ABOVE: The Charming Inns & Itineraries books (left) have been joined by several Charming Bed & Breakfasts titles, which cover B&Bs and agritourism properties that don't offer a full range of hotel services.
Q. How do your guides differ from the big mainstream guidebooks?
Well, first, we really see everything. We visit every property at least once every two to three years, which isn't always the case with other guides. I've actually had innkeepers say, "Karen, we haven't seen anyone from [NAME WITHHELD] in years," even though they're still listed in that guidebook.
Consistency is another difference. There are just three of us working on the Karen Brown's Guides, and each of us is responsible for the same country or region on every trip. We get to know the inns, the innkeepers, and what to look for at each property.
Finally, our itineraries set us apart. I've always wondered why other guidebooks don't pair countryside driving itineraries with accommodations. Logic would suggest that you tell people where to go when you're telling them where to stay.
In our Charming Inns & Itineraries books, we suggest scenic routes that are mostly off the beaten path. For example, in our France book, we list 11 car routes and a train itinerary. A traveler could do Normandy and link it up with the Loire Valley or Brittany, depending on their time and how they pace themselves.
Recently, we began providing inexpensive downloadable itineraries on our Web site. These include hotel reviews from our books--with color photos, which aren't in the books--and they're especially convenient for a reader who might just be passing through a country and not want a complete guidebook.
Q. What about your audience--do you have a prototypical reader?
When I started the series 25 years ago, the audience was mostly second- or third-time travelers with high incomes. Today, the typical reader could be almost anybody who has the courage to venture out on their own. Most readers are probably 30 and up, just because they've reached the point of having jobs that pay well enough for them to travel comfortably. They're people who appreciate quality without questioning every little detail, who are willing to spend a little extra money for a memorable travel experience, and who know that a European trip shouldn't stop when you return to the hotel at the end of the day.
Another change we're starting to see is an increase in travel with children. In families with two incomes, parents don't spend as much time with their children as they might like, so they want to take their children with them when they visit Europe.
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