Most of us will buy a guidebook or go online to get the most out of our time when visiting a new city. But often there’s just too much information. Wouldn’t it be nice to simply be told the top places to stay, eat and drink. That’s where Define Fine Travel books could come to the rescue. Not only do you get the best recommendations but the books are a work of art themselves.
I spoke to Veronika Blomgren, a designer and architect, who created the guides with her photographer husband, Nikola Kostic. I asked what sets her guides apart from the others. Veronika explained, “Everybody who goes to Barcelona, or to Paris, or to London normally goes for a weekend or three days. And for this, all you need to know is where to stay, where to eat, where to shop and where to experience something unique. You also want to do it the way the locals do it. We are very selective and our recommendations are based on beauty, design and quality.”
Veronika said most guidebooks she’s used in the past gave too much information and too much choice, so it becomes difficult to know what to do. “You have to do all this research yourself before making a simple decision about where to go for dinner. It’s very stressful,” she said. “So what we try to do is make the choice very simple. We don’t recommend 25 hotels. We choose a maximum of five or seven in a city. We don’t recommend 50 restaurants or 200 shops. Our choice is very simple but we guarantee you’ll have a unique experience.”
The guides themselves are beautifully designed with fantastic photography. They look very different to the rest of the market and you won’t feel self-conscious carrying one in your handbag. “It’s basically a photo album about beautifully designed places in each city with very personal comments describing each place,” Veronika told me. “Some people have said they look a bit like a bible, with black leather binding and golden letters, which makes it seem more luxurious.”
But even though the guides look expensive, Veronika told me they’re aimed at travellers on a range of budgets. “We don’t think you need to be rich to travel right so our recommendations are in all budget categories, from the most luxurious to the cheapest. If it’s food, it’ll be from fine dining to the best sandwiches. It’s not about budget it’s about taste.”
Veronica said they’ve tried to discover more unusual or one-off experiences that will remind people of the city they’re in. “What a real traveller is looking for is to experience it like the locals. We will never recommend a Chinese restaurant in Rome or an Italian restaurant in Hong Kong. We are always looking for those special places to make the experience unique and connected to that city.”
I asked whether the books were written with a particular type of traveller in mind, and Veronica gave a surprising answer. “They’re aimed at our friends,” she told me. “Our friends are all sorts of people from Russian Oligarchs to simple Indonesian villagers who may have the chance to visit Sydney once in their lifetime. They’re people who want to have fun and enjoy themselves in a way that will enrich their lives.”
One of Veronika’s favourite cities is Barcelona. So I asked her where I should stay and what should I do on a weekend break in the city? “They have amazing penthouses with roof top terraces, which are surprisingly affordable considering the way they look,” Veronika told me. “You should absolutely go to the restaurant Mordisco, where even a simple tomato tastes good. Try the Bar in the Convent, which is situated in a monastery and is very beautiful. Finally go to the Aire Spa – a medieval underwater baths complete with candlelight and a glass of champagne.”
The series currently covers Amsterdam, Barcelona, Rome, Stockholm, Moscow, St Petersburg, Hong Kong, Ho Chi Minh City, Buenos Aires, Sydney and Melbourne. They’re available online at definefine.com.