StyleCity Europe Edited by Lucas Dietrich (Thames & Hudson, $49.95) THE StyleCity series has been a hit with those travellers who’ve also devoured Herbert Ypma’s ever-expanding Hip Hotels portfolio. StyleCity volumes tell you where to sleep, eat, drink, sightsee and hang out in cities acknowledged by those in the know as centres of chic. The problem with this latest addition to the range is its ambition; ranging across 14 cities, from Amsterdam to Vienna, is just too wide a span and its use as a takealong guide is limited given the hefty weight of 328 high-gloss pages.
But for pre-planning accommodation, all you need to know about how to sleep in style is here, from Les Ottomans in Istanbul (11 suites with views over the Bosphorus, feng-shui blessed design and treasures galore) to Hotel Therese in Paris (affordable luxury from j130, or $205, a night in a restored 18th-century townhouse). In Lisbon, York House, a charming little hotel created from a former convent, has played host to a rollcall of writers, including Graham Greene. Lovely discoveries of this ilk make the slightly unwieldy StyleCity Europe well worth its purchase price. Susan Kurosawa Francoise Raymond Kuijper, Kerry O’Neill and Richard Nicols (Archipelago Press, $35) UNTIL very recently, who would have expected to encounter the words Croatia and chic in the same sentence, let alone coupled as a book title? Clearly it’s time to update our notions of this Adriatic destination. Sailing charters are big here — along the ravishingly beautiful and unspoiled coastline — and the tourism infrastructure is fast expanding to include spas, boutique hotels and gorgeous rental villas. There are five-star hideouts such as the Regent Esplanade in Zagreb, built in 1925 in grand and glamorous style, and Hotel Arbiana, a high-society haunt on the little island of Rab.
This series includes historic background and travel narrative and is not as up-to-the-second savvy as the competitor StyleCity books, but the publisher is adding a swag of titles to the list, with TokyoChic and New ZealandChic recent starters and Bali, Shanghai and India bound for the mix. Alexandra James
Secrets of the Labyrinth Greg Mosse (Orion, $35) IN 2005, Orange Prize co-founder Kate Mosse published Labyrinth —‘‘a gripping romp’’, according to a Guardian review — about the murder and mayhem in medieval Languedoc’s religious intrigues involving the Cathars, the Knights Templar and the powers that were. This is her husband’s historical expose of the world behind the network of plot and conspiracy in which her novel was set.
In one of France’s most intriguing regions — the walled city of Carcassonne is now a tourist magnet— Greg Mosse begins with the ancient religious background and works through the rise and fall of cities, armies and people, ending with the 19th-century restoration of Carcassonne by Parisian architect, and central figure in the revival of gothic heritage, Eugene Viollet-le-Duc.
In readable prose, rather like tuning in to ancient gossip, scattered with black and white photographs, Mosse covers language, frescoes, the Grail, Catalan poetry, family history and much more. Judith Elen
LIFE-CHANGE MEMOIR STYLE BIBLE Croatia Chic
To Hellas and Back Lana Penrose (Viking, $29.95) AUSTRALIAN traveller Lana Penrose is yet another of that crop of enthusiastic life-changers who presume the world will be riveted by their move to more exotic climes. In Penrose’s case, the greener pastures are in Greece. Her
modern-day Greek tragedy’’ book is no better or worse than this year’s onslaught of transplant tales but there is one difference: instead of finding an amusing Frenchman under a Provencal arbour or a handsome Italian freshly popped from an olive grove, she takes her Greek-Aussie guy, Dion, along. Or, rather, he takes her, as he heads back to the old country for a career move.
There are the expected cross-cultural misunderstandings and local oddities, all related with good humour. Penrose is not afraid to reveal her fears of failing to understand a new culture or, ultimately, her inability to assimiliate; there is no moonlight-and-roses ending but, as with the best of travel, an eventual coming to terms with differentness, a dawning of self-realisation. Susan Kurosawa