Blue Guide to Sicily: When the Internet Just Won't Do

October 14, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

In the age of the Internet, it seems that guide books may be going the way of the Dodo. As a book lover, I believe I have lasted a little longer than others, not quite ready to retire the bookshelf just yet. Lounging in bed or curled up in a comfy chair while learning about what a destination has on offer, the logistics, and practicalities via good old fashioned pages is still a lovely indulgence for me. I've used the big guys like Frommer's and Lonely Planet, and the cool kids like Cadogan, Rough Guides, & Touring Club of Italy.

When I look for a guide now, I'm not interested in hotel or restaurant listings, as the Internet has become superior in that arena. Another element that doesn't matter much to me anymore in a book are maps. They're nice for an overview, but rarely is there enough space for them to be useful while actually traveling - especially if you don't take the guide along with you. That honor now falls to smart phones, or even traditional large street maps that fold up nice and small.

In anticipation of my upcoming trip to Italy, I needed some help regarding Sicily. There is so much to see and do, that my planned two weeks is hardly enough to scratch the surface. While I'm sure I will return, I decided I needed some time cozied up with a guide to make my selections. Using Trip Advisor, I can find out plenty about the many churches, museums, and parks generously spread all over the island. But how to choose one town over another? A cliff over the beach or homes spilling down a hill high above the interior?

So I selected the 500+ page 8th edition Blue Guide: Sicily, partly because I've never used a Blue Guide and it seemed similar to Cadogan and Unofficial guide books, including history alongside travel facts. While I haven't yet made it cover to cover, as I tend to hop around a book anyway, I feel like this book has been a good choice for me.

Here's what I like so far:

  • It's well organized by province, thus covering the most popular town or city as well as a reasonable smattering of the lesser known ones
  • History is covered as well, for those that enjoy a more in-depth understanding of the place you're visiting. There are also boxes scattered throughout featuring a historical event or figure
  • A section at the end that details foods unique to Sicily and even further, to a region or town
  • For art-lovers, there is a glossary where you can look up Sicilian artists featured throughout the island
  • Essential practical info, which works well to direct you online or as basic reminders if you travel with the book
  • Reasonably good maps of city centers, plans of churches and archeological sights, and quite good sectioned color maps at the end showing major roads and highways. While not strictly necessary, they can help in deciding if your planned routes are feasible
  • Unique reviews of the sights, with recommendations when applicable as to the ideal time to visit
  • Special holidays and events at the end of each province section. I'm certain this is by no means able to be comprehensive, as Italy's event calendar is packed throughout the year.

Here's what I don't care for or would like done differently:

  • I'd always like more photos! These are in black and white, and it would be great if some color images were included as well. Of course there's always Google image search or Flickr, but a good color image can give you a good feel for the atmosphere of a town
  • While I understand including a selection of restaurants and hotels, I'd prefer to see a few exceptional offerings highlighted and perhaps a web link for a more detailed list. The freed up space, to me, would be better used for either those photos I was talking about or featuring a special off-the-beaten-path section
  • In a relatively minor nit-pick, the paragraphs are dense, especially with the fairly small type. Breaking up the paragraphs a little more, or using a sans-serif or larger font, would be really helpful in creating a more enjoyable reading experience

As you can see, I had to really dig deep to find negatives so far, which makes for a great guide in my world. If my opinion changes after a few weeks poring over the guide, I'll be sure to update this post. Feel free to share your favorite go-to publisher for helping plan your trips - and do you still use guide books at all?


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