Travertine is a beautiful natural stone in the limestone family. It is formed from geothermal springs or geothermally-heated alkaline waters. Although travertine exists throughout the world, the best known sources of patio-grade travertine are southeastern Europe (e.g., Italy and Turkey), western South American (Peru), and Southeast Asia (e.g., China).
Initially, travertine found wide use as an indoor tile. Its marble-like appearance created its initial appeal. Travertine use moved outdoors to become a compelling pool deck material when it was observed that travertine remains cool even in intense heat. And, when wet, travertine grips rather than slips. From pool decks, travertine expanded into patios and sidewalks, making it the perfect stone for patios.
Another appeal of travertine is coloring. The color of travertine is tied to whatever minerals happen to be washing through the water that the limestone is filtering when travertine is formed – generally light cream, gold, beige, pale grays. Shopping for travertine requires a high degree of flexibility. You will need to select a color family and then investigate what is currently available looking for the best match between your vision and what is currently in stock. If ordering material not yet removed from a quarry, you will be looking at 8-12 weeks lead time. However, most suppliers warehouse a good supply of beautiful material if you are flexible in your color choice.
The downside to travertine is that it is very porous. The tiny holes that riddle travertine contribute to its cool characteristic but also make travertine highly susceptible to cracking. Small cracks along color veins are normal and part of the beauty of the stone for patios; but, travertine can also display serious damage if not properly screened and shipped. The higher quality travertine is carefully screened and packaged at the mining site prior to overseas shipping. It is cost of sorting and shipping high quality travertine that makes it one of the more expensive outdoor project materials. Note: Even the highest quality travertine is only suitable for foot traffic applications…no driveways!
One final observation: As beautiful as travertine is in its natural form, sealing travertine makes it even more beautiful. Sealing will explode the color veins revealing even more of the marble-like drama of the stone. Make sure you select a sealer that is not film forming. With travertine, the sealer bonds to the stone and soaks in, it does not coat the stone.
For ideas, take a look at a few pictures of travertine projects.