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Small curated guidebooks are usually well-designed and fill in the holes left by giants like Lonely Planet and Frommers. These books combine local knowledge, city culture, and travel obsessions to form a particularly lovable collection.
How do you make the most of a city break? Do you rush around, breathlessly ticking off must-sees, or do you drift, hoping you’ll stumble upon authentic experiences? It’s hard to get a handle on a new city; perhaps the best way is to let someone else curate your visit for you, ideally someone with local knowledge, individual taste and a sense of humour. Here are some interesting guides from around the world to steer you on your urban adventures.
Strolling through the Bois de Boulogne, your arm around your petit chou, you don’t want to stumble into a smooch in the wrong spot. This is the discerning lover’s guide to French kissing. All tastes are catered for, whether you prefer canoodling under the Pont Neuf, grappling in the Musée Rodin, or hanky panky on the Tuileries carousel. Thierry Soufflard, writer and photographer, has scoured the city of romance for the perfect snog. Best of all, it’s slim enough to fit in your pocket for surreptitious consultation. Gros bisous!
Venice was once the trading centre of Europe, where exotic goods and stories were exchanged on the Rialto from all over the world. Local resident Michela Scibilia celebrates this fine tradition with a guide that navigates the thriving, multifarious botteghe (workshops) of modern Venice. She takes you down the back canals and reveals shops and studios still making and selling everything, from lamps to gondolas, cakes, cloaks, soft-shell crabs and door knockers. She knows many of the vendors and craftsmen personally, and each entry in the book is accompanied by an enticing image.
City Lore has been going for almost 30 years, documenting and presenting the urban folk culture of New York. Their team of professional folklorists, historians and ethnomusicologists record stories, sponsor artists and make films about the city, collecting everyday and unusual experiences for posterity. Hidden New York is their weighty selection of the most fascinating, least known places in the Big Apple, enriched by illustrations and interviews with New Yorkers. Among many other activities, you’ll watch elderly Chinese men display exotic birds in Hua Mei Garden and visit the birthplace of roller disco in Brooklyn.
Humble Vintage is a bike hire service in Melbourne, with a range of cycles available from shops, cafes and markets around the city. Each rental includes a copy of their free city map newspaper – a beautiful publication in itself – but now they’ve produced an elegant hardback, a twin love song to cycling and the city. The book is structured around carefully plotted routes with hand-drawn maps and recommendations from a range of Melbourne personalities. It also includes a fascinating history of Melbourne cycling, from the original boneshaker to the Austral Wheelrace, the world’s oldest continuously held cycle race.
“The Delhi Walla is Delhi’s most idiosyncratic and eccentric website,” writes author William Dalrymple. The man behind the sprawling blog is Mayank Austen Soofi, a journalist at the Hindustan Times, who has produced these four Delhi Walla books covering the best monuments, food, hangouts and people in the city. These beautifully designed paeans to the city delve into places most international travel guides don’t reach, from the Agrasen ki Baoli step well, a stunning ancient water source at the heart of a busy financial district, to the best place for chicken momos and a strawberry lassi. Soofi has spent a lifetime exploring Delhi’s winding gallis and secret bastis, and his deep knowledge lends an intimacy to his poetic descriptions and grainy photographs.
Copenhagen from Noma + Momondo, DKK 169 (£19.50)
This must be a perfect recipe: staff at Noma (Best Restaurant in the World 2010, 2011 and 2012) have teamed up with the excellent Danish travel site Momondo to produce a guidebook to Copenhagen, their home city. This discreetly chic volume is packed full of personal recommendations from Noma’s chefs, waiters, dishwashers and sommeliers; even René Redzepi the visionary head chef is involved. Denmark’s hottest culinary team divulge what they get up to once they’ve hung up their aprons, from tips on where to find the ultimate breakfast granola or lumpfish roe to the Scandi bars where they let their hair down. (Read some of the tips from Noma staff here.)
This comprehensive gazetteer guides you through Chicago’s stranger side: from killer clowns and a murderous “Sausage King”, to the billy goat curse and some paranormal hot dogs. The brains behind Weird Chicago Tours, a guided walk company, have created this bumper compilation of wacky stories that still haunt the streets of the Windy City. If you haven’t had enough mystery by the final page, head along to their annual Haunted America Conference in nearby Decatur, Illinois, the “midwest’s most haunted small city”.
Prague is full of surprises. One is that Artěl, creators and purveyors of fine Bohemian crystal glassware, have hand-blown an award-winning guidebook. Karen Feldman, the American expat founder of the company, combines an intimate knowledge of her adopted city with an outsider’s eyes, winkling secret restaurants out of old city streets and recommending which rooms to ask for in hotels. The book is “quirky (but chic)” and full of vintage illustrations. Feldman’s speciality is shopping, and there is a comprehensive section on unusual retail outlets.
• Henry Eliot is the founder of Curiocity guides; the next issue, Escaping London, launches in early September to coincide with a pre-Raphaelite pilgrimage, a unique walking event through south-east London in collaboration with the National Trust.