Stay special

Guidebook series helps you find the perfect place to roost.

Before leaving for Europe, I scoured local bookstores hoping to find a book called Special Places to Stay in Italy. On a previous trip, the Ireland edition had proven to be outstanding in listing special accommodations, from bed & breakfasts, to farmhouses, to castles. When no such title turned up, I contacted the publisher (in the U.S., it’s Globe Pequot press), who told me that an Italy book was due out by the end of the year. Our trip would be over long before the release date.

But the publisher sent us advance page proofs of the book to use on our trip — just to be nice! If that isn’t enough indication of how special this book and publisher is, then read on.

Founded in the mid-’90s by Alastair Sawday, who had been running his own travel company for years, Sawday’s publishing house is an explicit rejection of travel guides offered by other, larger presses.

According to the editors, a "special place" is a place that they would want to stay themselves.

"We try to avoid the ugly, the banal, the aloof and the overpriced … there are no hard and fast rules," they state.

Special Places to Stay in Italy offers excellent access to locations that have character and substance. And I mean that most definitely in a good way.

What makes this guide stand out is their attention to a different kind of detail than is often the substance of other guide books. In colorful prose, we hear about the personalities of the hosts, their families, their pets, their art, their cooking; and frequently about the engaging history of the building and surroundings.

The authors also have a distinctly British sense of humor: Hidden amongst genuine listings for Castello di Montegualandro, once owned by Charlemagne, and La Grotta di Montecchino, a 25-acre organic farm, is a puzzling listing for a place called "Squelchia Botta." The listing comes complete with a photograph of a pig nosing about near a stripped, abandoned car. The text reads: "When you are going on holiday you have to take with you a rare flexibility and willingness to go with the flow."

If you’re planning a trip to Italy, Ireland, England, France, Spain or Portugal, check out the Special Places to Stay series: it’s in a class all its own.

Read Audrey Becker's story about inconspicious travel in Italy, where she put her guidebook to good use.

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