To guidebook or not to guidebook

I just received this message from Andrew Bostock who authored the Bradt guide to the Peloponnese. It seems he is heading off there now. Paddy appears to have had some views on guidebooks; what are yours?

There are people who always seem to be fated to end up in their eventual career; children whose endless games of doctors and nurses or Lego translate into later careers in medicine or engineering. I used to think that I didn’t fit into this category, but now I’m not so sure.

In a week’s time I head out to the Peloponnese, the southern mainland of Greece, to complete the research to the second edition of my guide to the area, due to be published in early 2013 by the award-winning publishers Bradt. The first edition was written whilst I lived in the area, and whilst my daughter, who was born in Kalamata, grew up. Now I’m heading back for six weeks to show her where she comes from, and to introduce her one-year-old brother (middle name Telemachus) to the country.

How I ended up doing this seems to be due to huge smatterings of good luck and coincidence; but thinking about it there was an element of fate involved. This was mainly due to my mum, who instilled in me an early love of Greek mythology and history. It was also on her shelves that I first found the books of Paddy Leigh Fermor. I must have been about 14 at the time, and I devoured them. This quickly led to backpacking trips round Greece, sleeping in olive groves and abandoned tower houses, and eventually working there as a teacher, tour guide and writer.

Fate continued to intervene and my small family ended up living in a house on the headland above Kalamitsi bay, where Paddy had built his beautiful Greek house. In truth I had never really wanted to meet him, expectations are too easily let down, but in the end it seemed inevitable. He turned out to be just as affable, engaging and generous as the books would lead you to think.

He wasn’t really that keen on the idea of a guidebook to the Peloponnese, and I do see his point; but it was his books that guided me there. I think that if people are to travel, then a least they should travel with knowledge and understanding.

I’m pretty proud of my book, and hope to spend the next few weeks making it even better.

Andrew Bostock

07961 061 052 (cell)
Twitter: @andybostock


3 thoughts on “To guidebook or not to guidebook

  1. Judy Stove

    I can’t agree. I _love_ guidebooks, the older the better, but really all of them! On returning from Rome earlier this year, I sought out Augustus Hare’s wonderful guides to Rome and Italy, written in the second half of the nineteenth century. Reading them was like wandering through the Forum once again.

    And quite frankly, you need guidebooks in order to properly appreciate Rome. You certainly don’t get any help from the local authorities, who have managed to avoid putting up any information which might help or interest the tourist. You’d think that at the Spanish Steps, Piazza Navona or many other places, there might be some informative signage outlining important historical background, but no, you’re on your own. All you generally get, if you can read Latin, is a nice plaque from a 16th-century Pope declaring what a great job he had done in restoring (read: appropriating) some ancient site.

    Mind you, I have sympathy with the approach of John Stathatos, above, and I hope that his descriptions have discouraged many an unwanted visitor!

  2. John Stathatos

    With hopefully no offense to Mr. Bostock, I’m with Paddy on this one. I was once invited to contribute a chapter about the island I’ve been living on for a guidebook, and devoted some ingenuity to writing perfectly truthful but uninviting descriptions along the lines of “a two-hour walk along a rough track brings you to the ruins of Kastelli fort. Whilst the remains are unspectacular and mostly buried in scrub, there is much here to interest the serious student of 17th-century Venetian military architecture”.


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