Thursday, 26 September 2013

A Small Guide to Italy...How Charming!

If you're anything like me, you love a good travel guide. It's all very well going it alone and seeing what little gems you happen to come across, whether it be a hotel, restaurant or cute cafe. But sometimes, you just need that little bit of extra help; a bit of reassurance that yes, you are making the right choice with this B&B/French restaurant/Great big castle that sleeps 20 people.

So, when I received a guide book on hotels in Italy and was very kindly asked to review it, of course I said yes. The guide book in question is this one:

Published by Duncan Petersen Publishing and part of a range entitled Charming Small Hotel Guides (check out their website here), this nifty little book is pretty special in several ways. Firstly, it's an independent printed guide, so you'll find no funny business; some hotels actually pay guides to include them, and this definitely doesn't happen here. Secondly, it's open, honest and sometimes quite frank. As well as including all the good bits, you'll get the not-so-great info too, which other guides can often leave out. These guides have sold hundreds of thousands of copies all over the world and have been translated into 5 languages, which is a sure sign that people like them. If someone wanted to translate my blog into 5 languages I'd be pretty chuffed. (Any takers? No? Then I shall continue...)

Apart from the fact that it's a nice size (have you seen the size of some of the guide books out there? Once you pack it in your suitcase there really isn't room for anything else), it's also very easily laid out, which makes easily confused folk like me a lot less, well, confused. Each chapter tackles a different region, starting with a short area description, a list of 'back up' hotels in case the main choices are full (a useful addition, but it could have been placed at the end of the chapter perhaps), followed by 'full page' properties (the cream of the crop, which also contain a helpful 'quick info' section on the left of the page) and 'half page' entries, which are still charming but don't quite make the cut for a full page review. Each entry contains one or two photos, usually of the property itself and then perhaps a shot of the bedroom. You'll get a load of info on the location of the property, its history, the owners, as well as wonderful little details such as how comfortable the beds are, or what the breakfast actually consists of. Here's one of my favourite examples:

'Bathrooms are...graced with good towels' (property in Lombardia)

While it includes several different types of accommodation (hotels, B&Bs, guesthouses, villas, castles and even a converted abbey) these places all have the same thing in common: they're not your run of the mill accommodation. Charming, full of character and often slightly off the beaten track is what you'll find in this guide, and personally, that's usually the kind of accommodation that I look for. Are the staff helpful and thoughtful? Is it a convenient location? How comfy are the beds? The descriptions are personal without being all gushy, and the reviews positive without forgetting the odd slightly negative detail that may be important to some potential guests.

'From the outside you couldn't call the chalet beautiful, but the rustic interior is welcoming...' (property in the North West)

'Parking is not ideal' (property in Umbria and Marche)

And  even some quotes and feedback from those who have stayed there and sent in their personal reviews (a touch which I quite liked):

'Some visitors have commented that the intimate atmosphere is not family friendly' (property in Tuscany)

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this handy little guidebook and will be referring to it in the future. Even though it is a wonderful city, I did find the number of choices in Venice to be a little too extensive however (around 36 full page entries) and the regions of Puglia and Calabria had been combined into one very small 'heel and toe' section (as a resident of Puglia this was just a little disappointing). However, the section on Tuscany was great, and focused not only on larger places such as Florence, but on properties in the surrounding towns and countryside too, which is where you often find the sweetest little places.The reviews are very honest, straightforward and have just the right amount of useful detail included. In my humble opinion, this seems like a very trustworthy guidebook indeed.

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