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Travel Man: 48 Hours in … Rome review – a gentle mini-break for the mind

Brain-exfoliating … Matt Lucas and Richard Ayoade in Rome on an episode of Travel Man: 48 Hours In…
Brain-exfoliating … Matt Lucas and Richard Ayoade in Rome on an episode of Travel Man: 48 Hours In… Photograph: Channel 4 Television

Travel Man: 48 Hours In …, in which we visit various cities around the world in the company of presenter Richard Ayoade, is back for a sixth series “with some of the most available and affordable names in light ent”. In last night’s opening episode, Ayoade visited Rome with comedian Matt Lucas, who provided the complementary rather than competitive guest presence with which the programme works best.

“I’m worried about sunburn,” says Lucas, dolefully rubbing his famously bald head. They buy him a fedora from Rome’s oldest milliners. “You look like a post-colonial Kojak reboot,” says Ayoade with satisfaction. Later they sit down to an exquisite multiple course lunch, through which Ayoade chomps enthusiastically and appreciatively while Lucas gazes yet more dolefully at the delicate dishes placed in front of him. “I have the eating age of a nine-year-old.” He perks up – these things are relative – at pudding time. “I shall end up overweight.”

They stay in a 16th-century townhouse, and visit the Coliseum, the Pantheon and the Trevi fountain. Ayoade recalls Rome’s history on film while Lucas wishes for a Champions League place for Arsenal. “What does that mean, exactly?” asks Ayoade with almost-interest.

Laconic to the point of arrogance … presenter Ayoade with Lucas in Travel Man: 48 Hours In …
Laconic to the point of arrogance … presenter Ayoade with Lucas in Travel Man: 48 Hours In … Photograph: Channel 4

Travel Man (Channel 4) is good at what it does. It’s there not to unearth hidden treasures or introduce you to tremendously exotic locales – like the previous five series, this one seems set to concentrate on established mini-break destinations – but to give you a roughly budgeted whistlestop tour of a commonly visited city, and whet your appetite to go there again. It saves itself from becoming an extended travel advert by throwing Ayoade’s unsettling presence into the mix.

Ayoade’s fans (of which I am one) enjoy his dry, laconic-to-the-point-of-arrogance attitude, occasional excursions into mild surrealism (“The scales are just to weigh my scales”) and unabashed verbal flourishes (“I think,” he says, as they are overtaken in their Fiat by yet another erratic Italian driver, “what I’ve seen most of in Rome is my own whitening knuckles”). There is a cleansing aspect to it all. It’s like having the expectation centres of your brain gently exfoliated.

That said, it’s probably wise to keep the programme as short as they do. Even the best companions can become too much. Consider Travel Man a meta-warning for all mini-break plans.

This article titled "Travel Man: 48 Hours in … Rome review – a gentle mini-break for the mind" was written by Lucy Mangan, for The Guardian on Saturday 21 October 2017 05.30am

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