Planning an important luxury trip? Which of the ultra-sophisticated guidebooks will you use to help curate your stay? We’re not talking about the Fodor’s and Frommer’s of the world. We’re talking about the guide books that are written by refined, design-oriented brands that are luxurious in their own right. There are more to choose from than you might think. Our intrepid team of far-flung correspondents offered their top picks, and then we set about assessing which guide is right for which traveler (and for what kind of trip). Unless otherwise noted, all of these are available in both hard copy and digital versions that can be downloaded onto your smartphone or tablet. The good news? There’s a luxury travel guide out there for everyone.
1. Louis Vuitton’s heritage is deeply rooted in travel, and not surprisingly the luxury brand issues an annual series of travel guides to some of the most glittering destinations in the world. The Louis Vuitton City Guides come in softcover form about the size of a Moleskin notebook, making it suitable for your Chanel backpack. Many are available in both French and English editions. In addition, all of the information is also automatically downloaded to your LV smart watch if you arrive in any of the cities they cover – which is pretty cool and very convenient. There are currently guides for about 30 cities, in chic colors that you’ll be happy to been seen carrying. They each come with a sheaf of stickers in the same color, so that you can highlight your top picks (there’s also a handy address label, in case you lose it).
In terms of content and tone, we’d describe the LV City Guides as perfect for lovers of culture and fashion who have real time to spend at their destination and want to move at a leisurely pace. The voice of these guides is warm, the details are abundant, and the photos are romantic and soft-focus. Each volume opens with the declaration that “travel is a multifaceted art,” and ends with a lyrical essay and series of practical tips about how to pack and travel elegantly (with specific suggestions about which piece of LV luggage would best suit you, natch). In between you’ll find essays from well-informed sophisticated experts (for example, the Rome guide has a contribution from the French Ambassador to Italy). Overall, this is the perfect travel companion for those seeking a knowledgeable, reassuring voice and a refined leisure-time experience.
2. The Wallpaper* City Guides published by Phaidon come in a smaller size and an even softer paper stock, the better to easily stow them away as you roam the world. Highly functional, each guide ($11.95 each) begins with a fold-out panoramic view of the city with key landmarks noted – on the facing page, there’s a brief description of 5-6 key locations to get you grounded. There are subject-matter tabs to make it easy to find what you’re looking for. The series covers over 120 cities. The overall approach is geared toward the visual landscape and outstanding architecture, the voice is crisp, and the content tightly edited. 3-4 design-oriented annual events, as well as a couple of volumes of recommended reading prior to departure, are highlighted near the beginning. Throughout, the photos are plentiful and shot in full color, and they include both exteriors and interiors, down to the bedrooms in the recommended hotels. The guide reads as fast-paced, and there are lots of tips about how to make the most of even a short visit. This is the perfect guide for those seeking for the edgy, dynamic, design-oriented elements of a given city – it’s best for those who are, or who want to be, in the business of design.
3. The LUXE Guides have a highly distinct voice: sassy, playful and focused on shopping. As its website proudly proclaims, these guides come “without the padding, photos and blah of other travel guides.” The vibe is a touch hedonistic, which might be perfect depending on the trip and the traveler. At $19.99 each (or three for $49.99), the slim volumes have bright print covers evocative of their respective cities, and each purchase of a hard copy comes with a 6-month subscription to the digital edition. Originally launched in Asia, the series now covers 30 cities. If you love to shop, are keen to know about the coolest boutiques, and want a fun insider’s view of your destination, this is the perfect resource. Or as LUXE would say: “On your marks, jet set, go!”
4. The MONOCLE Travel Guide Series, edited by Tyler Brule and Andrew Tuck, and published by Gestalten, consists of black hardcover book volumes ($12-15 each) that embody the tag line “Cities are fun. Let’s explore.” Each one features a brief introductory essay about the essential spirit of each destination, and a reasonably involved table of contents with 10 icons to help you follow the flow through the rest of guide. Each of the 10 sections features both text and color photos (lots of them) for each property, establishment or neighborhood featured – it would be impossible to be surprised if you visited any of them after having read this guide – that might ruin the fun, but when choosing hotels or restaurants, tons of detail is probably a good idea. Our favorite part of this series is the essays penned by local contributors. For example, the Rome guide has witty and insightful essays on the pressing subjects of artichokes, the water supply, important historical sites, Caravaggio, the earth beneath your feet, fascism, Virgil, the history of Vatican tailors, Fellini, coffee culture and scooters. They’d make for excellent airplane reading even if you had no immediate plans for a visit. This is the thinking person’s city guide, perfect for those who may have already visited once, and are looking to understand the nuances, quirks, and secrets of a city they’ve already come to love.