast and follows him working his way down the coast with leisurely layovers in Recife and Salvador, where he naturally makes friends with a few bona fide vaqueros (Brazilian cowboys to you). In the second half, he bravely ventures into the very heart of Amazonia and breaks bread with members of the Yanomami tribe. Even with the language barriers, Palin has them in stitches.

My Family Vacation (Travel + Escape, Thursdays at 9 p.m.)

For those viewers who grew up spending time in the back of a packed station wagon each summer, have we got a show for you. This show’s no-frills format follows two different clans as they embark on their respective family vacations. The hook: Each family has been given a digital video camera and is wholly responsible for documenting their time away together. In fact, the entire show is composed of the footage they capture. For example: One recent episode was split between a young family taking an all-inclusive trip to Cuba – where the son immediately gets an ear infection – and a bodybuilder father bravely taking his wife and kids on a first trip to Abu Dhabi in order to visit his sister. It beats the heck out of watching slide shows.

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