10 best travel guides

Want to get off the tourist trail? Then you'll need the latest 'lifestyle' travel guides. Aoife O'Riordain chooses 10 of the best
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The Independent Travel

1. Z-Guides

Sometimes size really does matter, as proved by the dinky little Z-Guide series. About the size of two credit cards stacked on top of each other, these ingenious guides unfold to 24 times their size, revealing an easy-to-read map, the reverse of which is crammed with useful information. A number of subsections offer practical advice about transport, a list of the major sights, cafés, restaurants and bars, all of which are numbered and marked on the map. Other elements include a handy column offering suggestions for a "Perfect Day" and a small box dedicated to something particular to the city, such as a walking-tour through Georgian Dublin. The guides are very useful for a weekend break and now cover more than 70 destinations, stretching across Europe, North America, the Far East and Australia, with new titles such as Tokyo, Lisbon and Vienna in the pipeline.

Z-Guides by Berlitz City GuideMap, price £2.99. For stockists call Geocenter International (01256 817987; www.z-guides.com).

2. HIP Hotels

What hotel aficionado, aspiring or otherwise, doesn't have at least one copy of Herbert Ypma's much-emulated HIP Hotels on their bookshelf? Of course, HIP doesn't just stand for trendy but for Highly Individual Place. Suitably fabulous hotels from Italian palazzos to thatched Balinese idylls, cherry-picked from across the world by globetrotting Ypma, feature in the guides with drool-inducing photographs. And, while those photographs can occasionally be kind to their subjects, there's no denying that Ypma has hit on a publishing phenomenon - there are currently nine HIP Hotels guides in the series, published on themes including "Escape", "Ski", "France", "Italy" and "Orient". Fans don't have to wait long for the next instalment, the gargantuan 528-page HIP Hotels Atlas, containing more than 80 choices, some new and some old favourites picked from previous publications.

HIP Hotel guides are published by Thames & Hudson, price £18.95. 'HIP Hotels Atlas' is published next month, price £29.99. Available from most bookshops.

3. Nota Bene

If your choice of hotel depends on which one offers the highest thread-count in its Egyptian-cotton sheets, Nota Bene is for you. These guides for the discerning traveller are subscriber only and published 10 times a year with regular updates on its members' website. There is also a section dedicated to news and short comment-style pieces addressing issues that evidently preoccupy the minds of stylish travellers the world over, such as the demise of the design hotel. Nota Bene prides itself on its impartiality, gives frank appraisals and is thorough - all the stays are paid for, which presumably goes some way to justifying the £235 subscription fee. A large chunk of the editorial space is dedicated to dissecting what's on offer at the various hotels, bars and restaurants. The tone is unashamedly condescending, some might say it could just be taking itself a little too seriously. There are more than 30 guides to a clutch of suitably fashionable destinations including Rome, the Aeolian Islands, Marrakech and the Côte d'Azur, with the likes of Shanghai, the Napa Valley and an issue dedicated to safaris out soon.

Annual subscription to Nota Bene costs £235 for UK residents and £250 for overseas members. For information contact Nota Bene (0870 240 4089; www.nbreview.com).

4. Osterie d'Italia

Carlo Petrini's Slow Food movement, founded in 1986 to promote the idea of savouring food, drink and diversity, has gone from strength to strength in recent years. While the movement itself has more than 83,000 members worldwide, it has also spawned a number of useful publications including this weighty tome. Now in its 16th year, no self-respecting foodie should be without a copy of Osterie d'Italia on a visit to Italy. Forget that it's all in Italian - you need the addresses and phone numbers. Guides are updated annually and the 2006 edition, due out later this year, will contain more than 1,700 restaurant recommendations across Italy. The restaurants in the guide are not necessarily the most expensive joints in town (one of the criteria is that the menu costs no more than €35 - about £25 -per head), just good examples of the local cuisine. Some restaurants are tucked down alleyways in unlikely areas, but stick with it - recommendations rarely disappoint. Each region of Italy is given a chapter with maps at the beginning pinpointing the towns and villages containing "Slow Food" restaurants. Entries that have noteworthy local food, wine and cheese are denoted with an extra snail, bottle or a round of cheese respectively.

Osterie d'Italia is published by Slow Food Editore, price €20.34 (£14.50). It is available from www.slowfood.com.

5. Luxe

Luxe is a Hong Kong-based publisher offering a refreshing tongue-in-cheek approach to guidebook writing. You will find the tone either fabulously witty or fantastically irritating depending on your point of view. There is no denying its series of guides' usefulness however, offering some of the most up-to-date recommendations in many major Asian and Australian destinations. These small concertina-style guides are very useful if you have limited time. A whistlestop visit to Bangkok was greatly enhanced by one of its tips to get a riverside restaurant to pick me up for dinner by boat. The guides offer a short and sweet list of three or four places to stay for varying budgets, restaurants, bars, clubs, sightseeing highlights and half-day shopping itineraries, as well as plenty of hidden places. There are many amusing asides, and useful local knowledge, such as not needing to tip taxi drivers in Shanghai, as well as practical information, such as where to find the local tourist office. All the information is gathered by a panel of 20 local residents, so you feel as though you are getting privileged information. Recent guides include Melbourne, Beijing, Chiang Mai and Phuket. This month sees the addition of Seoul and Dubai as well as updates for the current titles: Bali, Bangkok, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Sydney and Tokyo.

Luxe guides cost £4.99 ( www.luxecityguides.com). Available from The Travel Bookshop (020-7229 5260; www.thetravelbookshop.com).

6. Hedonist's guide

Not quite as debauched as the name suggests, the series "A Hedonist's guide to" is attracting an increasing number of devotees. The first six city guides were launched last year - Prague, Madrid, Marrakech, Tallinn, Lisbon and Stockholm. Each one is divided into nine sections: Sleep, Eat, Drink, Snack, Party, Culture, Shop, Play and Info. All the information is contained within well-designed, glossy, colour pages sprinkled with modish photography. Guides begin with a rundown of the different areas of town, historical details, landmarks, the atmosphere and places to explore. A map accompanies each chapter pin-pointing all the bars, hotels, restaurants, museums, galleries, shops and clubs mentioned in the ensuing pages. Hotels are given marks out of 10 for style, atmosphere and location and restaurants for food, service and atmosphere, while colour-coded dots next to each entry correspond with the area of town in which each is located. The guides are easy to use and most recommendations are fairly spot-on with a good blend of the trendy and the traditional. New additions this year include Beirut and Berlin, with Miami and Milan, Moscow and Istanbul hitting the book shelves next month.

A Hedonist's guide to, price £13.99 ( www.ahedonistsguideto.com). Available from most bookshops.

7. Louis Vuitton

Don't be put off by the designer tag - Louis Vuitton guides are incredibly useful, knowledgeable and not just for those with platinum credit cards. Each of the entries offers a real insider's guide to 30 European cities. The six canary-yellow books come elegantly boxed and each contains three or four European destinations, grouped geographically, with one guide dedicated to the capital of style, Paris. There is also a separate guide to New York. The 2006 edition of the boxed set hits the shops next month, with Biarritz, Ljubljana and Valencia all making their debut, as well as updates of old haunts such as Bordeaux, Dublin and St Petersburg. Inside, the guides are divided into sections for hotels, bars, restaurants, cafés, shops, museums, cultural attractions and unmissable sights, as well as excursions out of town. A page at the beginning of each city is full of useful information, ranging from the best way to get from the airport to dialling codes, public holidays and the low-down on the local newspapers, all accompanied by stylish illustrations.

Louis Vuitton City Guides 2006, price £45. Louis Vuitton New York City Guide, price £23. Available from Louis Vuitton shops ( www.louisvuitton.com).

8. Le Cool...

Changed My Life - A Weird and Wonderful Guide Barcelona.

Just one example of a growing trend for small independent guides - they're cropping up across the world, from Brooklyn to Buenos Aires. This chunky little volume, which grew out of a free weekly e-journal, reads more like your hippest good friend. Its pages resemble a graphic art magazine more than the typical text-heavy guidebook. Inside is a selection of locals' favourite parts of the city, with directions and roughly sketched backstreet maps to the coolest cafés, such as La Bascula, an organic café hidden down an alley in a candle shop. What you won't find is how to get from the airport to La Rambla or the cost of admission to the Sagrada Familia. Instead you will find an intriguing mix of some of the best Barcelona has to offer a youthful audience, away from the tourist hordes.

'Le Cool - A Weird and Wonderful Guide Barcelona', by Andrew Losowsky, price €15 (£10.70) plus p&p. For information go to www.lecool.com.

9. City Secrets

This mini series of cloth-bound guidebooks works on the premise that if you want to know where to go, ask a local. The ones in question here are a group of artists, archaeologists, historians, architects, chefs and writers who have opened up their address books and imparted their favourite corners of their city, adopted or otherwise. There are four guides in the series; Rome, Florence and the Towns of Italy, London and New York. Each guide is divided into sections of the city with an introduction on the area and maps pinpointing each recommendation. It's all highly subjective and some may find the randomness a little hard to fathom, but it's well worth dipping into to discover the likes of Marcella Hazan's (the Delia of Italy) favourite Venetian trattoria or the best way to see the interior of the Sistine Chapel minus the crowds.

City Secrets is published by The Little Bookroom, price £11.99 (New York guide, price £14.99). Available from most bookshops or go to www.granta.com or go to www.littlebookroom.com.

10. Feedback

Feedback may just be the ultimate exclusive guidebook. It's produced by Pentagram, a fashionable design consultancy based in Notting Hill which counts the likes of the V&A, EAT, Penguin and Virgin as regular clients. This slim volume is only circulated to a select bunch - you can't buy it, you need to be a client or friend of the company to receive one. Within its covers is an interesting array of personal recommendations gleaned from a group of around 430 globetrotting designers, writers, artists, photographers, architects and style-setters. Suggestions range from a 1950s butcher's shop in Brussels to a palace hotel near Udaipur in India and a roadside hot-dog stand in Connecticut called Swanky Frank's. Currently in its ninth edition, the first was published in 1974. Even the cover has an impeccable pedigree having been designed by one of the founding partners of the company, the much-lauded graphic designer Alan Fletcher.

The first 20 readers to email their name and address to feedback@independent. co.uk by Monday 19 September will receive a copy of this exclusive guide. No purchase is necessary and usual competition rules apply see www.independent.co.uk/legal.

Additional research by Soo-Li Yong

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